Performing Citizenship: Women's Tools of Political Participation in the Dutch East Indies

Thursday, January 5, 2012: 3:00 PM
Sheffield Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Liberty Sproat, Purdue University
From 1919-1941, Dutch women living in the Netherlands enjoyed the right to vote while their compatriots in the Dutch East Indies lacked such a privilege. Although the Netherlands maintained its status as a liberal state, the citizenship rights extended to Dutch women did not include the same rights for women in the colonies. Because of this, Dutch women learned to accommodate their current circumstances in order to participate in portrayals of national identity. In seeking to display their citizenship, Dutch women engaged in private behaviors that proved their allegiance to the homeland and its political objectives. Thus, while the right to vote demonstrated public political participation, Dutch women in the colonies, who lacked the right to vote, had to find other methods of political participation that allowed them to maintain feelings of Dutch citizenship.

            This paper identifies private behaviors that women used to “perform citizenship.” It explores the nature of citizenship rights in the late colonial context and argues that while women fought for suffrage, they nevertheless utilized private actions to display national citizenship. These economic, social, and cultural behaviors complemented their struggle to win the vote. By challenging the public/private dichotomy, this paper analyzes tools of political participation commonly used by women and highlights the intersections between gender, ethnicity, social class, and citizenship status in the colonial context.

            By analyzing women’s periodicals from the Dutch East Indies, I explore arguments surrounding the fight for voting rights in the 1930s. In particular, I look at magazines targeting Dutch housewives as well as monthly newsletters from The Association for the Vote of Women in the Dutch Indies. These periodicals compare and contrast women’s political pursuits with private behaviors in helping scholars better understand the many methods of performing citizenship.

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