Socially Mediated Publicness in Networked Society for Indonesian Muslim Women

12 Jul

Abstract: This paper addresses discursive processes that generated ‘jilboobs’ term. It tries to ground the notion of socially mediated publicness and its affordances by investigating the process of image making of Indonesian Muslim women. Using Foucauldian discourse analysis approach, the result shows three characteristics of Indonesia’s socially mediated publicness: (1) religiosity has a central role in the shift and contestation of private versus public sphere, (2) the visual turn of the social media has given specifi c augmentation for networked public affordances, and (3) feminine pious bodies are often marked by their concurrent presence and absence.

Keywords: jilboobs, Muslim women, networked publics, socially mediated publicness, veil

Scholars have argued that in the Information Age, we are witnessing the birth of network society (Castells, 2010), which is powered by digital technologies and restructures traditional notion of social networks. More recently, in today’s network society, the lives of people who are constantly connected to the internet are informed by or perhaps entangled in social media. Interactions created by the prevalence of social media have blurred the boundaries of our offl ine and online lives, creating what Lim (2015) calls a “cyberurban space”, and at the same time blurred the boundaries of what is considered public and private, generating the notion of “socially mediated publicness” (Baym & Boyd, 2012). In a cyberurban space, our physical and online lives are confl ated. Online and offl ine social practices inform and interact with one another that there is no possibility to distinguish and discriminate their social, cultural, and political impacts in our daily lives. None is better or more infl uential than the other, and the combination saturates the potential for alternative spaces and consequently contestation of power (Lim, 2015). In addition, our interactions in social media have transcended the classic division of public versus private sphere. Everyone using social media is concurrently a potential speaker and a potential audience, and their relationship with what is public is shifting and becoming more complex, creating what Baym and Boyd (2012) called a ‘socially mediated publicness’. It renders the users’ everyday experience visible to an imagined audience (Baym & Boyd, 2012). The social media users in networked publics, in this sense, are engaged in networked technologies that the social media depend on. The fl ow of communication in the networked publics, although it replicates and resembles traditional public sphere, is confi gured by the specifi c architecture that is based on bits, the smallest unit of computer memory size. The bits, therefore, inform the type of affordances in networked publics: persistence, replicability, scalability, searchability, and shareability (Boyd, 2010, p. 46; Papacharissi & Gibson, 2011, p. 76). Persistence refers to the act of recording and archiving, meaning online discussions available any time as documented information. Replicability refers to ease, to reproduce, and to duplicate. Scalability refers to the constant potential of (massive) audience that networked publics allow the users to have, giving way to any topic to become ‘viral’, although it does not warrant popularity.

Searchability refers to the accessibility of information for all users (Boyd, 2010, p. 46). Shareability is the social feature the networked technology facilitates. Following the nature of bits, it allows the ease of sharing any information, from personal to restricted data (Papacharissi & Gibson, 2011, p. 76). They characterize various online activities and its problems. The potential for free speech, social movements, and creative engagement appears at the same time with the potential for social inequality. The problems that networked publics discuss and trigger mimic the problems in conventional social structure (Boyd, 2010; Lim, 2015). The affordances that networked structures have and the socially mediated publicness that the structures create are often discussed within the limits of secular, rational public/private sphere debate. Boyd, who theorized the networked public affordances, studied Twitter users’ imagined audience in the context of networked publics (Marwick & Boyd, 2011). She found specifi c management of audience that the Twitter users had to do, in order to appropriate their self-expression in social media. Nevertheless, she did not problematize religious values that often collapse the public/private sphere binary altogether in certain societies, thus making affordances of networked publics, in this context, more complicated. As Boyd herself (Baym & Boyd, 2012) has argued, analysis on networked publics should not be detached from the people and their social, cultural, and political contexts. In a society where religious values hold social signifi cance, how do we understand the impact of socially mediated publicness? How can we add to our understanding of networked publics’ affordances to explain complications that may arise when socially mediated publicness is present in a religious society? Following Boyd’s concept of socially mediated publicness, it is instructive that we take the concept to a different setting. With the rise of the internet, Muslims have managed to create their own space. Internet savvy Muslims regulate, negotiate, and resist various forms of networks and practices that appeared online (Bunt, 2009). Furthermore, as today’s popular social network sites such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter are increasingly visual based (Rettberg, 2014), the modes in which Muslim societies express themselves become more complicated. This paper seeks to add to Boyd’s theoretical intervention by analyzing networked publics in Muslim context, particularly in relation to veiled Muslim women. In regard to her visual presence, Muslim women are constantly negotiating her appearance and ethical consideration related to her veil. For the Muslimahs, beauty and religious conviction work together for a presentation that is both aesthetic and ethical (Bucar, 2016, p. 84). Nevertheless, this visibility when taken online has to be constantly negotiated as different societies have different experience and reactions (Robinson, 2014). In Indonesia, where fashion veiling is popular, Muslim women’s self presentation are often too easily discerned as either perpetuating consumerism or too focused on embellishment that shifts the attention from religious devotion (Jones, 2010).For a veiled Muslim woman who participated on social media, her religious expression can no longer relates to just her inner belief. She is always present with her religious conviction, symbolized by the veil. Thus, when social media becomes more and more visual based, her appearance becomes key when she is present in pictures. Her veil becomes an inadvertent marker for the way she communicates her thoughts online. When she takes a picture of herself, or known today as ‘selfi e’, it ineluctably brings the veil forward. When she poses in front of her favourite cafe with friends and upload it on Facebook or Instagram, her veil is there with her to announce her religiosity. Thus, the online presence of the Muslim women in a growingly visualbased socially mediated publicness is tangled with the digital image. Her public presence is growingly dictated with the images she uploads, making the vernacular act of uploading selfi es and daily pictures on social media a public presence that can potentially be a public concern, especially in a Muslim majority country. If socially mediated publicness blurs the boundary between public and private, the lives of Muslims in Muslim countries or Islamic states have very different conception of what is private and public from the very beginning. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, Talal Asad (1993) observes how its culture of public criticism is based on moral concerns, in which Muslims believe that reminding other Muslims is a moral obligation, to help better the ummah. This includes fellow Muslims reminding each other about their deeds in daily lives and -on a more political level- the ulamā giving approving or dissenting opinion to the state in regards to various forms of change. In a Muslim society, the Muslim public believes that to better the moral of the people around them is an obligation. Therefore, this paper fi nds it critical to examine Boyd’s claim on networked publics affordances, which deal with the way we view the blurred lines between public and private spheres, in a Muslim context. I believe an analysis of the intersection between networked publics affordances, image-driven socially mediated publicness, veiled Muslim women, and the issue of privacy and publicness is fundamental to further our understanding on the nexus of power relations that forms our cyberurban lives and to ground the notion of socially mediated publicness into a specifi c sociocultural context and take it beyond rational, secular public/private sphere debate.

This paper takes a specifi c case study of ‘jilboobs’ from Indonesia, a Muslim majority country with 73 million internet users. Jilboobs became a trending topic -to use Twitter lingo- in mid 2014. Pictures of Muslim women wearing veils and revealing the shape of their breasts and body shapes were circulated in different social media sites and discussed in major online news websites and popular online forum. As veiling is an option for Indonesian Muslim women (except for those who live in Aceh province), actions and reactions online revealed complex relationship that the society has with the veil and feminine bodies. This phenomenon is a relevant case study to ground the notion of socially mediated publicness as it can help revealing specifi c understanding in Indonesia about the location of Muslim feminine bodies and the (im)possibility of separation between public and private sphere separation, a concern that Boyd underlines. Social concerns about Muslim women’s bodies displayed and circulated in social media in Indonesia, as this paper will show, could not be understood within simplifi ed boundary of public and private spheres and its growingly blurred lines. Thus, using the case of jilboobs in Indonesia, this paper rethinks the notion of socially mediated publicness (Baym & Boyd, 2012; Marwick & Boyd, 2011) in a society that emphasize religiosity by investigating the process of image making that the women marked as jilboobs went through.


This study offers a qualitative insight using cultural studies approach, as it concerns the power relations involved in the discursive processes that generated the term jilboobs. To study the discursive process that generated the term jilboobs, Foucauldian discourse analysis became the preferred approach. Discourse, according to Foucault, consists of statements and their regulated practices (Foucault, 1972), and it dictates how we talk about a particular topic or even the way we live (Mills, 2003). A Foucauldian discourse analysis traces how a discourse is formed and later transformed to reveal subject formation and power relation it entails. It requires determining a corpus of statements that can reveal conditions of possibility and its temporal variability and collecting the texts. It is later followed by problematizing the corpus to be able to take a critical position and to trace the formation of the discursive object. This approach is particularly interested in how the corpus reveals subject positions (moral location within social interaction) and subjectifi cation (ethics of self-formation) (Arribas-Ayllon & Walkerdine, 2008, p. 99). In this paper, I share observation on how jilboobs became a trending topic on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in early 2014 and spiraled into a social issue by the mid-end of the year. I followed the popularity of Jilboobs Community’s Facebook page and public debates that ensued involving Majelis Ulama Indonesia’s (MUI) statement and online as well as print media’s exposure. As a corpus of statements, the study used Twitter advanced search feature to follow previous tweets with the hashtag (#) jilboobs to be able to trace back the discussion. It revealed the earliest mention of the word jilboobs in 2012 until the end of 2014. I gathered the tweets and did close reading of the texts. Furthermore, I gathered images uploaded on Instagram with the same hashtag using the RSS feature provided by However, I could not do a through image search on Instagram to backtrack the hashtag due to Instagram new API restrictions, so it relied on images on HTML fi les I downloaded using the RSS feature in Devonthink Pro Offi ce software from January 2015-August 2015. I also took notes on the names of Instagram accounts mentioning the word ‘jilboobs’ specifi cally. Online news on jilboobs from 2014 was also gathered to help map the discussion. All the data gathered were then used to understand the temporal developments of the phenomenon as well as its discursive process. One particular article from Julia Suryakusuma (2014) published on English language newspaper in Indonesia, The Jakarta Post, was analyzed in detail, as this paper will show later, because it represents one of the most important commentary on the jilboobs phenomenon at that time.


To return back to Boyd’s conception of soci ally mediated publicness and its affordances, we have seen how the characteristics of the internet’s architecture helped to ‘create’ the jilboobs phenomenon. Digital images such as selfi e that were stored on social media platforms or websites (following the concept of persistence) could easily be ‘copied’ and (mis-)used for other purposes (replicability). The potential for massive audience (scalability) was actually realized as veiling is an important element for Muslim women’s ethical cultivation, and concerns were building up as anyone can look the pictures up on search engines or websites (searchability), and then share them on different platforms (shareability). Although the fl ow of communication followed specifi c architecture of online communication, the issues that the jilboobs phenomenon revealed were marked specifi cally by the importance of religious values in Indonesian Muslim society, and this transcended the issue of public versus private sphere. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts that distributed the pictures of the women claimed as ‘jilboobers’ were seen as a moral reminder for the Muslim society in Indonesia to have better da’wa strategies, so that Muslim women could learn how to don the veil properly, in accordance with the shari’a. A claim that the women’s privacy were invaded because their pictures were misused would not work in this case, as no concern on privacy was addressed. Another important point was how none of the posts or tweets came from the women reputed to be jilboobers. Flows of comments and reactions were running commentary and dissent for an imagined group of Muslim women by fellow Muslims who were concerned about the seemingly declining morale of the women as represented by the images. Arguably, therefore, the #jilboobs phenomenon has revealed three main characteristics of Indonesia’s socially mediated publicness. One, religiosity plays an important role in the shift and contestation of the already blurred division of private versus public sphere. The pool of images marked as jilboobs represented a form of visibility that was utilized for control and dominance over Muslim women’s relationship with their bodies and pious dispositions. It represents religious patriarchal values that have reasoning based on virtue and piety found on Islamic text interpretations. Although MUI was the only major institution that would publicly assert this position, I believe Suryakusuma’s stance -as shown in the analysis above- refl ects a deeper problematic and complex relationship that Indonesian networked publics have with Islam, and in effect with the Muslim women today. From there, we see how analysis on networked society and socially mediated publicness cannot ignore religious concerns and assume universal separation of what is religious and rational in various societies. Two, the visual turn of the social media has given specifi c augmentation for networked public affordances. A phenomenon like #jilboobs could only happen, I contend, when the visual based social network sites started to gain popularity. Muslim women’s identity is marked -as they wear veil- through their visibility. As appearance is an important part in representing Muslimness (or even Muslimwomanness), there is always a “war of presence” (Azoulay, 2008; Khatib, 2012) to justify particular interpretations of veiling through digital images. In the past, Muslim women wearing tight clothing would be called ‘jilbab gaul’ or ‘jilbab funky’, and they were usually discussed in print media or scholarly discourse. However, contemporary internet affordances have made traditional media ethics or analytical approaches are unnecessary or irrelevant. Naming or marking particular feminine bodies can now be supplemented with a combination of naming-shamingvisualizing altogether marking the ‘abnormal’ Muslim women bodies. Lastly, feminine pious bodies in a socially mediated publicness are often marked by their concurrent presence and absence. The subjects (Muslim women marked as jilboobs) are present and absent at the same time. Her images can be taken and copied/reproduced by other users, following the affordances of networked publics such as replicability and shareability, acknowledging her as a user and content producer. However, when her picture was reused, repurposed, and marked as jilboobs her ‘self’ became absent. Her virtual profi le and agency went missing, and her specifi c context for taking and posting the photo became lost. She became a mere image, a part of a hashtag that emphasizes anonymity while naming and shaming the feminine bodies.


Because this study is concerned with discursive process that generated the term jilboobs, I am aware that I have set aside feminist concerns of freedom, concern, body image, and privacy. Nevertheless, statements and regulations that generated the jilboobs phenomenon, I would argue, revealed critical fi ndings on how the Indonesian Muslim society forms its present-day feminine subjects. Evaluation on how a Muslim society should better treat their women is not within the reach of this paper. In conclusion, the entanglement between religiosity, social media, and feminine pious bodies characterizes Indonesia’s socially mediated publicness. To limit issues related with the public/ private sphere only in rational and ‘secular’ settings would mean leaving out important debates and the changing boundaries of what is considered as public/private concerns that the Muslim societies have brought about. The fl uid and ever changing confl ation of online and offl ine lives in our contemporary lives has become more interesting with the concerns of the ummah (Bunt, 2003, 2009), and this will continue to challenge our assessment of the ‘cyber’ and its effect to our lives.

Sumber :

Annisa R. Beta

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Ditulis oleh pada Juli 12, 2018 in Uncategorized


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