Young Moms in Indonesia Talk About Being Hyper Sexualized
We discussed what it's like to be called a "mamah muda" with young mothers to get their take on the phenomenon.
Illustration by Ilham Kurniawan
This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
Why the hell are Indonesian men so obsessed with young moms? The phrase mamah muda, or "young mom," has become synonymous with the hyper-sexualization of young mothers in Indonesia.
Just take a look at some of these headlines:
The obsession has gotten so out of hand that it's even spawned bizarre slang: When you hear an Indonesian person talking about Mahmoud Abbas, they aren't talking about the president of Palestine—they're talking about mahmud abbas, or "mamah muda anak baru satu," ("a young mom with one newborn kid" in Indonesian), a description that has become synonymous in the country with the ideal standard of beauty.
The phrase is so popular that, when police in Riau (a central eastern province along the coast Sumatra) uncovered an online prostitution ring operating through the app BIGO LIVE, the username was—yes, you guessed it—"Mamah Muda."
Never one to turn down a chance to capitalize on a sexual trend, Dangdut (an Indonesian musical genre that blends folk and pop influences) singers have already released a hit song titled "Mamah Muda." It tells the story of a young woman who flirts with a married man who's walked out on his wife in search of a mamah muda. By the end of the track, the younger woman becomes his second wife.
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In the music video, the singer Melinda goes around town catching the eye of a bunch of men who are so obsessed with mamah muda that they hold posters that advertise the song and feature Melinda—the track's titular young mom—in a sexy pose.
It's not exactly breaking new ground for women's rights, is it? But what do actual mamah muda think about this trend? I called up a few young moms in Indonesia to find out.
Ixora Tri Devi, 27, blogger
BROADLY: What are some things that make you proud to be a young mom?
Ixora Tri Devi: I became a mom at 25. But the thing I'm proud of is—just like any mother, young or old—[giving] the gift of life.
You must've heard the term mahmud, right? Do you feel like it objectifies young women?
I do. The term hot mom, or mamah muda/mahmud is pretty much the same as MILF in the US, right? So yeah, hot mom and mamah muda were coined to perpetuate male fantasies. The term is now casually thrown around.
How do you feel when someone calls you mamah muda?
So far, the only people who call me mamah muda are my dear friends, some of whom are fellow mothers and women. I know they use the term to tease me, but I feel fine if it's a woman saying it. I'm more upset with the men who catcall me when I'm carrying my child around. It's happened several times. But the catcalls are never like "Mahmud, euy" ("Hey, young mom!"). They're more old-school. But if a group of men catcalled me with 'Hey, hot momma!' I would definitely be more upset than if my friends were just stating the obvious—that I'm young and a mom.
Do you think it's meant to degrade or to praise young moms?
It really depends on the context. On who says it and where. [Laughs] So far, it's meant to tease [me and my friends], not to bully us.
You see a lot of exploitative headlines in the Indonesian media, stuff like "This Mamah Muda Was Caught Cheating" or whatever. How does this make you feel?
I get pretty upset when I see it, but when you think about it, there's nothing the media doesn't commodify. For example, something like "The Five Hottest Pecel Lele [deep fried catfish] Sellers in Jakarta" or the "Ten Sexiest Moms in Space." Everything is constructed as a male fantasy here. There are few things people would want to talk about other than who's pretty or sexy. [Laughs]
Fanni Imaniar, 29, working mother of two
What makes you proud to be a young mom?
Fanni Imaniar: My biggest source of pride is that I could learn to multitask as a mother, a wife, a professional, and a member of society. It's far from perfect, but I can say with pride that I started it all before 30.
Do you think the idea of a mamah muda is shifting today to become more sexualized?
Yeah, today there's a sexual connotation to the term. But it's really [not surprising]. The term shifts according to a current woman's lifestyle and cultural development, especially in big cities.
What do you mean?
Well, back in the day, mamah muda was synonymous with a woman who married young and then had a child. But she spent most of her time at home. Most of them didn't maintain their appearance the way they did before marriage, because who has the time [for that]?
Honestly, people call me mahmud a lot, and I don't think it's something to frown at.
Today, it doesn't take as long to maintain your appearance. So mothers can maintain their health and their beauty, as well as take care of their priorities, be it work or family. Psychologically speaking, especially when thinking about the opposite sex, the ability to maintain one's beauty while being married and having kids is a source of pleasure and admiration by men—visually at least. That's how the sexualization of young moms began.
Do you have any tips for other young moms on how to deal with this?
I think we have to ask ourselves: How do we project our image to society? Do you want to be perceived as a modest young mom? As a young mom who likes to do what teenagers do? A typical MILF for the men out there? It's really our choice. We're living in an era when we're free to decide how we want others to perceive us.
Lury Prastianty, 28, working mother of one
What's your biggest source of pride as a mother?
Lury Prastianty: My child is 22 months old, and to some women being a mother is natural. I personally think that having a child at a young age gives me more time to spend with my child. I'm still young, so I can spend more time playing with my kid.
Do you think mamah muda is an objectifying term?
No, I disagree. Honestly, people call me mahmud a lot, and I don't think it's something to frown at. The term was coined probably because there's more and more younger women getting married and having children.
So you never felt uncomfortable with being called mahmud?
No, it's OK—not that I take it as a compliment or anything. It's just that I'm young and have a child—although some people can't believe that I'm a mother of one. It's really no big deal. Some of my colleagues at work call me mamah muda.
But when you Google mamah muda, all you see are super sexualized images of young moms.
Those images from Google are always pictures of women without their children. So these narrow-minded people don't [even] understand the true meaning of mamah muda. I think the term mahmud wasn't coined because of those sexy photos—I think those photos were posted by people who fantasize about young mothers.