Eddie Kennington/University Relations

L. Ayu Saraswati researches feminism in new media and a host of other topics, and teaches classes on gender and sexuality, and Southeast Asian women's studies.

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L. Ayu Saraswati, assistant professor of women, gender and sexuality studies

Years at current job: Since August 2008

Job duties: I am teaching two courses per semester, conducting research in my field of study and performing services to the program, discipline and university. At KU, I have taught courses such as Gender and Sexuality in Cyberspace, Asian Women in Diaspora, Feminist Methods in Visual Culture, Transnational Feminist Theory and Race, Gender and Postcolonial Discourses.

What’s one thing that would surprise people about your work? People would be surprised to find out that I get to watch films and browse the Internet for work. But they would also be astounded to learn that I spend an incredible amount of time, such as months or years, on a single movie or an advertisement to provide a thorough and critical reading of these images.

What have you learned in your research about new media? Has feminist media evolved or changed with the rising prevalence of new media? The new media shifts how we express and experience our sexuality and other forms of identity such as race and gender. We used to treat the real world as separate from the virtual world, but not anymore. The real world is filled with virtuality; the virtual world is our “real” world, so to speak. So we are constantly creating new modes of living and making meaning of our lives in these “real” and “virtual” worlds. And the new media certainly reconfigured feminist media. Some feminist scholars would even argue that cyberspace provides an interesting way in which women can maintain their subjectivity when engaging in “sexual outercourse” online because no one can physically force their bodies into submission. Women can click the “enter” button to “return” to their offline world. Nonetheless, in cyberspace, the body still functions as the peg on which we hang our identities. For instance, when we encounter others online we immediately want to know what their age/sex/location are so we could respond to them accordingly. In other words, although the cyberspace is a disembodied space, it still operates within a structure where the meaning of bodies is deemed important.

You also research Southeast Asian women’s studies. Has globalization of culture affected gender identity and feminism in that part of the world? Well, globalization is often perceived as an external force that influences a country or part of the world. But many scholars, myself included, have attempted to paint a different picture of processes of globalization. For instance, in my work about transnational beauty ideal in Indonesia, I represent “globalization” as a narrative that is dearly embedded to the formation of the nation. Indonesia has never been an idyllic or static place to begin with. Even prior to the European conquest, transnational circulations of people, ideas and images from different parts of the world such as China, India and Arab lands, have all colored, quite literally, the cultural and physical landscape of Indonesia. Indonesia has indeed been a dynamic, constantly changing place that keeps reconfiguring itself and globalization is certainly one of the dominant narratives that could help explain these changes.


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L. Ayu Saraswati, assistant professor of women, gender and sexuality studies.
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