Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

A Ohio University Press Book

Women in the Shadows
Gender, Puppets, and the Power of Tradition in Bali

By Jennifer Goodlander

“Goodlander presents an intimate, detailed account of her studies to become a dalang, contextualizing her experiences with those of the few Balinese women dalangs. She contends that this incursion must ultimately be perceived within the gendered power systems of Balinese culture. Summing up: Recommended.”


“[Women in the Shadows] is an exceptional and very personal work filled with rich insights on ritual process, wayang narratives, puppet characters, and Balinese culture in general. Goodlander has produced a short, though substantial, work that is unique in approach, interpretation, and content, enhanced by her own immersion experience.”

David Harnish, Journal of Global South Studies

“The question of what impact women performing the wayang kulit has on gender dynamics in Balinese society is satisfyingly answered by the thoughtfully considered and richly informed analysis that permeates this book…[addressing] performance innovations that seemingly disrupt centuries of tradition yet equally gratify the desire for novelty— and, in doing so, much is revealed about the nature of transformation, balance, gender, and culture in Bali.”

Beth Onses, Theatre Survey

“This groundbreaking study explores the unusual position of a handful of women dalang (puppeteers) in Bali, including Goodlander herself…Professor Goodlander’s knowledge, experience, and caring for her subject matter comes through on every page.”

Linda Ehrich, Puppetry International

Wayang kulit, or shadow puppetry, connects a mythic past to the present through public ritual performance and is one of most important performance traditions in Bali. The dalang, or puppeteer, is revered in Balinese society as a teacher and spiritual leader. Recently, women have begun to study and perform in this traditionally male role, an innovation that has triggered resistance and controversy.

In Women in the Shadows, Jennifer Goodlander draws on her own experience training as a dalang as well as interviews with early women dalang and leading artists to upend the usual assessments of such gender role shifts. She argues that rather than assuming that women performers are necessarily mounting a challenge to tradition, “tradition” in Bali must be understood as a system of power that is inextricably linked to gender hierarchy.

She examines the very idea of “tradition” and how it forms both an ideological and social foundation in Balinese culture. Ultimately, Goodlander offers a richer, more complicated understanding of both tradition and gender in Balinese society. Following in the footsteps of other eminent reflexive ethnographies, Women in the Shadows will be of value to anyone interested in performance studies, Southeast Asian culture, or ethnographic methods.

Jennifer Goodlander is an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Dance at Indiana University. She has performed Balinese shadow puppetry in China, Indonesia, and around the United States. Her research focuses on the relationship between tradition and modernity as expressed through puppetry in Southeast Asia.   More info →


Review in Archipel


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In Series

Research in International Studies, Southeast Asia Series, № 129


Retail price: $32.95, S.
Release date: October 2016
21 illus. · 216 pages · 5½ × 8½ in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $70.00, S.
Release date: October 2016
21 illus. · 216 pages · 5½ × 8½ in.
Rights:  World

Release date: October 2016
21 illus. · 216 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for Women in the Shadows

“Jennifer Goodlander’s book is an important contribution to our understanding of the Balinese wayang kulit. It provides readers with valuable insights into the remarkable experience of one foreign woman who trained and was consecrated to perform the wayang kulit and expecially of the controversy which continues to surround the practice of Balinese women as dalang.”


“Jennifer Goodlander offers a detail-rich, evocative, and insightful account of her practical studies of Balinese wayang kulit, situating her own training in relation to the small group of Balinese women who have performed as puppeteers over the last four decades.”

Matthew Isaac Cohen, Professor of International Theatre, Royal Holloway, University of London

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