The Role of Women in Thai Culture
Thai Constitution guarantees women equal rights with men, but in fact in many areas of daily life, women still face discrimination. However, over the past few decades, women have made giant strides toward true equality. Women in Thailand enjoy freedom unattainable for representatives of the sex in many countries. While in the lower strata of society they have not yet found constitutionally guaranteed protection from exploitation, the upper strata of women are concentrated in the hands of their considerable power.
Half of the students are women, and women often occupy leading positions in Thai companies and high positions in public institutions and the political arena. In particular, it is often possible to meet a Thai woman, leading a major company. Less educated women are a solid part of the total mass of the urban labor force. Women can often be seen even on construction sites, where they work alongside men. Many Thais control roadside food stalls and small firms – such as laundry and hair salon.
According to the tenets of Buddhist teaching, women are much more far from nirvana, the role of nuns is not as important as the role of the monks, and does not, unlike the latter, merit neighbors. In animism the role of female deities is very high. In real life, in contrast to the ritual sphere, the role of women in modern conditions is very high, and the situation here is independent. The difference in the magical technique is part of the ritual opposition to equality, which is becoming more apparent as they the boys grow older and turn into young men. The boy long walks naked, while the girl has custom commands too early to close the intimate parts of the body. Boys may come into contact with the monks, girls are taught to keep a distance from them. Boys have a lot of talismans, the girls have almost none. The young men inflict on the body the tattoo to introduce the magical power, the girls are deprived of such opportunities. At the age of 20 the young men can become a monk and get access to sacred knowledge. This path is closed to women throughout the whole reproductive years, when they are ritually contrasting men, and called for them only in old age.
The custom requires a girl to maintain chastity until marriage. Violation of this rule is regarded as misconduct, leading to a loss of reputation. Sexual intercourse – meeting ritually contrasting floor – is regarded by Thais as a serious event. Therefore, the girls are being carefully taken care of, while allowing their meetings with suitors only under the watchful supervision of adult guards. The young people have the freedom of only exchanging glances and gestures, and observers monitor that there would be no physical contact between them. The reason for the ban on physical proximity is the fear to offend the spirits of ancestors.
In Central Thailand, women and girls should avoid even a minute meeting alone with the male guest, in Northern Thailand, on the contrary: the girls entertain the visitors. An adult family member must be nearby, but not necessarily present. Girls entertain guests by reading poetry and singing.
For winning the hearts of the young girls boys turn to the help of Magic: they wear an amulet around the neck, adorn the tattooed body as to be more attractive, carrying a small flask with two wooden images in it. Women also enjoy magic tricks, which has considerably narrower range than of men. The rules of etiquette in the relationship between outsider men and women need to be done in a rigid form – having a respectful distance in communication.
Those foreigners who are not that familiar with the Thai etiquette often turn into the victims of their own kindness and sincerity of feeling – the outstretched hand will not be taken, even if they want to help a young girl to get out of the car.
Open expression of feelings between the sexes in public (hugging, kissing) with Thais is totally unacceptable. Traditional dance ramvong is being danced without touching each other. Just two generations ago in the remote villages of the country it was imposed taboo for a man on touching the loom under the house – it (the machine) was considered a continuation of female identity. Now, the taboo has passed into a memory, but preserved a fine, which may be imposed by a village headman in the touched girl has any complains. Thus, she “saves her face”, implying that such unceremonious conduct took place against her will. The fine depends on what part of the body of a girl the young man dared to touch.
It is improper for the unmarried couples to get somewhere together, the girl should go to the cinema, cafe, shop with someone from relatives or friends. Meetings with the girl at home occur only in the presence of her parents if they organize a “competition” for young people – candidates for her hand and heart. Success in this battle depends on the equality of the ownership word.