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Thai culture and the position of women in Thailand

 

Thursday 11th July 2013 2:11pm

A little understanding helps in marrying a Thai woman

Western men are advised to do a bit of homework before setting out to marry a Thai woman.

'I think any western man thinking of marrying a Thai woman should do a little homework,' says Pat Dawson a feature writer for one of Bangkok's leading newspapers. 'It wouldn't hurt to start by looking at Buddhist culture,' he says.

Before marrying a Thai woman he says it is important that you understand the position of Thai women in society and her potential motives for marrying you. While most Thai women will marry you for the same reason you are marrying her, and make fabulously attentive and loving wives, there are cultural differences that you should know about.

Marrying a Thai woman: Thai women in society

If you are considering marrying a Thai woman, you should first make yourself aware of the role of Thai women in society, and how they expect both you and them to behave. Because Thailand is fundamentally a Buddhist society, the women are regarded as inferior to the men, and they do not have the same rights or position in society as men do - including their husbands.

Thai women cannot be expected to act and participate in society in the same way a western woman would, and in some cases men marrying a Thai woman are disappointed in the way they participate in their Western-style society. However, if you understand the reasons for this, your marriage could be as wonderful as you want it to be: a little understanding goes a long way.

One of the major problems when western and traditional eastern cultures meet is in the way that men and women regard each other. For example, even today, sex before marriage is frowned upon in Thailand, and is not a normal occurrence. In Thailand, boys and girls want each other to be the first for each other when they marry, just as with eastern young people in general, the male wants to be the first man for his girlfriend, while the female wants to be the last woman for her boyfriend.

In Thai society, men and women are not traditionally used to displaying acts of affection in public, such as kissing or even holding hands. It is generally not acceptable for Thai boys and girls to stay overnight together unless they are with others in a group. However, likely because of exposure to western TV and movies and also the internet, these norms are being broken, and young Thais now openly show those signs of affection that are commonplace in the west.

When marrying a Thai woman, the Western man should be aware of these norms and of the place held by Thai women in society. Although young Thai girls in Bangkok and Thailand are getting a feeling of the Western ways from the media to which they have more access, they also believe that most foreigners are rich in comparison to themselves. For many young Thai women this is likely to be true.

Understanding Thai women in society is very important for anybody from the USA, Australia or Europe who intends to marry a Thai woman. The following are some reasons for young Thai females agreeing to marry foreigners. They may also involve feelings of love, but because of their culture it is important that you understand these things:

Western men are rich

Most Thai girls believe Western men to be rich, and has already been stated, this is often the case in terms of relating the average earnings of a Westerner with the average Thai male. In some cases the woman will agree to the marriage simply for the money, and such marriages are certainly not made in heaven. They often end in tears and the loss of a great deal of cash by the man.

However, you should be able to tell if the girl you have chosen feels the same about you. Thai women fall in love with western men just as they do with young people from their own country, and while the initial attraction might have been your wallet, it might not be why they marry you. You should take the same time to get to know them as you would a girl back home. Many American and European women will fall for a very rich guy - you just have to learn to tell the difference!

Family obligations

Most Westerners fail to understand the family ties of Thai women. For some women, marrying a foreigner is a way out of certain poverty for her and for her family - even if she does love you. This is not a mercenary obligation as many Westerners claim, but is simply an example of the close family relationships that exist between the members of Thai families: if a Thai bride has married a moneyed groom, then the family would expect to be cared for, even if the groom was a Thai. The same would be true if a rich woman married a poor Thai man. You might feel the same if you married a wealthy Thai woman.

The Dowry or Sin Sod

The dowry, or sin sod, is an integral part of Thai culture and how love works in Thailand. It is intended as a gesture of honor to the Thai bride's family for bringing her up well. The dowry also signifies that the groom is able to look after his bride financially. The average dowry you would expect to pay for an educated young woman would from $3,000 - $10,000, though some ask for up to $30,000 and more. More than $10,000 for a university educated Thai bride is excessive. The dowry is today generally no more than a symbolic indication of the wealth of the groom, and returned in full, or sometimes in part, after the wedding.

Thai culture

Women have very defined roles in Thai society and within marriage. The expansion of education in Thailand and improvement of women's rights has opened the door to younger Thai women to take up posts in the civil service and in commercial organisations. At present, it is estimated that over half those working within the Thai civil service are women. However even prior to this there is a long cultural tradition in Thailand where women have been seen as responsible for handling the financial affairs in families and the engagement of commerce. A Thai government survey in 1946 found that 75% of all registered small traders in Thailand were women.

Despite this, the role of women in society has been slow to change and there is a strict moral code. Despite the infamous Thai prostitution industry, only a minute percentage of Thai women have ever been involved in prostitution. It is important to remember this. Although Thai society has a different or 'softer' attitude towards prostitution and it is accepted that many poor families will send daughters into the industry, no Thai man would ever consider marriage to such a woman. In Thai society there is also a stigma attached to women who are divorced or separated from their husbands.

A Thai wife is expected to be supportive of her husband as we see from the phrase that the husband is the front legs of the elephant while the wife is the hind legs, driving and supporting decisions taken by her husband.

Thailand is still a patriarchal society although it is changing but it is changing very slowly.

The acceptance of prostitution highlights this. It should be noted that the prostitution industry in Thailand exists primarily to service Thai men. It is not simply an invention to satisfy sex tourism as often portrayed in the media. Indeed there are some forces within the prostitution industry in Thailand who fear the westernization of Thailand as it offers Thai women, who do not fit into Thai society, more options. The internet, a western influence, is one of the key tools that are helping to empower under privileged Thai women.

We have seen compelling stories of some women driven by forces in Thai society into prostitution who have opted instead to find foreign husbands. One example of this is Sommai, formerly a sex worker in Pattaya who married a Danish man 15 years ago. She has now gone on to create a large community of Thai women married to Danish men in an isolated part of Denmark.

Thai women in general are becoming more educated, many now going on to third level education. However, the power of Thai culture and Love in Thailand is difficult for westerners to understand. It is very difficult for Thai women to actively go against their own culture including key principles that have been ingrained since birth. Many of these principles are Buddhist.

It is often pointed out that Thailand was never colonized but this has led to a living and powerful sense of culture and identity which reaches down to all levels of Thai society.

The westernization of Thai society can be seen in Bangkok and urban centres in Thailand where it is not uncommon now for Thai women to work outside the home but most Thai wives still play a supporting role to their husbands.

In July 2010 Thailand elected its first female Prime Minister in Yingluck Shiniwatra. This is a step, and a big one, although the country is still very traditional and still largely patriarchal. It will be a while yet before women control the marriage bed, although many men married to Thai women believe they do that now.

Understanding Thai women in society is most important before you make the decision that marrying a Thai woman is what you want in the long term. If you do, then you will be marrying a woman who will take good care of you for your entire life, as long as you also take care of her. She is marrying you so that she will feel secure, personally and financially, and if you can do that then you will have a wife for life!

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Thai women who marry Western men are still very influenced by Thai culture and Thai society
Western men are encouraged to understand Thai culture and the role of women in Thailand as the key to making a succces of marriage to a Thai woman
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