Monday, 15 March 2010

The Thai Family, gender roles, perception and reality

In a thread on there was a discussion about Thai women and the question asked was 'Are Thai women incurious lovers?'

I think it was first asked on this (great) site or the blog that relates to it.

In the Thaivisa thread there was talk about family, gender roles and the perception of culture and how it can affect your relationship. I say 'the perception of culture' because culture is often only viewed from the outside.

I think some people are closer to their cultural stereotypes than others but that would probably only be on the surface.
With regard to rural family structures and gender roles, in my own, limited, experience of Thailand, the family unit that I have contact with is from two different rural backgrounds. My g/f's family is from Korat but one of her older sisters has married a man from Chiang Saen who's father originates from Laos. Now my g/f, her two children and another of her sisters with her two children also live on the same land in Chiang Saen. So there is a difference between the Korat 'immigrants' and the local community, also the Laos connection makes for an interesting mix!

I've heard people say 'Oh Thai families are.....' and 'Thai people don't do this that or the other'
and our understanding is often coloured by our cultural perspective.

We expect Thai people to behave or live in a 'cultural' way. It's almost as if we allow no room for individuality or difference within that framework. This is not something we would use to describe ourselves. I don't know anyone who describes or defines themselves  by their culture. For instance, I only realise that certain things I do are 'English' when they are contrasted by things that aren't. Thai people don't go around 'being Thai' about everything, they just get on with their lives like everyone else does.

In this household, my g/f's sister is like the MD or CEO of the business, she organises all the workers on the land they farm, pays all the bills etc. She fields all the enquiries about houses or land for sale, (she was the one who negotiated the pick up rental for me from a woman down the street) whilst her husband makes things (like the house!) repairs the tractor etc. His father is the one who consults the monks at the local Wat about the right day to do everything and he owns all the land the family lives on.

There doesn't seem to be any role designation based on gender as such, everyone pretty much does what is necessary, apart from the washing up! I got a funny look when, after dinner I took some plates into the kitchen! 'Bai Nai?' said Pi Suk, with a frown. Apparently I should sit, smoke, and drink whiskey whilst the women wash up!

I don't know if the mix of the family and the fact that they are from different backgrounds themselves has anything to do with it, or if that is unusual in Thailand but I found them to be tolerant of difference, interested in things about my country (mainly the price of things and my videos of snow!) and concerned only if I was 'jai dee' or not.

More related to the original topic of incurious or otherwise. I hesitate to comment on generalised questions based on race or culture, but 'are Thai women incurious lovers?' implied that they are, so I feel it's relevant to comment.
My g/f resisted talk of us being a couple in the accepted sense until we knew and understood each other better. Our only real fallouts have been when this understanding has been brought into question. I think I have mentioned before that it was this ability to connect on that level that brought us together in the first place.
It seems that now we have this understanding she confides in me quite readily and isn't shy or cautious in her answers when our conversations veer off into deeper, more personal areas. She is also kind and sensitive when hearing some of the things I share with her. Sometimes I need to give some background about how my culture may be different from hers.

Maybe she's not typical of her nation and doesn't fit a stereotype too well but maybe you have to know someone to understand that. Maybe people who appear to fit a type or a culture on the surface are more than that and will surprise you if you get closer to them.

We all have cultural aspects to our personalities and these are, often, not apparent until contrasted against others we are close to. This undoubtedly happens in the Thai-Farang relationships we are discussing here and gives us the opportunity to recognise them in ourselves more readily and, in my opinion, can only be a good thing.

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