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Part of the conversation during a date night with my husband was about my next article for Here! Magazine‚ following the “mythbusters” theme. I told him that one of the myths that came to my mind about Thailand was the misconception that Thai women who are married to “Farang” (Thai term for Caucasian) were bar girls, or prostitutes. My husband’s argument was that this particular myth is not valid for many people here in Victoria. According to him‚ most Canadians think about Thai food when thinking about Thailand. My husband felt that me writing about stereotypes concerning women and prostitution in Thailand would not be relevant to many local readers and would also create a negative perception. I took his point.
If you ask someone here who does not know much about Thailand‚ they might respond with: “Taiwan? Oh‚ yes! They eat everything with chopsticks!” Not only are Taiwan and Thailand two separate countries‚ Thai people eat with a fork and spoon. Once, my boss excitedly introduced me to a new international student from China: “Here is our counsellor Ms. Broome. She’s Taiwanese!” I corrected him. He felt really bad but we had a good laugh after. “Taiwan‚ Thailand they are the same!” he exclaimed, with a big grin on his face. My boss likes Phad Thai and he probably thinks Phad Thai is a Thai’s signature dish. In fact‚ it is less popular among Thais. I eat Phad Thai in Thai restaurants here more than in the 30 years I spent in Thailand.
“Taiwan‚ Thailand they are the same!” he exclaimed, with a big grin on his face.
However, these myths around food and physical appearance can’t push away my thoughts about the Thai “bar girl” stereotype. Perhaps my thoughts stem from a comment a local Canadian man made. He shouted‚ “Now‚ everyone take your shirts off!” when he was taking a group photo of me and some other Thai women during the birthday party of an acquaintance. I was shocked by his words. I quickly asked him what he meant. He changed the subject and pretended that he hadn’t said anything. His comment stuck in my mind. He could be one of a few who view Thai women differently based on his particular experience in Thailand, but his view is significant enough for me to speak for the Thai women who have immigrated here.
The Internet wants us to believe that “all single guys are in Thailand for one thing only.”
Since more than half of the Thai immigrants in Victoria are women married to Canadians‚ including myself‚ I had the urge to find out more about this particular myth. When I started searching‚ sure enough, the stereotype that Thai women are all prostitutes is one of the top 5 search returns from popular sites such as CNN and the Bangkok Post. The Internet wants us to believe that “all single guys are in Thailand for one thing only.” This statement drove me to search for more facts about Thai prostitution, and I discovered a great deal of research on this topic.
Prostitution in Thailand started in the 1600’s during trade between Thailand and China. There is also documented history of prostitution as “rest and recreation” for soldiers during WWII and the Vietnam War. Wikipedia states that prostitution in Thailand “has gained international notoriety among travellers from many countries as a sex tourism destination since the Vietnam War.”
Throughout Thai history‚ concubines were often portrayed in Thai literature and folklore. Many stories depict women’s roles as less important than men’s roles. There is a Thai expression: “Men are the front and women are the back legs of the elephant.”
In the “old” days‚ only men received an education. With minimal education‚ women from poor families worked as labourers to support their aging parents. Many young women with limited options became prostitutes so that they could support and pay gratitude to their parents.
My mother didn’t mind if my father spent a few hours at night in a brothel. “That’s what most men do‚” she would say.
Although women’s rights have changed over time‚ there is still a different Thai social standard among women and men. Growing up in Thailand‚ my mother taught me to honour and respect men. I was strictly told to wash my father’s clothes separately from our clothes as his were regarded as higher than ours. My mother didn’t mind if my father spent a few hours at night in a brothel. “That’s what most men do‚” she would say.
Because men going to a brothel is as socially accepted as going to a karaoke bar in Thailand‚ prostitution has grown over the years. This type of business has inevitably become popular among Thai men and travellers.
Despite the expanding business of prostitution‚ it is only one of several types of growing businesses typically found in tourist destinations in Thailand. The country is famous for exotic experiences in nature‚ its beaches‚ cuisine‚ art‚ and culture. Only a small percentage of tourism in Thailand caters to sex tourists. I have talked to many people I know about their trips to Thailand; they expressed their love for Thai food‚ the people‚ and culture. Most of them weren’t even aware of sex tourism.
Thai women are strong‚ hardworking‚ caring‚ and thankful. Some may indeed be prostitutes‚ but they are the ones keeping the family together.
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