Tag Archives: women

Teaching About Gender Roles: International Women’s Day 2017

When I was living in Bangkok I wrote a blog about women in Thailand and the differences between expat/immigrant women and local women, and how they are treated and perceived. Now I live in Krakow and I thought I would make a similar post about women in Poland. However, Poland is a completely different country in terms of history and culture, and so it does not have the same thoughts or structure as my previous post.
From having been teaching here for three months I have been able to make some surprising cultural observations. Despite the country’s recent history, the people of Poland can be quite racist and homophobic, to a level I was not expected. It was because of this that I felt somewhat hesitant to introduce gender roles into my classes, fearing that my students (aged thirteen to nineteen) would have a similarly old-fashioned approach. Luckily this time I was presently surprised.
In Poland, Women’s Day is celebrated to the same extent as Valentine’s Day is in the UK. Men and boys, at home and at school, buy flowers or other gifts for the women and girls in their lives to show them that they are appreciated. I have been told that the same happens in November on Men’s Day where women give gifts and show appreciation to men. It was a lovely day.
What did surprise me during the debates about gender roles was the sheer number of women who didn’t identify as feminists nor have feminist values. I noticed that the younger girls that I had were more inclined to feminist thoughts and opinions, and that often it was the older ones who didn’t, though I don’t know how much this observation applies elsehwere outside of my school!
Many eighteen and nineteen year old girls told me, and the class, that girls and women are all better at housework, and so should be required to do all the housework for their families, and that men should only have to do it if they want to. All of these girls are well-educated and planning to go to university next year, and I was surprised that such well-educated students still believed so strongly in traditional male and female roles.
I also noticed how often the boys in my classes completely ignored or disregarded the girls’ opinions. Ironically, one of my girls said “women are better listeners” and she looked at the boys for a response and not one of them was listening to her! I frequently heard scoffs such as “well, she’s a feminist so she would say that” as though feminists ought not to be listened to. 
I also witnessed some of the worst cases of mansplaining I’ve ever seen. I had thirteen year old boys explaining to me and the girls in the class that men are more suited to manual work because they all have bigger hands, which is why women should stay at home and do the housework. Did they forget that housework is manual? In a couple of classes I had boys explain that men and women are equal, and that we shouldn’t even be having the conversation! Perhaps in some countries around the world this is increasingly becoming the case, but largely speaking in Europe men and women are not socially or culturally equal. For men and women to be absolutely equal, women would have to be represented more in governments and industries, and men in more traditionally feminine positions. 
Many of my students felt strongly about these issues, but a lot of them didn’t. When I asked them to contribute to class discussions or I asked for their opinions, they nearly always sided with the person who was the loudest and most charming, and often this meant that the majorities were those who disagreed with feminist ideals. 
I don’t want it to sound all bad. Sexism in Poland is much less of an issue than either racism or homophobia. Many of my students, boys and girls, challenged the ideas of traditional gender roles.
“Men are managers and women are shop assistants.” 

“Why?”
“Science fiction isn’t for girls.”

“Why?”
“Women are just good at housework and men aren’t.”

“Why?”
Why?

These ideals are of course not specific to Poland, I just thought it would be interesting to compare what I have found to what I saw happening in Thailand.

Women in Thailand 

When I initially thought of writing this blog post, I intended it to be merely a collection of my own observations about the differences between men and women and how they are treated here in Thailand. However, the more I thought about it, the more I became aware of the differences not only between genders but also between Thai women and foreign women, and Thai men and foreign men. I then stumbled across an article that I just could not dismiss and so I will also draw upon the ideas I read there too.

Even to somebody who knows very little about Thailand, we all know that the country is famous for its beautiful women and its ladyboys. And it’s true. There are a lot of beautiful women and equally beautiful ladyboys. I absolutely have to praise Thailand for its acceptance of genders other than the standard male and female. There are many countries around the world where these women would be shunned and forced to be something they’re not. Similarly, Thailand as a nation also accepts people of all sexual orientations. For that, Thailand, I applaud you! For a country that is still developing in many ways, you have certainly taken the lead in this case.

Having been living in Bangkok for a total of nine months so far, it has come to my attention the number of male expats and the number of female expats differs greatly. From my observations, there are many male and female twenty-something expats seeking adventures in the land of smiles. However, as the expats get older, fewer and fewer women choose to move to or stay in Thailand. Many more foreign men than women choose to stay here long term. The reason? Their Thai women. Why is it that foreign men are so attracted to Thai women? And why is it that foreign women and Thai men do not have the same relationship? 

It all comes down to stereotypes. In my mind, stereotypes are never a good thing. They are dehumanising and take away from our individuality. However, I do accept that stereotypes come from a common trend or truth. Though I do not believe we should stereotype, it is important to recognise where these stereotypes come from. In Thailand, stereotypical Western women are fat and rude and out to destroy men. It sounds to me that those creating the stereotype are intimidated by these women. On the other hand, Thai women are seen as caring, domestic goddesses and sex kittens. The extreme differences are not flattering to foreign women, and unfortunately that imagine, to varying extents, is pushed on us. Though clearly the Thai women stereotype is far more flattering, it is equally unjust. Both are unjust, and should not be applied to any group of women as a whole.

This makes me wonder where this stereotype comes from. Are these stereotypes the fault of Thai culture and society? Or is it in fact from the expat community itself? I would argue that the stereotypes have been more created by the expats than Thai society. There is a popular image of western women that we all hate Thai women and are jealous that they are stealing our men. Who do you think started that rumour? It sounds to me like some bitter, older men who have had bad relationships with Western women in the past, projecting their anger and bitterness from the memories of white women onto all of us.

Which brings me onto my next point. I recently read a blog post on Single Dude Travel (http://www.singledudetravel.com/2015/08/what-ive-learned-about-western-women-while-living-in-thailand/) entitled ‘What I’ve Learned About Western Women While Living in Thailand’ though I think a more appropriate title would be something along the lines of ‘Sweeping Generalisations and What I’ve Projected onto All Western Women’. This article praises Thai women and frankly insults Western women. He begins by detailing a bad relationship with a German girl he had had in the past and goes on to say ‘I had absolutely no idea that there were continents full of loving, caring and supportive women who don’t create drama at every possible opportunity.’ To suggest that women in entire continents all share exactly the same personality traits is unrealistic. 

He then goes on to say ‘before I spent several months in the land of smiled I thought that it was normal for women to behave like men,’ suggesting that Western women are acting like men. Surely that is a good thing? Surely this means that the gender inequality gap is shrinking. In a perfect world it would go without saying that both men and women should act only like respectful and decent humans, and not have to live up to any gender roles prescribed to them centuries ago. I applaud the women who ‘are acting more like men’ – perhaps they are expressing their own personalities rather than what they feel their personailities should reflect. In my mind, this just shows that there is more gender equality in the Western world and is something to be encouraged.

I started to read his blog post with an open mind. Everyone is free to have their own opinions and should be free to voice them however they choose to. However, the more I read the less I took seriously. At one point he refers to Western women as ‘obese western dragons’ and I could no longer take it completely seriously. The post is full of biases and cruel stereotypes and ridiculous sweeping generalisations. One particular statement that stood out to me was ‘99% of Western women know that they are inferior to most non-western women.’ He argues that all Western women fear the day that their husbands realise that they made a big mistake and leave their women for Thai women. Unless my female friends and I all fall into that 1% that feels differently, then these statements are anything but true. We accept and understand that we are different to Thai girls in some respects, due to differences in the societies and cultures we were brought up in. However, we are all essentially the same; we are all people. 

It seems to me that the author of this post is extremely bitter about previous relationships with Western women and is projecting his impression of Western women onto all of us. I have heard many stories about disasterous relationships between Thai women and foreign men. Whether or not a relationship will last does not depend on the nationality of the people involved, it merely depends on the people themselves.

There are also things in Thailand that affect both Thai and Western women in the same way. For example, I recently went on a trip to a town in the north of Thailand called Chiang Mai. There I went to visit many Buddhist temples, and it was at one particular temple I noticed a peculiar sign: 


“Women are not permitted.” I could see no reason why this should be the case.

Similarly, not only are women not permitted to be monks, but we are also forbidden to touch a monk or sit next to a monk on the bus. In Thailand there is a law stating that women are forbidden to enter temples when menstruating. Though I strongly believe that Buddhism teaches some very important moral lessons, I do think it has a long way to go in terms of achieving gender equality.

Finally I want to talk about the sex trade in Thailand, but also in south east Asia more generally. It is not uncommon for young women to enter the sex trade in order to fund and care for their entire families. Many young women are forced into prostitution by poverty. They come from poor areas to tourist areas in order to earn money to support their families. 

I have personally been to a handful of strip clubs and a ping pong show here in Bangkok and I hate it. It’s not that I hate the industry as a whole – women should be free to do what they please. What I dislike about it is the fact the so many women seem unhappy to me. If a woman is unhappy – no, if a person is unhappy – they should not have to remain in the job that makes them unhappy. However, for many of these young girls, they lack the skills to get positions elsewhere. 

I love Thailand. Though perhaps, as is the case with many countries arounf the world, it has a fair way to go before it achieves compete gender equality.