“Cambodian men won’t like me, because I’m independent. They don’t like women who say, ‘do this’ or ‘do that.'”—One of my modern Khmer friends.
I’ve spent a year in Cambodia to date and have met Cambodians in rural villages and the heart of the busier cities in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh around the country. I’ve become very accustomed to seeing women who always greet you with a smile, often timid, and who have been raised to become a good wife to somebody, especially in the rural villages where over 85% of the Cambodian population lives.
I’ve learned from my close Khmer friends, including those who have grown up in the cities, that their parents didn’t support their education because they were girls and prefer to send the boys to school. They would essentially say, “What’s the point? You are going to be a housewife so you need to learn to cook and clean the house.”
A “good” Khmer woman is a woman who does not speak back against authority, parents or their husbands. They are responsible for managing the house and taking care of the children while many of their husbands drink, laze around or cheat with other women. I don’t want to generalize but around Asia, particularly rural areas, this is a very common problem among the men. And the women often just tolerate it.
Modern Khmer women
I have been meeting more women in in Cambodia, particularly in sports groups and NGO employees, who very much surprise me with their boldness, confidence, LGBT friendly attitude, humour and sometimes sexual jokes. They are very liberal even by Western standards.
I very much admire and respect some of my friends who went against their parents wishes, which is very difficult in a culture where you are trained to respect and obey your elders from the moment you are born, and they fought to go to school anyway because they wanted to learn so they found a way to get their own scholarships or pay for their own education. In my previous post, I spoke about some of my strong friends who went against their parents to pursue their passions.
Socially, my modern Khmer friends are very outspoken, don’t take BS from anyone, especially men and earn their own money to live the way they want and learn whatever they want. We see each other at least twice a week and always enjoy a good laugh and be as loud as we want. They are one of the funniest people I’ve met in my life of all the places I’ve been in Europe, Mauritius, Asia and North America.
I know my friends will educate their daughters and their sons to respect women and I hope in the next generation this mentality spreads in more parts of the country.