six
Prostitution and
Foreign Bodies

Divergent Voices

Thai studies continues to be criticized for claiming uniqueness in all things Thai. While I am conscious of the dangers of presenting Thailand as the special case, the location of unique particularities, I argue that the Thai sex-gender system has much to contribute to counter EuroAmerican biases in theorizing gender, sexuality and prostitution. But analyses of the country's sex-gender system cannot be reduced to studies of prostitution and sex tourism. Such reductionism reinforces the good woman/bad woman dichotomy and underplays the importance of local institutions that support gender inequality. If brothels, massage parlours and go-go bars are sites where Thai gender and sexuality are visibly constructed, they are also sites that most Thai women have never visited. Other localities such as beauty contests, workplaces, temples, homes and shopping malls shape Thai gender categories more significantly than prostitution.

When I tell people that I am writing a book about gender and Thailand, inevitably they ask why there is so much prostitution and sex tourism in the country. When I am in the country, both leave my consciousness, replaced by concerns about propriety, manners and admiration for the competence of Thai women. Yet prostitution must figure prominently in the analysis of Thai gender because it articulates with national representations, sexuality, economics, gender categories and marriage in significant and interesting ways.

My perspective on Thai prostitution is not based on systematic field research, but from my review of the academic and popular literature by both Thai and foreign social scientists on aspects of prostitution, conversations with Thai social scientists and women activists on the subject, and observations over a thirty-year period in Bangkok, Pattaya,

-163-

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Materializing Thailand
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • List of Figures xi
  • Part I - Orientations 1
  • One - Crafting Thailand 3
  • Notes *
  • Two - Ordering the Past: Representations of Thai Women 35
  • Notes *
  • Three - Buddhism and Gender Ideology 65
  • Notes *
  • Part II - Representations 93
  • Four - Representing Thai Culture 95
  • Notes *
  • Five - Deconstructing Display: Gender and Beauty 129
  • Notes 160
  • Six - Prostitution and Foreign Bodies 163
  • Notes *
  • Part III - Interpretations 199
  • Seven - Modelling Thai Gender Relations 201
  • Notes *
  • Eight - Context and Continuity: Grasshoppers, Turtles and Feminists 227
  • Notes *
  • Bibliography 241
  • Index 269
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