The Denial of Female Power in Cambodian History
by Trudy Jacobsen
358 pp., illustrated
Gendering Asia # 4
Available from NIAS Press worldwide
Women had a high status in pre-modern Southeast Asia; this is constantly stated, especially in relation to discussions on the status of women today in the region. Why, then, is it that the position of women there today is far from equitable? Few studies have examined how or when - let alone why - this change came about.
This is the first study ever to address the place of women in Cambodian history. A narrative and visual tour de force, it revises accepted perspectives in the history and geopolitical organization of Cambodia since c. 230 C.E. In so doing, the book examines the relationship between women and power and analyses the extent of female political and economic participation as revealed in historical sources, including the ways in which women were represented in art and literature.
By taking an analytical approach through the sequence of chronological periods, it is possible to determine when and why the status of women changed and what factors contributed to these changes. Significantly, although Cambodian women have been represented at different times as ’powerless’ in western analyses, they have continued to exercise authority outside those areas of concern to western constructs of power.
This study will be of interest to scholars working in history, anthropology, gender studies, politics, religion, Cambodian/Khmer studies, and Southeast Asian studies, as well as members of the general public.
1. Introducing the Goddesses
Framing women and power in Cambodia • Principles for a methodology covering 2000 years • Reading the past in the present
2. Devi, Rajñi, Dasi, Mat
Mythological role-models • Queens among men • Deconstructing Jayavarman II • Women, ‘matriliny’, and marriage • Beyond the elite
3. Behind the Apsara
A fall from grace? • The kanlong kamraten an • Women of the palace • Social strictures and daily life
4. Goddesses Lost?
Patron princesses, querulous queens • Life at court • Beyond the palace walls
5. Hostages, Heroines and Hostilities
The reign of Queen Ang Mei • The misogyny of Ang Duong • The Cbpab Srei • Revisionist (female) histories
6. ‘Traditional’ Cambodia
Love and marriage • Women in public and private • Female power in the spiritual realm
7. Cherchez la femme
Exoticism and ‘encongayment’ • Emancipation and exploitation • The (failed) institutionalisation of midwifery • Education and exhibition • Constructing a ‘traditional’ Cambodian identity
Sex in the Sangkum • Private spaces, sacred places • The Khmer Republic • Fine lines: Mobilisation and morality
9. Into the fields
The gender-neutral state • Obedience and obfuscation • Gendered punishment • The triumph of ‘tradition’
10. Picking Up the Pieces
The People’s Republic of Kampuchea, January 1979–April 1989 • The State of Cambodia, May 1989–September 1993
11. Contemporary Conspiracies
Locating women in contemporary Cambodia • Male culture and double standards • Complicity in the foreign quarter • Advocating women’s rights (or not)
12. Goddesses Found
Dr Trudy Jacobsen
Trudy Jacobsen is Assistant Professor at the Department of History, North Illinois University where among other things she teaches the history of Buddhist Southeast Asia. Earlier, she was an ARC Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Social and Political Inquiry, Monash University. She has taught the global history of genocide, the history and politics of Southeast Asia, and the anthropology of development at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London), the University of Queensland and Monash University in addition to having held research fellowships at Griffith University and the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. She has published on Southeast Asian gender issues and history, Cambodian conceptualisations of justice, and the role of contemporary Buddhism in politics. Her current research project is an inquiry into sexual contracts in mainland Southeast Asia.
We were fortunate to record an interview with Trudy at the 2010 AAS conference in Philadelphia. You can view this interview here but be prepared for loud interruptions from a nearby baby at points during the interview.
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