Lost Goddesses

The Denial of Female Power in Cambodian History

by Trudy Jacobsen

  • Published: 2008
  • Pages: 358 pp.
  • illustrated
  • Series: Gendering Asia
  • Series number: 4
Available from NIAS Press worldwide
ISBN Paperback: 978 87 7694 001 0, £22.50 ()

A narrative and visual tour de force, this study revises accepted perspectives in the history and geopolitical organization of Cambodia since c 230 CE. In so doing, it examines the relationship between women and power and analyses the extent of female political and economic participation as revealed in historical sources.

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.

author image not supplied

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.

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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by Serinity Young, American Museum of National History
From journal:
Asian Ethnology, Vol. 71-2, 2012

"The virtue of her book is that it breaks new ground in the study of Cambodian women from the third century CE to the early years of the twenty-first century.

… Trudy Jacobsen shows great promise as a scholar. This is a book that needed to be written and I am grateful for the necessarily broad palette she has presented of Cambodian woman’s history."

"The virtue of her book is that it breaks new ground in the study of Cambodian women from the third century CE to the early years of the twenty-first century.

… Trudy Jacobsen shows great promise as a scholar. This is a book that needed to be written and I am grateful for the necessarily broad palette she has presented of Cambodian woman’s history."

by Katherine A. Bowie (Wisconsin-Madison)
From journal:
Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 42 (2), 2011

 This book is a major breakthrough in studies of the position of women not just in Cambodia, but also in Southeast Asia more broadly. Well researched, well argued, well written and clearly organised, Jacobsen’s book reveals the rich treasures possible from a feminist reading of traditional historical sources. I am looking forward to the debates this book is sure to provoke.

 This book is a major breakthrough in studies of the position of women not just in Cambodia, but also in Southeast Asia more broadly. Well researched, well argued, well written and clearly organised, Jacobsen’s book reveals the rich treasures possible from a feminist reading of traditional historical sources. I am looking forward to the debates this book is sure to provoke.

by Stephan Engelkamp
From journal:
ASIEN no. 112-113, October 2009

…a comprehensive history of the role of women in Cambodian politics and society.  Theoretically, Trudy Jacobsen’s book can be situated at an interesting intersection between post-structuralist gender studies and Cambodian history.  Bringing in a feminist perspective on the politics of gender relations in Cambodian history, Lost Goddesses closes a gap in social science resea

…a comprehensive history of the role of women in Cambodian politics and society.  Theoretically, Trudy Jacobsen’s book can be situated at an interesting intersection between post-structuralist gender studies and Cambodian history.  Bringing in a feminist perspective on the politics of gender relations in Cambodian history, Lost Goddesses closes a gap in social science research on this issue.

In a context of ongoing struggles for female empowerment, Lost Goddesses is of high political relevance.  What makes Jacobsen’s book an interesting and important scholarly contribution is its emphasis on the intimate connections between narratives on gender, culture and national identity which are still prevalent in contemporary Cambodia.

by Maraile Görgen
From journal:
Journal of Current Southeast Asian Studies 2/2009

 Trudy Jacobsen’s effort to research the relationship of Cambodian women and power from the country’s earliest period until today is amazing. The author has not neglected searching for the smallest piece of history which might have contributed to women’s situation and the question of whether they have been powerful.

 Trudy Jacobsen’s effort to research the relationship of Cambodian women and power from the country’s earliest period until today is amazing. The author has not neglected searching for the smallest piece of history which might have contributed to women’s situation and the question of whether they have been powerful. Due to the author’s close relationship to Cambodia, its history, and its gender relations, the book provides comprehensive insights into Cambodian life and society – in the past as well as in the present.

by Katherine Brickell Royal Holloway, University of London
From journal:
ASEASUK News 45, 2009

 Lost goddesses makes a fascinating and highly original contribution to deepening our understanding of Cambodian history. Jacobsen brings to life the gendered history of the Southeast Asian country in a critical and sensitive manner through the book’s focus on the ways in which Cambodian women have wielded power in the past.

 Lost goddesses makes a fascinating and highly original contribution to deepening our understanding of Cambodian history. Jacobsen brings to life the gendered history of the Southeast Asian country in a critical and sensitive manner through the book’s focus on the ways in which Cambodian women have wielded power in the past. Tracing the relationship between women and power over time, Jacobsen eloquently assesses which diametrically opposing images of women – as powerful or powerless – are most accurate. … [T]his is an exceptional book of considerable merit that will be of interest to a wide range of academics working in history, anthropology, gender studies, politics, religion and Southeast Asian studies. It is excellent value and would be a clear candidate to be published in Khmer so that the false constructs of earlier periods can be revealed.

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