The Marriage Industry
Its a common joke in the west. Talking about old white men with young thai (or russian or …..) wives. The women are frequently portrayed by the mainstream media as being heartles mercenary harpies, exploiting lonely old men who don’t know any better and just want some companionship in their sunset years.
If you look in any English language bookshop in Bangkok or Phuket you will find plenty of treatises on making ‘entrepreneurial’ marriages work. The idea of marriages being made as a business transaction – creature comforts for companionship for example- is not in and of itself a bad thing. What is deeply problematic are the wider social and institutional factors that result in these marriages.
Older white men come to Thailand seeking the idea of oriental womanhood, quiet ladylike women who will attend to their every need and not argue with them or question them. Thai women hook up with these men because usually they offer them the chance of a better life, not just for them but often for their whole families. I find it incredibly distasteful that men who are or have faced the erosion of a very little bit of their privilege move somewhere where they can enjoy it in full. I find it sad that the neo-liberal capitalist system makes it necessary for these women to enter into these marriage transactions often against their preferences. I especially find it disturbing that it is these women who are negatively portrayed in the media and not the men.
Capitalist and neo-liberal ideology tells us that everyone involved is free to make their own choices. That markets are created to meet needs. Progressive liberals say that a choice brought about by circumstances is no choice at all. A few years ago there was an outbreak of young thai wives cutting of their farang (thai for foreign (also guava but that’s irrelevant)) husbands penises. To me this is quite indicative of the lack of options these women felt they had. Often totally dependent on their husbands for their and their families livelihoods and well being that their only recourse when wronged by their husbands (and usually they have been wronged) is extreme violence.