Working Women and Exploitative States in Premodern Southeast Asia

Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog

As the field of Southeast Asian Studies developed (particularly in North America and Australia) in the second half of the twentieth century, one of the ideas that came to be established as a defining feature of Southeast Asia as a region was the idea that traditionally women in Southeast Asia were “better off” or “more autonomous” than women in other parts of the world, particularly in East and South Asia.

A Google search for “women in Southeast Asia,” easily brings up information which is representative of that interpretation:

“The 11 countries of Southeast Asia include over 550 million people. Despite great linguistic and cultural diversity, the region is characterized by the relatively favorable position of women in comparison with neighboring East or South Asia.

“This has been explained by several factors: traditionally, kinship was traced though both maternal and paternal lines; a daughter was not a financial burden because of…

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