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Is Thailand a Patriarchal Society?

Today we are going to mix a learn Thai culture lesson with a Thai language lesson. Many people unfamiliar with the kingdom have asked is Thailand a patriarchal society? The answer is complicated. While commentators do often refer to Thailand as a patriarchal society, nothing is ever as simple as it appears on the surface and there are a few things worth mentioning.

Thai men certainly can get away with more bad behavior (such as abandoning their wives and children) than in the West due to a lack of child and spousal support laws. They also sometimes appear to have more public leadership roles in Thai politics and business. Although Thailand had its first female Prime Minister, she was unfortunately overshadowed by her notorious older brother. Her election to office therefore did done nothing to diminish the idea that Thailand is a patriarchal society with an old boy’s club network.

What you usually don’t hear in discussions of Thailand as a patriarchal society is the degree to which Thai women are small business owners and fill management positions throughout Thailand (including our hometown of Sakon Nakhon); how they often head academic departments and research facilities, and how working-class Thai women manage their households with a strength and resiliency that is uniquely their own. While Thai women do suffer abuses at the hands of Thai men which should not be glossed over, it is also fair to say that Thai women form the backbone of the country and wield great influence even when it appears like the boys are in charge.

Let’s now merge today’s Thai culture lesson on Thailand’s patriarchal society into a learn Thai language lesson that you can use. Some foreign men unfortunately marry Thai women under the illusion (or hope) that Thailand is indeed a patriarchal society where they can rule over their respective roosts like the undisputed master. This is ordinarily a recipe for disaster, as seen by the many failed mixed marriages in Sakon Nakhon.

A husband in Thailand should choose wisely those times when it’s important for him to assume the pants in the family, and the rest of the time leave the pants to his Thai wife, even if she has to cinch them up a bit thanks to your beer gut. Next time you are with your wife’s family, you can please her by announcing her role as top dog and get a laugh from those around you with today’s Thai language lesson.


ผม ยัง ไม่ รู้ เลย  มัน ขึ้น อยู่ กับ แฟน ภรรยา เป็น บอส ครอบครัว ฉัน เป็น ลูกจ้าง เท่านั้น

Phŏm yang mâi róo loei. Man khêun yòo gàp faen. Phan-rá-yah bpen bàwt khrâwp-khrua. Chăn bpen lôok-jâhng thâo-nán.

I yet not know at all. It depend be with wife. Wife is boss family. I be worker only.

I don’t know yet. It depends on my wife. She is the boss. I just work here.


Thai Language Tip: You’ll notice that we use two words for wife in the above Thai language lesson. The word faen (แฟน) is a catch-all term that can refer to boyfriend/girlfriend/husband or wife. The word phan-rá-yah (ภรรยา), which is pronounced colloquially as pha-rá-yah, is the specific polite term for a wife. The word mia (เมีย) also means wife in Thai but it is a word best not used when women are present because some may take offense to it.

Want some more advice on how to keep a marriage happy in Thailand? Head over to our post on why not to ask why.