Early adolescent girls in transition in a peri-urban northern Thai community: perceptions of gender role and sexuality
Fongkaew, Warunee, 1956-
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This study primarily concerns the impact of gender socialization and socioeconomic transformation on young girls' perceptions of their gender roles and sexuality which places them at risk for contracting STDs and AIDS through sexual transmission. Ethnographic approaches were used to develop a fuller understanding of the specific social and cultural contexts that structure the meanings of gender and sexual experiences of the Thai young girls. Data were collected during a twelve month period from February 1994 through January, 1995, by methods of participant observation, focus group interviews, and in-depth interviews, with an attempt to triangulate various perspectives of the participants. Thirty-six girl informants aged 11-14 years participated in the focus group interviews. Eleven of the girls from the focus groups participated in in-depth interviews. Other key informants were mothers and grandmothers of the girl informants, the girls' teachers, health personnel, old men in the villages, and village headmen. Content analysis of fieldnotes and interview transcripts produced themes that represented the girls' perceptions and their shared experiences of gender roles and sexuality.It is evident that Thai culture emphasizes the notion of male superiority in politics and religion. This socially and culturally constituted relation of power impacts the construction of sexuality, which tends to place rigid controls on female sexuality, but not on male sexuality. In childhood socialization, girls were undergoing an important training to be "feminine" and a wife and mother, which is embedded in her conscious and unconscious development. There is more restriction on girls' activities than that of boys', which led girls to develop negative feelings of being bored, disadvantaged, inferior, and of having less freedom.Heterosexual meanings have become central to the gender symbolism that girls and boys have been socialized to, which involves "teen" and "adult" styles of femininity and masculinity. The Thai feminine stereotype is characterized by gentleness, weakness, dependence, emotionality, and is responsible for taking care of the house and children. According to this stereotype, a woman's beauty is also a major asset. These young girls entered the preadolescent period with ambiguous feelings about their gender stereotypes. On the one hand, they perceived that women should be strong, independent, and equal to men. They don't want to be "goody goody girls" who are weak and are easily humiliated by boys. On the other hand, they want to preserve their socially constructed feminine role as gentle and proper women.The girls also enter their sexual lives with silence and with the ambivalence associated with being a woman. Most of young girls experienced negative and shameful feelings about their changing bodies and menarche. They have difficulty in understanding their own developing bodies. Premarital sexual relations and dating were the topics about which mothers, grandmothers, and teachers most frequently disciplined their young girls. Inadequate learning from their parents or other adults has led them to explore sexuality from media, pornographic materials, friends, and by peeking at others' bodies.The impact of modernization on changes in economic power which doubly exploit women and lessening influence of the ancestral spirits in the local villages that has contributed to the emerging of multiple sexual patterns or sexual liberation in this local community is also discussed.
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