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36 ELEANOR SHOREMAN The authors attribute this to the availability of new land and the absence of strong, traditional, central governments. Mick Moore, however, has refuted this conclusion, arguing that it was the physical environment and prevalence of wet rice cultivation that resulted in the relatively equal status of men and women in Southeast Asian societies. Labor contributions from men and women in rice agriculture, Moore argues, are more equal and therefore result in a higher degree of sexual interdependence than in the case of other grains, where heavy plowing, which is always men’s work, amounts to a larger portion of the total labor inputs (Moore 1995). Still others have argued that women were economically active in farm labor because it allowed them to tend to domestic responsibilities at the same time. Men were less burdened with domestic responsibilities and free to work further from home (Meesook 1976, 18). On orchards and plantations, women were responsible for tending to the trees, as well as for all clearing and trimming. In fishing communities, women collected the fish after the boats returned and were responsible for the proper storage of the catch. Even among the upper classes women made frequent financial contributions to the family through crafts and artwork. They also acted as the “landladies” of their husbands’ properties, managing all expenses and repairs, and collecting all the returns (Bunlu’a Thepphayasuwan 1976, 5). While the cooperative nature of wet rice cultivation and labor may have contributed to the relatively high degree of gender equality in Thailand, labor equity alone cannot adequately explain why Thai women are more highly regarded and well treated compared to women of many other wet rice cultivating Asian countries (Bunlu’a Thepphayasuwan 1975, 4; Hanks 1963; Hanks, personal communication). However, when the theory of labor equity is combined with the reverence for the Rice Goddess evidenced in Thai culture, there emerges a more direct link between wet rice cultivation and contemporary Thai gender roles. This is supported by the fact that Thai women occupy the highest status and receive the greatest reverence during pregnancy and childbirth. Coincidentally, these are also the times in which they are said to be most akin and attuned to the powers of the Rice Goddess and offer the greatest benefit to the society as a whole.

THE ROLES OF RICE AND THE RICE GODDESS The fact that women are most highly regarded during these periods lessens the likelihood that their status resulted merely from their workload, for these life events emphasize female attributes and abilities extraneous to agricultural productivity. Rather, the status held by women on a daily basis likely results from the unique powers that women are believed to possess as a result of their

Sagar XVII — 2007  
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