After months of waiting, the paperback version of Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia has finally been released. I've been holding off on a proper celebration until now so that people can actually afford the book!
Please join us in New York on October 24, 2014 at the new venue: ClampArt, 521-531 West 25th Street, at 6:30pm. There will be nibbles, wine and a short reading from the book. I'm looking forward to celebrating and publicly thanking all the wonderful people who have helped make this happen.
The event is FREE, but please register for tickets so that we can keep track of numbers:
And if you cannot make it to the event, but would still like to buy the book at the 20% discount, use this code on the Routledge website: FLR40:
OR you can find it on amazon!
Thanks! Hope to see you at the launch!
Paperback Launch Party in NYC for Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia! October 24 ***CHANGE OF VENUE & TIME!!
Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia SHORTLISTED for BBC 4 Thinking Allowed Ethnography of the Year Award (with Laurie Taylor)!!!
Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia has been shortlisted for the BBC 4 Thinking Allowed Ethnography of the Year Award. Thinking Allowed is a weekly radio show on BBC 4 hosted by renowned sociologist and criminologist Laurie Taylor (founding member of the National Deviance Conference in the UK). The announcement of the shortlist on the show can be heard here. (If the episode is not yet available to listen to, it will be soon!)
My book is the first ethnography discussed by host Laurie Taylor, and selection committee members, Bev Skeggs and Dick Hobbs. The description of the show is:
The Ethnography award 'short list': Thinking Allowed, in association with the British Sociological Association, presents a special programme devoted to the academic research which has been short listed for our new annual award for a study that has made a significant contribution to ethnography, the in-depth analysis of the everyday life of a culture or sub culture. Laurie Taylor is joined by three of the judges: Professor Beverley Skeggs, Professor Dick Hobbs and Dr Louise Westmarland.
The winner will be announced at the British Sociological Association meetings at the University of Leeds on April 25, 2014. The winner receives £1000. Fingers crossed!
BOOK TALK - Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia, Heidi Hoefinger, John Jay College Sociology Colloquium, April 29
JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE
Department of Sociology Colloquium
Department of Sociology Conference Room (3232N) Third floor, North Hall
April 29, 2014
1:40 - 2:40 pm (community hour)
Heidi Hoefinger’s new book analyzes the ways in which intimacy and commerce intersect in the everyday lives of “professional girlfriends” employed at tourist bars in Cambodia.
Join us as she explores a new theoretical framework for understand transactional sex and the ways in which gender, desire, and power and embedded in globalized and commodified relationships.
Heidi Hoefinger is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York, an Adjunct in the Department of Anthropology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and an Adjunct Lecturer in Gender and Sexuality Studies at the Institute of South East Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University, Thailand.
Hot off the Press! "Gendered Motivations, Sociocultural Constraints and Psychobehavioral Consequences of Transnational Partnerships in Cambodia"
I'm excited to announce the latest issue of Studies in Gender and Sexuality which is a special edition focused on Cambodia, featuring papers by me, Melissa Ditmore, Joanna Busza, and Trude Jacobsen,with an introduction by Katie Gentile. The premise of the special issue was first born at symposium that I organized at Goldsmiths College, University of London in May 2010 titled "New Directions in Sex Research - Examples from Cambodia", where Melissa, Joanna and I presented papers on sex in Cambodia. That symposium was chaired by Professor Angela McRobbie. Over dinner we discussed doing a special edition somewhere.
Two years later, Melissa and I presented on a similar panel with Trude at the Cambodia Studies conference in 2012, called *Intimate Contexts*. The panel rationale at that conference was as follows:
Inter-personal connections, in which sexual activity forms a major component of the nature of the relationship, are by their nature private. The sanction of relationships such as marriage may be performed publicly, but the nuances of daily life often go unrecognized and ill-understood. Only through elite-authored legal texts and didactic codes can such relationships be evaluated in the distant past; rarely does the scholar find a human story upon which to base hypotheses of the lived experience. By contrast, ethnography permits a multiplicity of voices to be heard. The result is a series of conflicting notions of intimate contexts over time, as perceived by scholars whose biases may have prevented them from seeing the true nature of such relationships. This panel seeks to address this imbalance by presenting papers that reorient intimate contexts away from western traditional perspectives and speak to the Cambodian social milieu with its particular historical and cultural trajectories.
The papers in this new special edition of Studies in Gender and Sexuality range across debt bondage, commercial sexual transactions, professional girlfriends, and transnational partnerships. My paper is titled "Gendered Motivations, Sociocultural Constraints, and Psychobehavioral Consequences of Transnational Partnerships in Cambodia" (50 free copies are available for download with this link. If that doesn't work, try this link). The paper is about what motivates Cambodian hostess bar workers and western men to engage in relationships, and then what happens when cultural misunderstandings take place and expectations aren't met. Here's the abstract:
Global flows of people, information, and capital have created transnational spaces in Cambodia.Within those spaces exists the formation of complex and multilayered interpersonal relationships between people attempting to capitalize on the opportunities created by these flows. The purpose of this article is to describe these transnational relationships, namely, between young women employed in the entertainment sectors in Phnom Penh and their western male partners, while highlighting the racialized and gendered motivations of the global actors, the inevitable sociocultural conflicts/constraints/misunderstandings that arise within the partnerships, and the resulting challenges
and psychobehavioral consequences experienced by the mobile and differentiated individuals involved in these postcolonial relational formations.
I would love and thoughts or comments!
First Academic Book Review of Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia by Fabian Thiel in ERDKUNDE: Archive for Scientific Geography
The original review on the Erdkunde website can be found by scrolling down towards the bottom of the webpage here.
Hoefinger, Heidi: Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia. Professional girlfriends and transactional relationships. 214 pp. and 4 figs. The modern anthropology of Southeast Asia. Routledge, Abingdon and New York 2013, US-$ 145
Unlike the scorcher title of this publication might hypothesize, Heidi Hoefinger presents an in-depth field study on intimate ethnography, connected lives and sexual landscapes in developing Cambodia. Hoefinger, an American development researcher and lecturer of gender studies in Chiang Mai University, Thailand, examines bar-girl subculture in terms of alternative kinship, cross-border relationships and – assumingly most important – the access to assets, money and real estate resulting from sexual services delivered by Cambodian women. The materiality invested to maintain relationships, the global nightscape, the sexual landscape of Cambodia and the entertainment industry are closely connected to spatial, ethnic, political and legal dimensions. Starting with the essential figure of the “professional girlfriend”, Hoefinger is aware of the surely discomforting grey area where transactional relationships, supply and demand collide.
In seven chapters that are the result of multi-annual research studies including undercover examinations and interviews with female and male informants, the author shows that the resulting transnational relationships between Cambodian women and their foreign partners (Khmer: barang men) are multi-layered. Gender stereotypes and double standards: Hoefinger highlights the ever-present tensions modern Cambodian women experience between desires to be liberal and sexually modern – along with the growing economy in sectors such as garment, real estate, tourism, art and fashion – while retaining elements of “respectable” Khmer femininity and wholesomeness (p. 131). Surprisingly, the figure of the professional girlfriend who is on the rising trend particularly after the global financial crisis that hit Cambodia’s garment industry and left thousands of female garment workers unemployed and diverted them into the bar and club scene of Phnom Penh.
Following Hoefinger’s theory, radical feminist perspectives ignore the voices and agency of postcolonial women who are resisting and subverting the patriarchy. By leaving their homes and properties in the remote rural provinces and moving to cities such as Phnom Penh, Siem Reap or Sihanoukville – the tourist destinations of Angkor Wat and the seaside – young Cambodian women are resisting the demands of contemporary codes that require them to remain subservient (p. 6). On one hand, emotional labour is moving to the marketplace, not only in Cambodia, but also in Vietnam and – with a remarkable history – in Thailand. On the other hand, the phenomenon of taboo-breaking “phallic girls” or “modern global girls” (pp. 17 and 55) mirrors a new emerging sexuality within the Cambodian youth. The existence of transnational partnerships has to be contextualized through the looking-glass of history, gender equality, power, political economy, family and sexuality.
Intimate ethnography involves alternative kinship and subculture in Phnom Penh’s three legendary tourist areas: The lakeside (the filled-in Boeung Kak Lake), the strip (a tourist street near the central market, renowned for its debauched nightlife and increasing income of the landowners) and the riverside (several streets parallel to the Tonle Sap River). Within the riverside territory, there are still numerous prime land plots waiting for professional entertainment development to host hostess bars, brothels, karaoke venues and beer gardens (pp. 112–116). Doubtlessly, competition in this sector is increasing. As Phnom Penh continuously expands due to population growth, selected valuable sites will become scarce. Both sexual and real estate landscapes including rent-seeking behaviour of landowners are steadily evolving.
Although attitudes around gendered domesticity are changing in Cambodia, according to Hoefinger, female bar managers express frustrations with the position of women in the country and the stigma people have against women who work in bars. Women attach themselves to westerners in the hope of gaining social, sub-cultural and material capital including “a large house and hire domestic help” (p. 166). In addition, a gap between official law and general implementation practice can often be diagnosed. Land law, family law, the Civil Code or the Cambodian Constitution may simply be unknown by the majority of the population, or the legal system can be de facto out of reach for many. The popular transactional relationships have to be contextualized with the inner-Cambodian migration as said above. Field surveys brought evidence about the lack of security in view of joint land titles in particular in the event of separation, divorce, abandonment, multiple marriage relationships (polygamy) or death of the husband.
Hoefinger’s work does not only show the materiality of everyday relationships, the expansion of prostitution following foreign troops after 1979 or designing the “emotional geography” in modern Cambodia, far beyond the debate on human trafficking, exploitation and prostitution in Southeast Asia. Instead, Hoefinger offers multiple examples of Cambodian women acting self-confident in the sexual landscapes and who circumvent asymmetries of power. Thus they could turn Phnom Penh into a space of opportunity rather than one of domination (p. 178). The current debate in Cambodia among NGOs underlines this. Women are to have the same rights in marriage as their spouses with respect to ownership, management, enjoyment and the disposal of property.
In the final chapter, Hoefinger presents scenarios of positive changes – she calls them success stories – of girls with whom she had consistently communicated with over several years in her research. Some managed to move out of Phnom Penh, back to their provincial villages and families. Indeed, the irony here is that these women found happiness not in the arms of a distant foreign lover, but right in their own backyards and homelands. Some purchased concrete or wooden houses with joint-titled land certificates and open shops. Joint titling of land has generally increased in the Cambodian land distribution program due to pressure from the women’s movement, NGOs and international donors. Joint ownership – in the terminology of the Cambodian Land Law: Undivided ownership – may be interpreted as an important strategy to ensure that the process of formalizing land ownership does not unwittingly produce gender-discriminatory effects.
Geographers and ethnographic scientists dealing with “emotional issues” such as transnational migration and access codes to natural resources should have a look inside this unusual, however controversial, Cambodian history from the perspective of gender and sexuality.
(former Land Management and Planning Advisor for GIZ in Cambodia, 2008-2011)
Marks, S. and Prak, C. T. (2009): Hostesses’ hard choices. Tracing the career paths of Phnom Penh’s hostesses. The Cambodia Daily, 11–12 July, 12–13.
Mehrak, M.; Chhay, K. and My, S. (2008): Women’s perspectives: a case study of systematic land registration. Phnom Penh.
On September 4, 2013, I was featured in a radio interview with Jim Stevenson on Voice of America, Daybreak Asia program. The interview was pre-recorded and we originally spoke for almost 45 minutes on the phone. The interview was then edited down to about to 8 minutes, which I'm sure was no easy task for Jim. The final edited version can be heard starting at minute 16.14 of the full podcast that aired on Sept 4, or the specific segment can be downloaded below as an mp3 file.
Everything You Think You Know About Cambodian Sex Workers Is Wrong - Huffington Post Interview with Heidi Hoefinger
READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE:
Everything You Think You Know About Cambodian Sex Workers Is Wrong
10/15/2013 3:54 pm
by David Henry Sterry
I'm always on the lookout for people who have interesting things to say about the strange things that happen in the exchange of sex for money. Heidi Hoefinger, author of the new book, Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia: Professional Girlfriends and Transactional Relationships, is one of those people. Here are some of the fascinating things she has some to say about Cambodian sex workers.
David Henry Sterry: Why did you want to write a book about Cambodian bar girls?
Heidi Hoefinger: I went to Cambodia 10 years ago as a backpacker and I ended up meeting, and connecting with a few girls really quickly. We identified on lots of levels -- particularly around the way we dressed and danced, and the music we liked -- so we became 'fast friends.' Phnom Penh, the capital city, also had a lawless and edgy magnetism about it and I decided then and there that I wanted to come back to Cambodia and write a book about the women who were at the heart of it all.
DHS: What did you expect, and how are your expectations met or shattered?
HH: I'm a little embarrassed to admit that when I first went to Cambodia back in 2003, I was filled with all the naïve assumptions and western biases that many people have when they first get there: all the girls are 'trapped' in the bars; they have little decision-making power; they are controlled by bosses and managers; they are all sex workers who are commercially available and negotiable for sex upon any request; and every inter-ethnic couple (Cambodian woman/western man) were commercially-based. Well, I had to confront all those assumptions pretty quickly, because when I got there in 2005 to start formal academic research, I learned right away that something quite different was going on. Most of the girls were working in the bars out of their own free will (to the extent that anyone does in Cambodia or beyond); their sexual decisions weren't controlled by bosses or managers and the women could decide themselves whether or not they wanted to 'go with customers'; and the majority did not actually identify as sex workers, or view their quest for foreign boyfriends as 'work.' They viewed themselves as 'bartenders,' 'bar girls,' or 'bar maids,' and viewed most of the sexual partners that they meet in the bars as 'real' boyfriends.
DHS: Did you spend much time in the bars, and what happens on a typical night?
HH: During several visits over several years, I spent every night out in the bars with the women. But in addition to that, I spent days with them in their homes, helping look after their kids; or we hung out at the markets buying clothes, or at internet cafes translating emails from western boyfriends, or even out in the countryside meeting their families in their villages. But indeed, the majority of our time was spent going out at night. A typical night out usually begins at the salon, where we would get our hair and nails done. The girls who work in the hostess bars that I was researching -- these are bars where Cambodian women sit and chat with mainly western customers, but also increasing numbers of East and Southeast Asian men -- are able to afford this daily activity due to the increased spending capacity they have which results from the material benefits they gain from foreign boyfriends. After we got dressed, many of them would go to their respective bars and work their shifts from 7pm-2am. After that, we would go to the dance clubs -- with or without their male suitors -- and when those closed, we would end up at the 24-hour bars to play pool. Finally, we'd end the night by having a bowl of soup on the street to catch up on the night's gossip before going home to sleep as the sun came up.
DHS: Did you get to know any of these women, and if so, what would she like in terms of background, education, aspirations, dreams, goals?
HH: Over a decade, I got to know many of the women as close friends. And though we came from different ethnic, economic, class and educational backgrounds, we shared similar aspirations: to be happy and live in comfortable environments with our material, physical and emotional needs met. Most of the women were born in the Cambodian countryside, and a combination of familial obligation, financial need, and personal aspirations for adventure, freedom or romance drove them to migrate to the cities. Many but not all have elementary educations -- but that's it, so when they get to the city, their options are limited. They can either do domestic work like cleaning, or street trading of fruits or other goods, or garment factory work, or entertainment or sex work. Many tried their hand at everything and ended up preferring to work in the bars because they were the most lucrative, there was more flexibility of movement, they got to meet people from outside of Cambodia, and learn and improve their English skills, and the bars were just generally more 'fun' than the other jobs. Most women are very resourceful and entrepreneurial, and the ultimate goal of many of them was to open their own businesses -- like a clothing store, bar, restaurant or salon, so they could support themselves and their families. Of course meeting a nice person along the way, who treats them and their families with love and respect, was also one of the life goals for many.
DHS: Do the bar girls see themselves as sex workers?
HH: Actually, the majority of women I spoke to in the hostess bars over the years do not, in fact, identify as sex workers, or their search for foreign boyfriends as work. Yes, they want and even expect, in some cases, to materially benefit from relationships with foreigners, who by default have more economic power over the women by nature of their western positionality, but the women normally don't view these things (like clothes, jewelry, phones, tuition, rent or cash) as payment for sexual services from clients, but rather as gifts or support from boyfriends. Within Cambodian culture, there exists a thing called 'bridewealth' -- which is when the potential groom's family pays the potential bride's family back the money they spent on milk while raising their daughter up -- known colloquially as paying back the 'milk money.' So there is a deeply-rooted cultural expectation of economic benefits attached to marriage. In other words, it's assumed that a man will financially support his female partner and her family -- or at least provide a substantial gift. This is not as rigid as it used to be, and more and more women are equally contributing economically within their relationships, but the point is that just because they get stuff like cash and gifts from their western sexual partners that they meet in the bar does not mean they all identify as sex workers. There are plenty of women, men and transgender people in Cambodia who do identify as sex workers, and there is a growing sex worker rights movement in Cambodia led by a sex worker union consisting of over 6,000 members. But one of the main points of the book is that no matter how someone identifies -- as a sex worker, prostitute, girlfriend, whatever -- they should be treated with respect for the decisions they make. The book is really trying to destigmatize all the actors involved -- the women and their male partners -- whether they are involved in commercial relationships or not.
DHS: How are sex workers viewed in Cambodia?
HH: Typically sex workers, or entertainment workers in general -- whether they identify as sex workers or not -- are viewed with either contempt by general society, or even as subhuman by others. Otherwise, they are viewed as pitiable victims that need saving (and there are lots of local and international NGOs who make it their business to do so). There are written social and moral codes for women that dictate how they should live (originally known as the Chbap Srei, or Women's Code): quietly, without drawing attention to themselves; obediently and submissively towards their husbands, while not venturing far from home; modestly, in the way they dress, etc. So the women in the bars go against these social codes 100 percent -- they are the epitome of 'bad women' or 'broken women' (srei kouc, in Khmer). But, they can also materially 'make-up' for their tarnished images by providing their families with new houses, cars, and tuition for their siblings. So they experience extreme stigma and praise at the same time. It's a difficult gendered social world for them to negotiate.
DHS: Do these bar girls in Cambodia see themselves as victims? Do they long to be saved?
HH: Most of the women did not view themselves as victims, and expressed a strong desire to instead by respected for the decisions they make under some really tough circumstances. They often referred to themselves in English as 'strong girls.' That's not to say they didn't know how to capitalize on empathy. That was definitely a strategy that some of the women used to tap into the 'hero syndrome' that many western men experience -- which I define as an overwhelming desire by the men to use their status, resources, and knowledge to 'save' the women and their families from destitution. The problem with 'hero syndrome' is that once men offer their 'help,' they also expect a certain degree of power in decision-making about how those resources are spent. So really, those with this 'hero' mentality to 'help' aren't really helping in the long run if they are just trying to control the families and their finances.
DHS: What is the best way for a well-intentioned white Westerner to help then?
HH: Cambodia has quite a bit of 'help' already. The country has been heavily funded by international aid agencies since the 1990s and is still a place where SUVs slapped with NGO logos take up far too much space. It's also currently flooded with masses of well-intentioned but highly uninformed 'voluntourists' who actually pay money to volunteer their time at the plethora of dodgy orphanages or schools that line the cities. The country certainly doesn't need more 'help' of this sort. If Westerners have a burning desire to spend their money philanthropically in Cambodia, I would suggest they donate to projects like the Women's Network for Unity (WNU), which is the sex worker union I mentioned above, or to other community-run projects that are led by the women or workers themselves, so that the community members actually have a say in what their needs are and where the resources should be spent. I would not suggest throwing money at the hundreds of anti-trafficking groups that have wasted millions (probably billions) of donor dollars in unrealistically trying to 'abolish slavery' by forcefully 'rescuing' women from the bars, detaining them against their will in 'shelters,' and shoving sewing machines in their hands because that is supposedly a more 'dignified' form of work. Instead, people should 'help' by listening to the women themselves, and to what their needs and desires are, and to respect them for the decisions they make, rather then treating them like infants, victims, or criminals that need rehabilitation or rescue by those who think they know best -- who most often have never even met or spoken to a Cambodian bar worker.
DHS: What was your most surprising take away after all was said and done?
HH: I guess the most surprising take away from the research is this controversial idea that not all women who work in bars identify as sex workers; that their relationships aren't all commercial and often filled with love and emotion; and that the women aren't all victims who want to be rescued by do-gooder westerners! Instead they are resourceful and using whatever tools are available to them -- in this case sex and intimacy -- to improve their lives and find happiness amidst tons of stereotypes, sexual violence, corruption, and domestic abuse. I also learned that all relationships around the globe mingle economics, intimacy, emotion and pragmatic materiality on some level, and so the relationships that transpire in Cambodian bars are really not so different from more 'conventional' relationships that develop anywhere. Of course there are certain power differentials that are present within these relationships based on economics, nationality and class in many cases, but I guess I'm trying to encourage readers of the book to stop stigmatizing sex and relationships between Cambodian bar workers and western men as something fundamentally different from 'their' sex and relationships, and to recognize the transactionality and materiality of their own relationships. And I think the most important thing I learned is that no matter how women identify, and no matter what circumstances they happen to be in, they are capable of -- and should be valued for -- the decisions they make and that includes their decisions to sell sex, trade sex, and have sex with the people of their choosing. It's my hope that public understanding of the issues outlined in the book might ultimately help to reduce the stigma that most bar workers experience there, which is really at the root cause of all the discrimination and violence they experience.
BIO: Heidi is a postdoctoral fellow in drug research at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York, and an adjunct lecturer at Berkeley College in NY, and the Institute of South East Asian Affairs, Chiang Mai University, Thailand. She is actively involved in the global sex workers rights movement, and a member of Sex Worker Open University and X:Talk in London, Sex Worker Outreach Project in New York, and on the program advisory committee for the Red Umbrella Fund, which is an international granting body for sex worker projects around the world.
David Henry Sterry is the author of 15 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, and activist. His new book, Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages. His anthology, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The follow-up, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks, just came out. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Penthouse, Michael Caine, the London Times, Playboy and Zippy the Chimp. His new illustrated novel is Mort Morte. He is also co-founder of The Book Doctors, who have helped dozens and dozens of amateur writers become professionally published authors. They edit books and develop manuscripts, help writers develop a platform, and connect them with agents and publishers. Their book is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.www.davidhenrysterry
Southeast Asia Globe Magazine Interview with Dr Heidi Hoefinger about Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia
Click here for original story on SEA Globe website:
“It’s really hard for people to think of Cambodian bar workers as anything other than prostitutes”
September 24, 2013
Interview by: Charlie Lancaster Photo by: Cameron Hickey
Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia: Professional Girlfriends and Transactional Relationships is a book collating seven years of research into Cambodia’s sex and entertainment industries. Dr Heidi Hoefinger is its author
Why did you choose to spend so many years researching this topic?
I fell in love with Cambodia the first time I went there as a backpacker in 2003. The energy of Phnom Penh was frenetic and addictive. I had met a few women in the bars and we became fast friends. We connected through music, dancing and talking about our boyfriends. I decided then that I wanted to spend more time in Cambodia and learn about their lives. I went back in 2005 to start formal academic research on the sex and entertainment sectors, and I’ve been going back every one or two years since.
What is the main message readers should take away from your book?
There are two really. The first is that the relationships between Cambodian ‘bar girls’ and Western men are complex, not always commercial and often filled with love and emotion. The second is that, despite being surrounded by a sea of gender stereotypes, strict moral and social codes, sexual violence, corruption and domestic abuse, the women are resourceful and use the tools available to them, like bar work, sex and intimacy, to improve their lives. Cambodia can be a tough place to be a woman; and, although their options for supporting themselves are limited, they’ve chosen what’s best for them at a particular moment in time. For the women in the book, that was working in bars and seeking out foreign boyfriends. Many of them had tried other jobs, such as garment factory work, street trading or house cleaning, but bar work was the most lucrative, flexible, educational and sometimes the most fun. Many women learn English and about the outside world through people they meet in the bars. Of course, bar work has its bad points like any job, but these women make the most of their situations and support their families in the best way they can.
What were the most interesting findings to come out of your research?
For one, the majority of women in the book who work in hostess bars don’t do pre-negotiated ‘sex-for-cash’ and so don’t identify as sex workers – they identify as girlfriends being with boyfriends. Often the boyfriends treat them to gifts such as clothes, jewellery, meals and taxi rides, but it’s not considered payment for sex. The relationships exist in a ‘grey zone’ where sex, love and money all come together. This makes some people uncomfortable because they think these things should never exist in the same space. But one thing I learned is that all relationships – in Cambodia and beyond – combine elements of economics, emotion and intimacy. So, with the book, I’m really trying to get people to reflect on the material and transactional natures of their own relationships and stop stereotyping those between Cambodian women and Western men.
Did you come up against any challenges or obstacles?
Talking about sex is always controversial. People get emotional and have strong views about what’s right or wrong, good or bad. I’ve found that it’s really hard for people to think about Cambodian bar workers as anything other than prostitutes, and prostitutes as anything other than poor victims, ‘broken women’ or criminals. Saying they are resourceful and even empowered by this work really bothers some people – particularly those who insist on denying the women the agency to make their own decisions. It’s a complicated issue with no easy answers.
“The other Cambodians” – Ripped from their homes in the United States, the Kingdom’s returnees are determined to make the most of a raw deal
Winner of the 'Ground-breaking Subject Matter Accolade in Social Sciences' at the International Convention of Asia Scholars 2013
This morning I received the following email from Paul van der Velde, the Secretary of the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS):
It is my pleasure to inform you - it was already announced during the IBP 2013 Award Ceremony in Macao on 25 June 2013 - that you have won the IBP Reading Committee Ground-breaking Subject Matter Accolade in the Social Sciences for your Ph.D Negotiating Intimacy: Transactional Sex and Relationships Among Cambodian Professional Girlfriends (2010).
ICAS is the premier international gathering in the field of Asian Studies. Their International Book Prize (IBP) is a prestigious award granted for both books and dissertations written about Asia in the fields Humanities and Social Sciences. Out of 100 PhD dissertation submissions, mine was chosen for its Ground-breaking Subject Matter in the Social Sciences. My name was read aloud at the 2013 ICAS Award Ceremony in Macao on June 25, 2013. I received my PhD in Social Science and Media Communications from Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2010, under the supervision of Angela McRobbie. It's nice to see it getting some recognition!
Heidi Hoefinger, PhD
Thoughts, experiences, reviews.