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Abstract

To explain the enduring persistence of gender inequality, structural explanations alone are not sufficient. One must look at the realm of cultural ideas to understand the entrenched nature of female subordination. Ideological inequalities embedded in cultural beliefs and practices sustain and perpetuate structural inequalities. This article explores ideological inequalities in Cambodian culture as an explanation for the reluctance of rural widows to remarry, despite the economic benefits that a new husband would likely bring. Using concepts from the theory of the social construction of reality, two cultural sources for widows' reluctance are considered, the beliefs and practices of Khmer Buddhism and the chbab srey, an influential moral code for women. The article theorizes that widows shy away from remarriage because Khmer religious and social customs place women into an ideologically subordinate position in the household. Widows fear that in a new marriage, they would lose control over their household and their children's lives. By remaining widows, they have cultural space to reject female subordination, maintain control of their household, and focus on their role as mothers to earn religious merit for their next life. Instead of ideological inequalities that subordinate women, modified cultural arrangements can create ideological equalities that nurture both men and women.

Note on the Author

Susan Hagood Lee received her M.Div. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in Sociology from Boston University. She teaches in the Social Sciences division at Boston University. She led the International Committee of Sociologists for Women in Society and served as main representative to the United Nations. She is an ordained Episcopal priest at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Fall River, Massachusetts. Her research has focused on widows, the international women's rights treaty (CEDAW), and women's political leadership.

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