Cambodia can’t get enough of Valentine’s Day. There are many reasons for this, both cultural as well as linguistic. For starters, Cambodians can be melodramatic when it comes to matters of the heart. Photo ops, like this one, aren’t uncommon. And then there’s the syntax. Valentine’s Day hints at a very important Khmer word: songsar.
It’s often loosely translated as “sweetheart.” Or sometimes “valentine.” But those don’t really get at the complexities of the word. A better translation would be something along the lines of “someone I think I’m going to marry” or “someone I want to marry.” And therein lies the problem. Because when some Cambodians think of Valentine’s Day, they think of that songsar, and expect they’re going to have sex with them. Whether it’s consensual or not, research suggests.
Cambodia already has a fairly significant problem with rape. According to United Nations research, one in five Cambodian men admit to raping a woman at least once. Half of that number started before the age of 20. And nearly two-thirds said they had raped their partner, or more explicitly, their songsar.
Valentine’s Day only exacerbates that trend, government officials say. “This year, we are asking teachers to properly advise their students,” Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron told the Cambodia Daily. “Stop thinking anymore about Valentine’s Day. Buying flowers for each other is fine, but if it is meant to move beyond friendship and lose one’s virginity — that is not right.”
Teenage sex is nothing out of the ordinary, to be sure. But Cambodia’s unique confluence of factors — an already high rate of rape as well as a bad translation that implies one is supposed to take the virginity of one’s songsar — has turned Valentine’s Day into a day of rape, government officials say.
The next two paragraphs see a government minister blaming Valentine’s Day as a pernicious foreign influence, and opposition leader Mu Sochua calling that nonsense. And Mu has the right of it: The problem is not a given holiday but instead the belief of many Cambodian men that they have the right to take the virginity of the woman they think should be their wife, regardless of whether she wants that as well. It’s that form of toxic entitlement that is at the core of rape culture. And so as to be clear, I’m going to put the cardinal fact by itself and in boldface:
Men who think they have the right to sex with or power over women regardless of what women think are the fountainhead of rape culture.
Edit: Read the whole article.
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