Women Take Aim at Men and Their Mistresses

The beautiful woman with the bodyguards is always pleasant and charming, vegetable vendor Ros Lida said of one of her regular customers.

“I never dare ask her personal questions,” Ros Lida said at her stall in Tuol Kok district’s Samaki market. “But she has a nice car and wears a lot of diamond jewelry.”

Ros Lida was told that that woman is the mistress of a high-ranking military commander, which would explain why a bodyguard accompanies her to the market, she said.

“I’ve never seen her look relaxed or happy,” Ros Lida said. “No one wants to be a mistress or a second wife. Every woman would rather have a good family with a husband and children,” Ros Lida said.

In Cambodian society, it is commonplace for married men to have mistresses, and the practice recently became a political topic after it was revealed that the sweethearts of senior Funcinpec officials were brokering jobs in government.

Prime Minister Hun Sen attacked what he called “elderly gangsters” who lavishly spent on their “evil fox” mistresses and warned that those politicians would be investigated and punished.

But Hun Sen’s focus on amorous Funcinpec officials was questioned by Funcinpec lawmaker Princess Norodom Vacheara, who said that the practice was common to all Cambodian men, not just Funcinpec officials.

Princess Vacheara’s question: “Who doesn’t have a mistress?” has even inspired a short film on the topic by retired King Norodom Sihanouk.

But the fact that Cambodian wives live with this reality does not mean they accept it passively, as the violence of some attacks against mistresses-including terrible disfigurement with acid and even death-have demonstrated.

“Anger can lead a good wife to commit a serious crime,” said Chum Soputhy, administrative chief for the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center in Siem Reap province.

Although some wives decide to confront their husbands, others resort to dousing rivals with acid, hoping their husbands will leave the disfigured mistresses, she said.

Ros Sopheap, executive director of the Gender and Development Organization, said that mistresses could be victims too.

“I condemn any wife who takes revenge on a mistress because some of those mistresses are forced to have affairs with powerful and rich men,” she said.

Mu Sochua, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party and former Women’s Affairs Minister, also said that some mistresses have little choice in the matter.

“I am really hurt when I hear any criticism of a family whose daughter is the mistress of a married man,” and may have been forced into the relationship, Mu Sochua said. “We need to find the cause of the mistress phenomenon.”

Though Cambodian men see mistresses as normal, it still amounts to a betrayal of the promises they made to their wives, she added.

“If we continue to close our eyes and welcome mistresses, our culture and morality will decline.”

And the effects on the family of a man with a mistress may last far longer than his affairs: His sons may grow up viewing women as valueless and not hesitate to take on mistresses once married, said  Nhong Hema, head of the Psychology Department at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

“I can understand that men want to change partners in order to have new sexual experiences, but those men are going to destroy their families and their lives.”

Som Sreyda, a 17-year-old high-school student, said she thought that it was probably the fault of a wife that a mistress could poach a husband.

“I think that it is not the mistake of government officials to have mistresses, because some wives pay little attention to serving their husbands,” Som Sreyda said.

Some Cambodian performers don’t need to work very hard for their keep: They just need to maintain their good looks in order to become the mistresses of a rich and powerful man, said Sim Lycheng, an 18-year-old high-school student.

They don’t, however, always have a choice, she added.

“As I witnessed at a beer garden when I was there with my parents, singers were being harassed by customers and forced to leave the floor,” Sim Lycheng said.

“I would be very disappointed if my father had a mistress, because I don’t want my father to be criticized as an elderly gangster with a mistress the age of his daughter,” she said.

And regardless of the circumstances, mistresses pay a social price for their affairs.

“Whether you were the mistress of a powerful or rich man for three months or a year, your reputation is soiled for your whole life,” said university student Meth Soklin, 21.

In Cambodian society, a known mistress will have little chance of finding a good husband once her affair is over, Ros Lida said.

For the 27-year-old mistress of a provincial governor who wished to remain anonymous, her choice of lifestyle is all a matter of money: Men have as many mistresses as they can afford to support. “I need to feed myself,” she said, adding that a good reputation does not satisfy hunger.

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