Mia Noi – having a “minor wife” in Thailand
Thai people are known to have close relationships with their family. Some stay in big family homes all their lives, which includes their mother, father, siblings, and grandparents.
However, these big families can get even bigger when husbands have other families or wives to take care of. In Thailand, this is known as mia noi, which refers to a “minor wife”, aka mistress.
It seems normalised for Thai men to have “more than one partner” – but if women do, it is largely frowned upon, with them being shunned by family and friends.
This reflects how much we live in a male-dominated society, and as a woman, I believe in respecting monogamous marriages and think that this prevalent mistress culture in Thailand should be stopped.
Men and their mistresses in Thai history
Nowadays, most Thais aim to promote the concept of gender equality, in that people have the right to do what they want and achieve things regardless of their gender.
In the past, Thai people had a different belief system, where men were seen as family leaders, more talented, and having more power over women.
An image from Thai period drama named “Nang Tart” (Slave Wife). Each woman is takes on the role of a wife of a nobleman
Image credit: Sanook
There were many things that men were allowed to do that women could not, like studying, serving the state, and also having more than one partner.
In the past, it was normal and acceptable for Thais for a man to have more than one wife. They could have as many wives as they desired, in fact. It was legal in society and every wife had their own “official” status:
- mia luang (principal wife)
- mia rong (Mia Noi or minor wife)
- mia tart (a wife who was a slave or prisoner from battle)
This was also culturally portrayed in Thai literature, which often featured male protagonists as a man with many wives
Image credit: Nonthakan Prasertsook
Surprisingly, all wives and children would live in the same house, or in their personal houses if the husband was rich enough. And instead of being seen as unfaithful, the more wives and children men had, the more wealthy and powerful they were seen as.
In contrast, if a woman wanted to have more than one husband, she would be belittled and shamed by other women and even family members.
Husbands would give a red flower garland to their wives to indicate that she had an affair with others
Image credit: MThai
Most women accepted it because of traditional beliefs, which we can say was born out of a male-dominated culture.
Having an “acceptable mistress” in Thailand
The laws have changed and polygamy has since been abolished in the country, with Thais being allowed to marry only one spouse. Thus, other partners are not legally recognised and are seen as “unofficial” relationships.
According to a survey from the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth), over 70% of Thai men were found to be in secret relationships with women who were not his “principal wife”.
Image credit: The MATTER
As a Thai woman, I have to admit that being an “acceptable mistress” really does still exist in Thai society today, and ‘gik’ is the word Thais use to soften the connotation. So, I can be a mistress, or a gik, as long as I am not crossing the boundaries of the mia luang. Many women, till today, willingly become mia nois for multiple reasons too – whether because of loneliness or in pursuit of monetary gains.
An acceptable mistress should be hidden in her place, avoid posting anything on social media, and be happy with what she got and her status. Then, the real wife might allow all giks to enjoy meals and hang out with her husband sometimes.
Most wives try to turn their eyes away from the situation for the sake of her family and status. If the mia noi stays in her place, there will be no problems.
Recently, Thai celebrity Tanyares “Tanya” Engtrakul came out with her story and shared that she let her husband have an affair with other women.
Image credit: @tanya_liyah
She also added that she knew while it was all happening over the course of 3 years, and that she had made changes to her attitude about her relationship – probably as a way to cope. Who she cares the most about is her daughter, and she shared that she would never let anybody cross the line to hurt her child.
What her husband had to do was to provide her and her daughter with enough money and not let anyone bother their child.
From this case, we can see that women sometimes accept the situation because she may need the resources to take care of her children, whether it’s money or parental support from her partner. However, wealthy men are not the only one having mistresses. Some women don’t receive any support whatsoever and even have to take care of the whole family by herself while her husband leaves her for another.
I was impressed by how Tanya handled her situation with class and strength, but womanisers still shouldn’t get away so easily.
Having more wives doesn’t mean you are powerful or wealthy as Thais used to believe – it just means you are selfish.
The reality of mia noi in Thailand
The characters from Thai drama named เมีย 2018 (Mim 2018 or A Wife in 2018)
Image credit: UNDUBZAPP
Many Thai dramas use the Thai mistress trope as a plot point for their stories. Personally, I think that what happens in many fictional families is similar to what real mia luangs have to deal with.
A man having an affair might picture his wife and mia noi living together happily, with him spending time with each of them. However, this is not the case when everyone’s emotions come into play in reality.
Image credit: GQ Thailand
Most Thai dramas show how wives compete with each other to be the most loved one, or try to win bigger chunks of inheritance and other benefits.
Real life situations might not be as aggressive as we see on TV, but it is hard to find someone that is willing to be inferior or be treated as a second choice.
With the power play that goes into this, other more dire problems arise too. There was a case where a wife hired a gunman to kill her husband after finding out that he got into an affair with other women, and a case where the mia noi decided to kill the mia luang of the relationship.
Being a male-dominated society
Another problem we should focus on is why it is acceptable for a man to have a mistress, but a woman can’t do the same. As I mentioned before about the news of Thai celebrity Tanya, many netizens expressed their opinions toward the topic.
People talked about how her husband still took care of Tanya and their child, still gave her money, and still told others that “this is my one and only principal wife”.
As a result, most of the negative comments were directed towards his mistress, not him – the man who cheated on his wife. People said that she had destroyed his family, that she didn’t know her status, and that she was a troublemaker among other things.
On the other hand, women who are caught having affairs are judged and degraded immediately, being seen as conniving and as someone who is trying to get “benefits” from different men. Many Thais still see women as inferior, who have fewer abilities and less intelligence, which plays into this stereotype.
People, no matter their gender, should be treated as equals. And so if it is acceptable for a man to have a mistress, women should not take the shorter end of the stick in the same scenario.
Some have also said that having more wives could help increase population, and that it’s regretful when a man with “perfect genes” can only give birth to 1-2 children. Do we really have that big a problem with the population here to justify infidelity?
Having an honest relationship is most important
Types of relationships come in all shapes and forms, and one that is seen as unconventional by social standards is polyamory. This refers to the practice of having more than one romantic/intimate partner, also known as “open relationships”.
However, unlike cheating on your wife with a mia noi and keeping her hidden, a key factor in polyamorous relationships is consent among all partners.
A picture from Thai series named 3 Will Be Free. These three characters know what they want in a relationship and manage to stay together without anyone getting hurt
Image credit: @PiscesPing
Families with more than one romantic partner do exist in our society, and some of them even live happily together. For example, this 44-year-old Thai man has two “wives” who know of each other’s presence and are able to live together without problems.
Image credit: Sanook
And while I am happy for three of them and others like them, I personally believe in monogamy and that it can build stronger relationships and life goals between partners.
However, the most important thing is how you and your partner(s) agree to go about your lives. If you agree in open relationships or polyamory, and everybody else in the relationship consents and is happy, that is what matters.
Image credit: Allure
I don’t mean to say that having more than one partner is wrong, but we have to ask ourselves what we need. If you enjoy freedom and exploring your options with people, you’ll have to make the honest decision to avoid monogamous relationships instead of ending up in situations like cheating on your partner.
People do have the right to choose, no matter their gender, but what you have to do is to be clear with your desires and tell your loved ones the truth and not hurt them in the process.
Read more Thai perspectives here:
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