New Girl Law is a post-Empirical, proto-fourth-wave-feminist memoir-cum-academic abstract that scrutinizes the current reality and future hope for women aspiring to positions of power in Cambodia. If that sounds heady, know that it also makes our country’s Mommy Wars look like child’s play—and proves, in the meantime, why we should be paying attention to Cambodia’s record of human rights and gender equity.
Author Anne Elizabeth Moore, a Fulbright scholar and U.N. Press Fellow, documents the struggles of Cambodian women and the ways in which the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge continues to impact their lives. Popular and frequently used Khmer aphorisms like “Men are diamonds and women are cloth,” have been thoroughly absorbed into Cambodia’s day-to-day life and culture. She collaborates with a group of young, ambitious women enrolled at universities in Phnom Penh to create a set of laws to empower women. Together, they come up with 20 rules, like, “Girls should be brave enough to make eye contact with and speak to boys,” and “Women should have the right to leave home and join in social activities as men do, or be involved in politics.” Yikes.
Throughout, Moore acknowledges the paradigm through which she filters her own observations, and points out that New Girl Law is a work in progress, analogous to the Declaration of Sentiments drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her cohorts. Seventy-two years after Stanton’s Sentiments, American women were given the right to vote. Perhaps it won’t take as long in Cambodia.
By Kathleen Willcox