However, much of what appears to be a retiring attitude among Burmese women in their social life is actually explained by the difference of Burmese manners from Western manners. In the West the tradition of chivalry (in however diluted a form) dictates many of the surface attitudes to women. We have no such tradition in Burma, but I don't think that our women feel inferior as a result. They have considerable authority in the home — they usually handle the family finances, for instance —and in many ways more freedom than Western women. Because of our family system, there are nearly always cousins or sisters or aunts or other relatives who live in the household. This means that there is always someone in the family to take care of the children and the mother is free to have a job or profession outside the home. The children, meanwhile, are taught at an early age to help in the house and in their mother's work outside. You will, for example, often find a girl of seven or eight sitting with her mother in a shop, learning how to sell the goods or helping out during a busy time.
As the girls grow older, it may seem to a Westerner that they lead a rather restricted life. It is not customary among us for a girl to go out alone after she is sixteen or seventeen. She will go out with her aunt or her mother, or she may go to the pictures with her friends, but there will be no question of "dating" in the Western sense. In the universities the boys may pay calls on the girls in their dormitory, or a group of them may go for a walk together, but even this is considered a Western institution. However, in our own terms, a Burmese girl has a good deal of freedom before marriage and we have no form of purdah for our women. Naturally there would not be the high percentage of love marriages that we have in this country if the boys and girls had no opportunity to meet and get to know each other.
In the old days — before we had clocks — we used to have special names for different moments of the day. The early morning was "the cock-crowing time," or we would speak of "the sunset time." In the same way the late afternoon was "go courting time." It is clear from this that the courting system is an old one in Burma, and, as in just about everything else, the Burmese woman has, by tradition, been accorded certain rights and privileges n this matter too. Even now it is a custom to go courting. Two or three boys will go together to a girl's house where she will receive them. They will eat some fruit and sweetmeats, or have tea and a smoke — and talk. Then they may go off to call on another girl in the same way. Introductions can be made in this manner and friendships can grow. Besides this, there are plenty of appropriate occasions in Burmese social life for boys and girls to meet. There are pagoda festivals and big picnics, there are family visits to other houses and there are sports. Apart from foreign sports like tennis and golf, and international sports like swimming, there are many Burmese games. In the villages,
particularly, you will see boys and girls playing together the old games such as Phan-gon-dan, a kind of leapfrog, or Gonnhyin-tho-de, which is played with a big seed. After they have outgrown the childhood games they continue to meet at the kind of sport that we have specially for full moon nights when the groups divide into two sides, draw lines on the ground and then try to catch each other whenever anyone steps into "neutral territory."
Altogether, in our social life as well as in our public life, we feel that we, as Burmese women, occupy a privileged and independent position. It is a position for which we are trained — almost imperceptibly, and with love and security—from childhood. It is a position which is not limited either by marriage or by motherhood, and which allows us, eventually, to fit ourselves into the life, the work, and all the rewards that our country has to offer equally with our men.