BANGKOK -- Leading Thai women are not offended by the widely held view that they are all beautiful, feminine and charming, and make perfect wives and mothers.

"Women should be women -- even if we work side by side with men," says Chanut Piyaoui, founder and managing director of the Dusit Thani Hotel Group.

"To please them we have to pretend that we are not smarter than them," she said in an interview about the roles of men and women in Thai society.

Unlike women in the West who have fought to be treated as equals, successful Thai women say they don't need a revolution because they don't have to prove anything.

"We can become top executives, ministers, chairmen of companies," said the 68-year-old Chanut.

"We don't have to prove that we can do something better," added Chanut, whose holdings include seven hotels, office buildings, a new luxury shopping mall and a 250-room hospital.

Bangkok's legendary massage parlors, girlie bars, brothels and live sex shows can give the impression that this is a country where women exist merely to give pleasure to men.

But the women say they don't feel like sex objects.

"We don't dress like sex objects, showing our bosoms and bodies like American women do," said Kanala Khantaprab, a candidate for the opposition Thai Citizens Party in Bangkok parliamentary by-elections.

Kanala, a top political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University and the only woman in Thailand who can drive a tank, says Thai women are rarely victimized in the work force.

"In the West women fought for equality in a forceful way. But our culture is rather soft, so women are not maltreated," she said.

She fell into politics by accident in October when the newspaper Ban Muang, owned by Interior Minister Banharn Silpa-archa, ran an article hinting at a romantic link between her and the army's commander in chief, Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon.

The article, published after she criticized the government for corruption and incompetence, said she stood too close to Suchinda when giving him coffee during a university lecture.

Kanala, dressed in a polka-dot shirt and denim jumper with a green scarf, laughed at the idea.

"They said my students were ashamed and felt sorry for my husband," she remembered of the incident.

Asked the next day to enter the elections, she accepted immediately.

"Newspaper articles are always saying women cannot become top executives because they are afraid of taking the initiative and making quick decisions," said Chanut.

"I think Thai women are better than men. They don't show off their tempers; they are more decisive and more responsible."

Chodchoy Sophonpanich, 44, best known for launching the country's first major anti-litter campaign, says Thailand has always been a matriarchal society -- "basically because the women inherit the land."

"When people marry, the man comes to live with the woman," she noted.

Chanut said Thai women have always worked to supplement the incomes of their civil-servant husbands.

"Before World War II all business was in the hands of Chinese people. Thai men preferred to work in the government service for prestige," she said.

"Their wives ran small businesses, like restaurants and dress shops, to supplement the family income."

Chanut's mother ran a sawmill in Saraburi province north of Bangkok.

All three women agreed they were luckier than Western women because the traditional extended family and the availability of inexpensive servants made it easy to combine family and career.

Their major complaint? The problem of "minor wives," women taken as partners after the first marriage.

"A man can sign a marriage certificate with as many women as he wants. If a woman wants to prove she is his sole legal wife, she has to go to court," said Kanala.

"I believe that we can do a better job of running the country than men can," she added. "We are not corrupt or addicted to whiskey and gambling."