Misogyny in the Thai media, or at least the utter disrespect for the rights of women, is something we might see on a daily basis, especially in some of the excessively vapid soap operas where a woman can be raped and subsequently fall in love with her abuser in the next scene. So it may not come as a surprise to some people that the country’s caretaker PM is routinely debased by mostly male detractors. Signs at protest sites are proof enough. But when professional doctors, MPs, spurt acidic vitriol relating to the PM’s sexual organs, or her ‘sanitary towels’, words we usually expect to hear from the mouths of impressionable children, what does this say about ‘Thainess’? Perhaps a part of Thainess not subjected to Thailand’s great PR cycle, or much talked about in the hallowed ministries of culture.
The protest sign reads (lower left) ‘exercising in preparation to fight Suthep’ (lower right) ‘holding runner-up trophy’.
If being called a “ei ngo” by her main competitor, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was not enough to showcase the creepy misogyny skulking around in the shadows of Thai politics, then a few doctors in January really turned the screw with their prurient and ruthless anti-government sexist speeches.
Some excerpts from the speech, translated by Numnual Yapparat for the blog Ugly Truth Thailand can be seen below. The doctor who sank many leagues beneath what might be considered protest comportment was Doctor Prasert Vasinanukorn from Songkla University. Here are some of the remarks that he shared with crowds on January 15th: The video (Thai) is here.
1. “If you want to be a heroine, just resign and then we will salute you by presenting you with a medal with your naked body featured on it”.
2. “Please pay attention; if the Prime Minister is expecting a baby, I would pick her up in an ox-cart to give birth at Hat Yai. I will have an extra service for you by doing virginal repair surgery. I can guarantee that your new husband will feel on top of the world”.
3. “The Prime Minister still has some time left to be a nude model. Resign now before your periods come to an end. Otherwise it would be too late to start a new career”.
4. “If the Prime Minister became unwanted, seriously, I would volunteer to be her servant. I would buy and change her sanitary towel for her”.
Coming from a professional doctor one would think that he may have transgressed the medical code of ethics, or at least his license to practice be scrutinized after such overt misogyny. According to the Thai Medical Council, who were questioned about his base remarks, Prasert “did not break any medical professional ethics”. He was however told to be more polite in the future.
We might ask if this figurative slap on the hands is enough of a rebuke. Surely if a psychiatrist starts showing signs of neuroses then he or she might be revalued as they are showing symptoms of the people they are supposed to be treating. If a doctor, someone who we as a society believe to be compassionate in all cases of illness, a person who stands above the petty hatred in the streets and focuses only on treating us all the same, is obviously not any of these things and is actually petty, hateful, and displays signs of misogyny, should that person be a doctor, or be allowed to be a doctor? It is after all the physical consequences of misogyny that one day he might be treating.
Doctor Prasert Vasinanukorn
While something like this would be sure to engulf the global press if it happened in many western countries, in Thailand the speech has so far not caused much of a stir. It took a few days for the speech to be condemned by Women and LGBT rights groups who called the remarks sexist. Only two days ago did the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) condemn protest misogyny stating it was “a violation against human rights.”
We might also ask if this kind of sexism is more a pandemic than something affecting a few old men at a protest site. What does this say about Thai culture, or the struggle of womankind that has so long been beset by the shackles of male dominance and chauvinistic generalisations? If this is indicative of many professional doctors’ attitudes how might women be treated when approaching doctors about unwanted pregnancies, medical problems related to sexual issues, or issues of abuse and rape? Maybe these old world attitudes at least can be seen in some ways as an opportunity to address the issue of misogyny and sexism in Thailand. As the latest political schism festers and mutates we might as well take some time out and mull over some other more deeply entrenched issues.
One writer in the Bangkok Post suggested that this kind of behaviour is an “inconvenient truth” concerning Thai culture and society, and that in spite of condemnations from certain groups sexism and misogyny pervade Thai society at large but the issue remains hidden within the cloisters of social respectability. Perhaps once again it’s time for Thailand to come out of its fairytale wardrobe and take a good hard look in the mirror.