The Human Impact

The din of misogyny at Bangkok protests

January 23, 2014

In fiery speeches at protests calling for her ouster, Thailand’s first female Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been called ugly, stupid, a bitch, a slut and a whore.

A university professor recommended sending a large group of men to “sexually snare” her. A decorated doctor offered to give her vaginal repair surgery and to change her sanitary pads, andsaid she could become a nude model because she hasn’t yet reached menopause.

Not to be outdone, the head of the country’s Election Commission (EC) drew laughter from reporters after suggesting in a condescending tone that a meeting with her might only be possible if it was arranged at a certain hotel where her opponents claim she had an as-yet-unproven extramarital affair.

These offensive comments – made by public officials and others who hold jobs that require some sort of ethics and professionalism – weren’t made in hushed tones. They were shouted from stages set up at the anti-government rallies, published in daily newspapers, pronounced on television shows and gleefully shared through social media.

Yingluck is the younger sister of Thaksin, the former premier and a telecoms billionaire who was ousted in a 2006 coup and is in self-imposed exile following corruption charges. Protesters say she is a puppet for her older brother, who is pulling the political strings from abroad.

Since Yingluck was elected in 2011, anger against Thaksin has fallen to her, and her English language skills, her appearance, and her abilities as a mother, woman, and wife have been dissected and mocked.

Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva – an Eton- and Oxford-educated politician who heads the opposition Democrat Party – even joined the fray last year, referring to Yingluck as “stupid bitch”.

The base misogyny has become louder and more vitriolic since protests against Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party-led government gained momentum in early November and as protesters blockade major intersections in Bangkok, with non-stop speeches on stages set up in different sites. Crude, photoshopped posters calling Yingluck names – or showing her with phalluses – are common.

The insults have stung the prime minister, and in December, the political turmoil brought her to tears at a press conference – fueling the protesters to further ridicule her.

“Whoever could be in my position for one day would know how it feels,” she told journalists on Friday at a press conference.

A NEW LOW

These comments aren’t just coming from men. Plenty of women have joined in, oblivious to the fact that by making the statements or condoning the men who make them, they’re saying it’s OK to use sexist insults to attack, degrade and belittle women in public.

“Vitriol and invective have become common in Thai politics and sexist, homophobic innuendos and personal attacks have been committed by fervent supporters on both sides of the political divide,” said Kaewmala, a Thai social commentator and writer.

Yet she was still surprised that “such an abject vulgarity, the explicitly sexual language” were coming from persons of high status.

“That’s a new low in Thai political discourse,” she told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

For Pravit Rojanaphruk, a regular columnist for the English-language daily The Nation, the misogyny reflects “a deep-rooted patriarchal culture in Thai society, even amongst people who claimed to uphold morality”.

Of course, public figures should face criticism of their performance in office.

Criticise all you want policies like the rice intervention scheme - whereby the government bought rice way above market prices in order to help farmers – that sparked allegations of graft and waste. Go ahead and lash out at the ill-advised amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return home a free man.

However, sexism and misogyny should be off limits – not just against Yingluck but everyone across the political spectrum. A pro-government Red Shirt’s threat to kidnap the army chief’s daughters – which was criticised by other Red Shirts and for which the offender laterapologised - is equally unacceptable.

Thailand, which allowed women to vote in 1932 and became one of the earliest countries in the region to do so, is going down a dangerous path by allowing the use of misogyny as a political weapon. Who’s to say it won’t spill over to everyday lives?

It’s already an uphill struggle for female victims of physical and sexual violence to get a sympathetic ear, let alone justice. There’s no need to worsen the situation.

It’s a shame that amidst the whistles, posturing and propaganda from both sides, common decency has been lost.

 

Photo caption: An anti-government protester blows a whistle as he walks past a cartoon and a banner insulting Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra near the Government House in Bangkok, on Dec. 8, 2013. The bumper stickers on the effigy of Yingluck say, “Get out, idiot”. The cardboard banner says, “Paying taxes for a whore to travel”. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

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