The implicit cruelty of Thaksin’s words

opinion August 04, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

An arrow aimed at Prayut contained the inherent poison of male chauvinism and no one objected

The critics weren’t doing their jobs this week. Thaksin Shinawatra, regarded in some corners as a “champion of democracy”, was speaking to news people and other guests at a function in Dubai when he turned his attention to Thailand’s military government. Its leaders, he declared, are nothing more than “soldiers in camouflaged skirts”. The generals’ hurt feelings aside, it was hardly a stirring tribute to feminism.

It would at least be “fair” to Thaksin to surmise he was just going with the flow. He’s certainly not solely to blame for the gender inequality in Thailand. It’s been around forever, after all. But he is still politically prominent, even from far-off self-imposed exile, and as such should be helping to guide public opinion and shape attitudes. Instead, with his intimation that the junta brass is hiding behind skirts, he’s propagating the destructive myth that women are the weaker gender. 

What’s perhaps even more disturbing is that so few people objected to Thaksin’s slur. Was everyone so busy that they failed to notice the underlying mischief in his statement? 

While there’s room for debate whether the military is attempting to delay the election to suit its self-serving needs, no one can say it’s alright to associate cowardice with womanhood.

Perhaps it’s mere ignorance on his part. 

The belief is firmly rooted in the national psyche that a man who shows fear should be “wearing a skirt” – in other words, he might as well be a woman. There are plenty of women who accept that wrongful belief and refuse to take umbrage at what Thaksin said. Some will argue that his remark needn’t be taken seriously. But “going with the flow”, like he did, is exactly why gender problems persist in Thailand despite modern progressivism.

The problem of complacency over the all-too-familiar disparaging of women is compounded by our divisive politics. Key moral values have been abandoned amid the polarity, as when protesters or innocent people are physically injured in political attacks. Rather than asking our fellow citizens how such an act could even be contemplated, we only want to know which side is to blame.

Condemning Thaksin for his crassness would risk angering his supporters and at the same time suggest approval for their ideological opposites – the junta and the ruling elite. 

Some will obviously say that, in this predicament, it’s better to swallow the chauvinism implicit in Thaksin’s remarks than tipping the hat to Prayut Chan-o-cha. 

The hazard here, though, is that it demonstrates more faith in individuals than in noble social values. This is the mindset that allows modern politics to function without integrity. And condoning such backward attitudes is more dangerous to democracy than tanks and bayonets. 

In bygone times, Thais would say that, if you love your cows, tie them up, and if you love your children, don’t hesitate to beat them for wrongdoing. It’s an adage that’s always misinterpreted as promoting barbarity in child rearing. What it really means is that, if you love someone, beware of instilling in him wrongful ideas.

Fans of Thaksin embraced his barbed sentiment as further proof he can do no wrong. 

Of critics, there were none. There were no people doing their jobs of holding this man to account, and that’s both a shame and a danger.