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Sexism is buried deep in our daily language

The past two weeks have been rather sobering for those who think Thailand has already risen above misogyny. It has not. People of both sides of the political divide have given us clear evidence, which, if looked at "positively", reminds us of the challenges that lie ahead.

It all began with Thai Rath newspaper political cartoonist Chai Rachawat, who posted a comment on his Facebook page that suggested Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is worse than a "whore" because she is selling Thailand out. Soon after, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT) threatened to suspend any website that carries a lewd message against Yingluck.

That appeared to spur a second misogynistic remark, prompting a hacker to post a message on the PM's Office Ministry's official website that said: "I am a slutty moron" with a picture of a laughing Yingluck.

Opposition media appeared to take delight in expounding on and relaying the two sexist remarks. Some on the other side tried to protect Yingluck's reputation but were not helpful, however.

The premier's nephew, Panthongthae Shinawatra, tried to defend his aunt by demanding that Chai should apologise. Failing to apologise, he said Chai should just wear an airhostess's skirt instead.

This was followed by deputy spokesperson of the PM's Office Ministry Sunisa Lertpakawat, a woman, who last week criticised the anonymous hacker by saying the person should be "man" enough to criticise the premier in a creative manner.

However, you cannot defend women's honour by telling someone to act "like a man" or by telling a man to go and wear a woman's skirt.

And one couldn't help but wonder: if Yingluck were not a woman, would the premier be treated like this by some of her opponents?

This writer is for full criticism of Thailand's first woman prime minister. Nevertheless, you do not need to use sexist remarks to either criticise or defend her. Some cannot differentiate between criticising Yingluck and making misogynistic remarks about her, however.

To make the matter worse, most feminists simply kept silent because they chose to be on the opposite side of the political divide, thus helping to ensure that the latest orgy of sexist verbal abuse is unlikely to be the last.

Since the situation is most unlikely to improve anytime soon, Thai society should at least try to understand why a number of men and even women keep using sexist words and stereotypical remarks that perpetuate the notion that women are innately inferior and dishonourable.

Are some people perpetuating misogyny for fear of losing the culture of male domination?

Do they feel more "masculine" by talking down and looking down on women?

If that's the case, what kind of "men" are they?

This writer personally thinks the matter should not be left solely to feminists and women. People, both men and women, must become more active in helping reduce the level of sexism in Thai language and society.

Sexist speech is sometimes almost "automatic" and "natural". This writer does not think that Sunisa, for example, intended to reinforce the sense of male superiority over women by telling the hacker to "act like a man". Deep-rooted misogyny in our language is thus more insidious and difficult to address. It is embedded in the very foundation of our language and will require conscious efforts to transform Thai language into a more gender-sensitive tongue.

May I suggest that the Ministry of Culture or some universities conduct studies on sexism in the Thai language?

I do not believe that merely banning these words or expressions will work. Society needs to become more aware of the issue, however. It will require effort from men and women alike to change the mindset so no one in the future can proudly tells us to "act like a man" or "shame" us by telling us to wear a skirt.




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