When one thinks about Thai culture, it may become obvious after a while that we do not tend to question or defy the current living situations we are in. Regardless of what it is, the average Thai citizen tends to not question the rules that have been set. Most of all, Thai people do not seek change if the issue is not in our faces, despite it possibly consuming our everyday lives. If the dilemma we are facing is one where we are not being actively attacked or treated unjustly, we will remain quiet. Only dramatic events can cause us to riot, and our society has practically mastered the art of synthesizing superficial peace. It’s all smiles and compliance until we become the marionettes to a play we’ve designed for ourselves. Each of us restricts the other with stigma and stereotypes that have been normalized into cultural manners. Without the awareness in our community, we struggle to see the problems because we have never been taught to recognize them. The change necessary is one made by breaking down our thought process into realizing that our “normal,” in certain aspects, is in fact far from normal and indeed unacceptable.
A preeminent problem that fits this submissive and compliant pattern is the uncommonness of feminism. The feminist ideology needs to be extracted to its core concept to introduce it best. Feminism means believing that all genders have equal rights and opportunities. Before digging deeper into exactly what feminism means and why its prevalence is crucial to Thai society, the common misconceptions must be acknowledged and addressed. The term “feminism” has been twisted in various ways, which lead to the idea of toxic feminism. Admittedly, toxic feminism may not be a prominent discussion point within the Thai community because the idea of feminism has barely surfaced. However, it is a substantial feat in enhancing the fathoming of why feminism has caused global confusion, and why the movement has remained stagnant in most countries within our South-East Asian region.
Feminism becomes toxic when it degrades other genders and only regards females while criticizing true feminists for their harmless actions. Toxic feminism is one of the leading reasons which make it difficult for people to claim themselves as “feminist” because of the negative connotation of the term. Emma Watson, an outspoken and proud feminist, states as she addresses toxic feminism that “feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with, it’s about freedom. It’s about liberation. It’s about equality.” Feminism is not represented in the most healthy manner throughout the media, with certain people still believing that feminism is man-hating, rageful, and radical. This is possibly the main reason why the idea of feminism has been both silent and silenced in Thailand.
To clarify, feminism does not mean men and women are the same, it does not mean killing off the entire idea of chivalry and gentlemanliness, and it does not rid of the nuances in gender differences. I used to bring up the idea of feminism and be counteracted with “being female has its advantages too, and I would not want to lose that.” That is great because women will not be losing that. Men and women are not carbon copies of one another; feminism simply allows every individual to have a free choice in their character without the restrictions created by society. To put it in the most condensed manner, feminism is liberation, it fights for the idea that humans are nonbinary, society should be non-stereotypical, and that everyone is free with equal rights and opportunities.
In our country, there are cultural norms, stigmas, stereotypes, and clear-cut expectations for specific genders. Women are expected to conceal in terms of their appearance and language, to be agreeable, and to be agreeing. Women are told to comply, be submissive, and not to object. The requirement is to walk the impossibly narrow path between polite and being a push-over (not ostentatious, rather humbly polite), dug up by centuries of sexist conventions. It is not something that a large majority has collaboratively and actively tried to change. These normalized stigmas may seemingly take no effect, but they are the root cause of inequality and disrespect.
The condescending and confining treatment reinforced in society inflicts an individual with implicit disrespect towards women (including women not respecting themselves and not knowing their power). This spirals to unawareness and general nonchalance that leads to unheard sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, and domestic violence cases. A visit to a women’s shelter called “Baan Shook Shern” and a conversation with the leader taught me that most women in the shelter are there due to domestic violence in their households. Alongside this, stories of courtroom cases where the survivor is asked interrogative questions have led to answers that create plausible deniability. Many cases leave the survivor unsupported, and the perpetrator absolved, with no punishment to discourage the number of cases. Acknowledging the potential ambiguity, there are survivors of all genders. However, the direct issue addressed is that there is systemic oppression against women due to the laws formulated from ancient patriarchy such as abortion being illegal. These issues stem from the negligence of male-dominated courtrooms.
Although the system may not be intentionally oppressive, there are laws which inadvertently impede on a woman’s opportunity in all aspects of their lives. It is present in situations where there is a desire for it to be absent, yet nothing can be done. This makes it more difficult for feminism to be deeply integrated into the Thai-mindset. For example, the fact that a woman might take maternity leave in her career makes hiring a man a more logical employment decision. This is essentially how business works, and there is no way around it other than the system. There is a reasonably supported assumption that all women in the work field will be on maternity leave at least once; however, this assumption isn’t a fair one. There are grey areas around a woman’s pregnancy, and they are personal to the extent of intangible. Hence, the main solution is paternity leave, which is beneficial as implemented in countries such as Sweden and Norway. This will increase equality as well as the newborn’s well-being and parental connection. The expectation of paternity leave makes it so that employers are not prejudiced against women based on the fact that they may carry children and take time away from work. This is one of the countless issues that can be fixed and altered only through the system and is directly linked with a woman’s opportunity.
The aforementioned issues demonstrate the importance of feminism. The focus should be action-based; we should focus on what we can do to change the underlying sexism in our society. There are twisted terms, stigmas, stereotypes, cultural norms, silenced survivors, and systemic conflicts that need to be recognized and altered.
No matter who you are, you have a choice in being feminist. Feminism can no longer be a movement that remains stagnant in Thailand. We must acknowledge and unlearn toxic feminism, stigmas, stereotypes, and misconceptions. We must listen to the stories of the survivors. We must learn the true meaning of what feminism is and why it holds a great deal of importance for future generations. We each have a voice to explain that it is essentially “women’s liberty, and equal rights and opportunities,” in the simplest terms. We still have time to make a difference.
We still have time to promote equality and justice for women, stand up for one another, defy the expectations, manifest the power women have, fight for their rights and opportunities. We can all make a difference by changing our perspective, learning more, and spreading awareness to make true and healthy feminism prevalent in Thai society.