So what prompted the soldiers' angry protests against ASTV Manager, the media arm of the yellow-shirt movement? Was it ASTV Manager's bombardment of criticism against army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha's stance on the Preah Vihear legal battle with Cambodia which was condemned as unpatriotic?
The answer is no.
ASTV had committed a much graver crime than that.
In response to the army chief's angry words against the Preah Vihear criticisms, ASTV immediately retaliated by comparing the temper of the most powerful man in the army with "those women who act hysterically, throwing their anger at people around them when their hormones rocket amid the pains from menstrual cramps".
They really had a way with words, didn't they?
Forget the praise the world heaps on Thai women for their outstanding success in top managerial levels which few countries can match. In this fair land, saying to a man that he is behaving like a woman is still considered the worst attack on a man's dignity. The only way to salvage his dignity is only through an apology. The use of force to extract an apology is also seen as acceptable.
In this chauvinistic mindset, being called a woman is bad enough. Add the menstruation element, and the insult becomes more explosive.
Menstruation, you see, is considered under the old traditions to be what makes women "dirty", thus lower in status than men. Menses are also believed to possess black magic power that can destroy the supernatural power of amulets and talisman that protect men from harm. In short, it's pure evil. So when the army chief was ridiculed for acting like a menstruating woman _ the lowest of the low _ you cannot really expect the patron of patriarchy to take it lying down, can you?
The brouhaha is over now. The soldiers have played their part in defending the dignity of their boss by staging two protests in front of the ASTV office. So has the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) by issuing a statement calling on the military to end media intimidation. The army chief has played a phu yai role by offering an apology to ASTV for losing his temper. So everyone can just bury the hatchet without ASTV apologising for its sexist remark that denigrates women?
Thai women may have come a long way from the time when parents and husbands could sell their daughters and wives like cattle. It was the time when "women are buffaloes, men are humans", as one old saying goes. King Mongkut annulled this practice during his reign.
But the popular acceptance of sexism in the Thai language shows that gender discrimination is still deeply rooted in our hearts and minds.
Take these sayings for example: Women are the elephant's hind legs, men the front legs. Men are the rice paddy (which is productive), women the white rice grains (which easily spoil). Women sink the boat while men row it forward.
Women are also described as one of the vices that lead to men's downfall. Others are drinking and gambling.
There are also a lot of words that show sexual double standards and attempts to control women's sexuality. For instance, jao cho'o means a lady's man for men in a positive sense, but it denotes loose morality for a woman. Kradang-nga lon fai (the ylang-ylang flower singed by fire) means women with past sexual experiences, thus available for new sexual advances. Mah yok gai (a dog teasing a hen), meanwhile, is used to condone sexual harassment.
Meanwhile, single women are called kuen kaan (boat left ashore) and derided as moody spinsters. For sexually active women who refuse to be owned by men, they are slapped with a wide range of rude words that prostitutes are called.
ASTV's ridiculing the army chief as a woman on her period is part of this sexist language landscape.
When this is still treated as a non-issue, there is little hope of tackling violence against women which is rooted in the sexist cultural values we refuse to question.
Sanitsuda Ekachai is Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Sanitsuda Ekachai
Position: Assistant Editor