Women are not simply walking vaginas
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Women are not simply walking vaginas

In ridiculing ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra for fleeing the country, a national artist, a folklore academic and a well-known monk have reduced her to a vagina in their spoonerism poems published on social media. BANGKOK POST GRAPHICS
In ridiculing ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra for fleeing the country, a national artist, a folklore academic and a well-known monk have reduced her to a vagina in their spoonerism poems published on social media. BANGKOK POST GRAPHICS

If you think it's shameful for a poet and academic to ridicule former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra for fleeing the country by reducing her to a vagina in their spoonerism poems that went viral on social media, wait until you read the one penned by a monk encouraging gang rape.

Equally stupefying is the silence from women's rights groups.

Hate her all you like. Attack her decision to flee. Criticise until your heart's content her corrupt rice-pledging scheme, the nepotism and the non-transparent administration under her rule. That's fair game. That's democracy. But reducing her to a vagina, playing the word game with orgasmic joy, and calling it funny literary art -- give me a break.

It's understandable why sexist men and monks shamelessly defend their misogyny, and why so many people -- including women -- buy their lame defences. Admit it, ours is a rape culture. Women and young girls are treated as sex objects, if not the properties of their parents and husbands. Sexual harassment is excused as harmless teasing, not a crime. Rapists are absolved of their crimes to protect the good name of families, schools, universities, temples and organisations. Sexual aggression is legitimised as part of a man's instincts and one that cannot be controlled, while rape victims are questioned whether they "asked for it".

In this rape culture that idolises "good women" and condones sexual predators, it's easy to destroy women who refuse to remain in their places by scorning them as sluts or making people believe they are "bad women".

It's no surprise, therefore, that women in Thai politics are consistently marginalised, why rape victims are stigmatised as "damaged" objects, why women who complain about sexual harassment are dismissed as reading too much into male friendly gestures, and why people who criticise the sexist poems reducing Ms Yingluck to a vagina are brushed off as culturally ignorant.

But I know a misogynist when I see one.

The first sexist spoonerism poem against Ms Yingluck that went viral on social media was penned by Thailand's very own National Artist Thanya Sankhapanthanon, a SEA Write Award poet and university teacher who writes under his well-known pen name Paitoon Thanya.

Ms Yingluck's medical excuse for her no-show at court was Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes vertigo. Ear in Thai begins with the letter H, which is the same for the vulgar word meaning vagina.

In his satirical poem, Paitoon clearly plays with the two "h" words to represent the former prime minister as a vagina. Accompanying his poem is a picture of a young woman's ear surrounded by strands of hair.

A group of anti-coup academics and writers issued an open letter condemning the poet's crude imagery, calling for the government to strip him of his National Artist title and monthly allowances. The Ministry of Culture quickly dismissed the letter, saying the poet's controversial poem is a matter of personal opinion and that National Artists are selected based on their artistic excellence and morality.

Sexism, an acceptable moral standing? Come to think of it, is sexism, in fact, our culture?

Another spoonerism poem that has gone viral is by prominent academic and expert in Southern folklore Charoon Yoothong who writes under the pen name "Roon Ranod". Apart from playing with the "h" word to mock Ms Yingluck, he also chided critics as culturally ignorant. The comical spoonerism, rich with sexual innuendos, is part of Thai folk culture, he says. He also blasted critics for blindly protecting Ms Yingluck by making a mountain of a molehill with the ear/vagina word play and ignoring the damage done by her rice-pledging policy.

I am no expert in folk art, but I do know that spoonerisms performed in the sing-song style which invite male and female teams to battle against each other with wit and literary skill is fun and entertaining. But that's not the issue here. But if you personally attack a woman by reducing her to a vagina without her being able to defend herself, that's hate speech. It's sexist oppression. It's a crime of violence against women. In many countries, you can land in jail for such a thing.

Then a monk jumped into the fray, outdoing the two previous controversial poems with his own. Apart from offering his own play with the "h" word, the last line in Phra Kittisak Kittisobhano's poem simply states: "If you want to try the vagina, then you have to queue up."

Can we interpret it as anything else but an encouragement of gang rape?

Some might take these ugly incidents as just the result of fiercely divisive politics. For the yellow camp, unwavering hatred of the Shinawatras makes them support hate and condone sexism. And those who criticise them are simply dismissed as the red supporters of the Shinawatras.

The attacks on women's bodies, verbal or physical, are rooted in a much deeper problem. Sexism is prevalent in both political camps.

And no matter who wins the political game, Thai society will remain male-dominated while violence against women will persist as long as the deep-rooted sexist values go unquestioned.

It's hard to dismantle patriarchy and sexual double standards in people's heads when they are themes perpetuated by the education system, the mass media and the hierarchical, militaristic culture. But there are ways to resist discrimination and violence against women. Silence is not one of them.

Many women's rights advocates prefer to keep their frustrations to themselves for fear of being caught up in the senseless, biased political attacks.

Many are busy confronting the avalanche of state policies that are destroying women's sources of livelihood and health welfare. That's understandable.

Admittedly, however, many so-called feminists simply could not care less and refuse to see the dehumanisation of Ms Yingluck as the dehumanisation of women as a whole -- thanks to the deep political divisions.

Hence the silence.

But no matter how you justify it, silence means submission. And when women's groups fail to send a strong, concerted message against such crass portrayals of women as vaginas, they fail to transcend a political divide by failing to abide by their own principles.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Sanitsuda Ekachai

Former editorial pages editor

Sanitsuda Ekachai is a former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post. She writes on human rights, gender, and Thai Buddhism.

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