Yingluck critics must condemn ugly sexism too

Yingluck critics must condemn ugly sexism too

When a network of women's rights groups issued a statement denouncing a medical doctor for his ugly sexist attacks on caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, I admit I felt quite relieved.

For a long time I've been wondering why women's rights groups have remained silent about the slew of degrading, sexist tirades made against Ms Yingluck by various detractors.

Let it be clear that I am no fan of Ms Yingluck. I disagree with many of her policies (or should I say her brother's), and do not hide it, even though she is the country's first female premier, who therefore should have received my unconditional backing as a woman and a supporter of a bigger role for women in politics.

But I believe that doing so would be tantamount to reverse discrimination and a betrayal of my profession as a journalist.

I also think that if and when she is attacked with the sheer sexism that has nothing to do with her policies, anyone who cares about gender equality should speak up to condemn it.

But that's not how it works in our colour-coded, politically divided world.

What has happened has been utter silence from women's groups. Instead, the outcry comes from Ms Yingluck's supporters in the red camp who keep silent about her caretaker government's lack of transparency and abuse of majority rule.

The silence from these women's groups was deafening when Akeyuth Anchanbutr attacked Ms Yingluck for coming from the North _ where women are stereotyped as uneducated, stupid, and likely to become prostitutes.

The same happened when e-ngo, meaning an "idiotic broad", became a degrading nickname for Ms Yingluck. Or when former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva joined the gutterspeak by jumping on the e-ngo bandwagon.

There was also silence when university lecturer Jak Panchupet said on the anti-government stage that had he been sent as good-looking "bait" to Ms Yingluck's house, so that she would have been "tempted" outside to receive him.

The silence continued, even when anti-government leaders called her a whore.

Many women's rights activists join the anti-government rallies with the sincere belief in national reform. But what kind of reform can happen if such dark sexism remains unquestioned, even by feminists?

This is a difficult situation for me personally. These activists are people I respect highly for their life-long dedication to women's causes. But their silence has led to them being attacked as hypocrites by Ms Yingluck's supporters.

It should be noted that this dehumanisation through sexism, racism, ethnic discrimination and homophobia is used by all political camps to fuel hatred and condone verbal and physical violence.

Disparity and justice are the refrains of the red-shirt movement. Yet there is little self-criticism when red leaders use these tricks to dehumanise their enemies.

I once asked a red activist what she thought about ensuring gender justice in the red movement. Her answer: "Isn't democracy alone enough?"

The situation is not much better among women's right activists, said Sutada Mekrungruengkul, lecturer at the Asean and Asia Studies Centre and co-ordinator of Wrest, a network of women's groups, which last week condemned the use of sexism to attack political opponents.

The last straw, she said, was when senior physician Dr Prasert Wasinanukorn said, to the applause of his audience, that should Ms Yingluck get pregnant, he would do a "repair" (referring to vaginal reconstruction) for her, and should she resign, he would deliver her sanitary napkins for the rest of her life.

"Many 'feminists' want Yingluck out first. Other issues can be tackled later," said Ms Sutada.

That's how the power of hatred has affected the women's movement.

Come to think of it, it's probably impossible now to talk about a uniform women's movement, amid the increasingly diverse needs of different groups of women.

Where there has been little advocacy for women's groups in the past decade, there has been a remarkable increase in activism calling for respect for gay rights.

Some academics blame fierce individualism, overwhelming capitalism and the rise of religious fundamentalism as well as nationalism for the decline of feminism as a movement. But I see the rise of the gay rights movements as a sign of a society that is ready to challenge a more subtle form of prejudice.

That's why we can't ignore sexism, said Ms Sutada. "This is not about ensuring polite talks. It's about dismantling the deep roots of patriarchy and stereotypes in our society. Otherwise, discrimination will never go away."

Who can argue with that?

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.

Sanitsuda Ekachai

Former editorial pages editor

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

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