July 2014 saw an unusual spate of pro-feminist articles appear in the Thai media, suggesting a concerted effort to raise the profile of feminism there. I first noticed this article in the Bangkok Post, one of the two main English-language newspapers in Thailand. It used a recent terrible crime (rape and murder of a young girl) as a vehicle to bang the feminism drum in a country that is wonderfully thus far relatively free of the feminist yoke.
Next I came across this article in a popular regional English-language magazine. It discussed a feminist get-together in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The author of that article, Hilary Cadigan, subsequently wrote a follow-up OpEd in response to comments from readers including myself.
That latter article appeared to greatly exaggerate the risk to Asian women in relation to marrying foreign men. Feminist scare tactics like this are ten percent motivated by a desire to protect the welfare of a small minority of Thai women potentially vulnerable to exploitation, and ninety percent about punishing western men who reject feminist-indoctrinated women as partners. (See this post as to one possible reason why)
Some might say “well perhaps Thailand is a country that could benefit from feminism?“. Well yes and no, but mostly no.
Firstly, and by way of background, I am fortunate to be somewhat familiar with the country and its people. I am also aware of the views of western women regarding Thailand, via personal discussions and many years of scanning media and online sources including expat fora. Whilst there are Thai feminists, online discussion and English-language media coverage is driven by female western expats who rankle at the nature of society here. Whilst a few are sensitive and understanding of the nuances of Thai culture, the vast majority are not. Indeed, the depth of Thai experience of too many western commentators is limited to media coverage of sex-trafficking and prostitution, and perhaps a stroll along Pattaya’s Walking Street during a brief holiday stopover.
Unsurprisingly, Thai society does have its share of negative features. As in the west, some of these impact disproportionately against girls and women, some impact disproportionately against men and boys, but most affect people of all genders. Chief among this latter group of factors is the huge disparity between rich and poor within Thai society.
I have two concerns, the first of which is the nature of feminism and its potential impact on Thai culture. My second concern is more general and involves those who seek to superimpose western mindsets and ‘solutions’ onto completely different cultures.
The primary vectors for feminism in Thailand are western women working in international organisations (e.g. various UN agencies, World Bank, etc), in a myriad of western NGO’s and charities, and to a lesser extent in the media.
Readers should also recognise that in Thailand, as in many other countries, there is a substantial financial dimension to feminism. This mainly comprises a large ‘rescue’ industry that focuses on ‘helping’ women and girls. Never mind that the majority of people trafficked in Thailand are men working in the fishing and construction labor industries, who are the recipients of negligible assistance (and none whatsoever from feminist organisations). This gender bias by aid organisations is a world-wide phenomenon, and is addressed in this other blog post.
My own view is that feminism (or at least that form of feminism now dominant in western society – ‘gender feminism’) is not the remedy that’s needed to effect lasting positive social change in Thailand. The affect of this pernicious ideology would simply introduce new biases and inequities, whilst further eroding traditional aspects of Thai society worthy of being maintained.
A few background articles that might be of interest are:
This Reddit discussion thread was created by a Malaysian feminist who, to her credit, was seeking information on mens issues. It is included here as some of the responses may be of interest
Thailand’s first female Prime Minister vs Thai feminists (14 August 2011)
Feminist activists find peace in Thailand (23 July 2010)
(As an aside, I note this last article includes a reader’s comment: “A group of female tourists in Thailand posted their responses to sex tourism in a video, and received some harsh backlash”. Well, gee, western women volunteered some biased and fairly harsh criticism of the behaviour of western men and received some of the same in return. This happens in grown-up society. Instead of childish pouting, why not address the specific points raised?)