Misogyny runs rampant in Thai politics

Alice Wu says the seemingly unchecked misogynist attacks on the Thai premier may be the most disturbing aspect of its politics

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 3:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 3:48am

The political crisis in Thailand has overshadowed an even more serious and dangerous war: the war on women. As the world keeps watch on the country's unfolding political calamity, UN Women, the United Nations agency responsible for women's empowerment, issued a statement condemning misogynist attacks in Thai politics.

Thailand's first female and youngest prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is no stranger to the everyday political attacks that plague her country. Perhaps she has also become used to the abuse from her opponents, who seem to have serious misgivings about women.

Being disliked for being a woman is not acceptable in modern-day Thailand, or in any democracy.

The no-holds-barred misogynist attacks are truly foul - calling Yingluck a "stupid bitch" and a "slut", and making crude references to sanitary pads and vaginal repair surgery.

Many have written about the blatant sexist abuse, but it's not enough. In fact, these disgusting displays of ignorance and hate have been played down in the news. It is unfortunate, for example, that the Bangkok Post changed the "stupid bitch" hate speech by a former prime minister to "stupid woman". Maybe the otherwise respected newspaper thought it too embarrassing to quote a former leader using that sort of language and displaying that sort of ignorance. But, inadvertently, it has now made "bitch" synonymous with "woman", and, by extension, bigotry acceptable as political dissent.

The state of Thailand's democracy has been examined extensively given that, curiously, the anti-government movement is all about suspending democracy in the name of democracy. Digging that mine of ironies is certainly exhausting.

But, by far, the way it has allowed women to be abused in this manner - and not only by men - is the biggest insult to the country. The war on women in Thailand should not be overshadowed by the political chaos. No matter what a leader's faults and flaws, gender cannot be used as ammunition to up the ante or as an excuse to be hateful.

Gender equality comes not from making men the same as women, or vice versa; it is about recognising, accepting and respecting inherent differences and treating men and women as human beings deserving of an equal right to dignity.

When political processes devalue women's (or anyone's) worth, and politicians exploit the emotions of the masses to propagate, reinforce or justify making others a target of stereotyping and abuse, they do more damage than incompetence, maladministration or even corruption.

Never has Thai politics shed such an ugly light on its people, who are among the friendliest and most generous in the world. Whether one is on the side of shutting down the government, or shutting down those who are shutting down the government, let's not forget what truly holds a nation and its people back: the use of abusive language against women and commentary and images that are demeaning to women to score a point.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA