Last week, I published a post entitled ‘Rape Culture in Thailand‘. In that post, I discussed the normalization of sexual violence via rape scenes in Thai soap operas. I also gave examples of the perception of victims, citing opinions of both members of the public and authorities. I knew that this was an important topic, which is why I spent so long trying to put together a detailed and balanced account, but I had no idea just how popular it would be. I think it’s important to document the response because it gives us a more well-rounded picture of the issue and how it’s constantly developing, so this is what I’m going to do here.
The post was published on April 1st and remained under the radar for a few days, but on April 3rd, my site traffic shot up out of nowhere and the post was read 8,000 times. I tracked that to Twitter and found that lots of Thai users had shared it there. One of them, a Chulalongkorn University student, tweeted me to say that it had ‘gone viral’ in her faculty. This took me by surprise, but it was nothing compared to the following day, when the post received another 65,000 hits, almost all of them within Thailand. Comments flooded in at such a speed that I couldn’t keep up with them, and when I went into work that evening, my coworkers (almost all of whom didn’t even know that I had a blog), had somehow heard all about it and told me that it was a ‘hot topic’, as they called it. It turns out that it had been shared on a Thai Facebook page with more than 1 million followers, Drama Addict. There, a summary of the post had been given in Thai with a link to the article. Currently, that post has clocked up more than 16,000 likes, has been shared more than 1,500 times and has generated 350 comments.
The post was then not only picked up, but translated and reposted in Thai by various Thai news websites. One of them was MThai.com, where it had been posted under ‘world news’. It was also posted by Post Today, Catdumb, and PostJung. Post Today had discovered the article via a Facebook post from Prachuab Wangjai, which had been shared almost 3,000 times. A discussion was sparked on Pantip, which is a hugely popular Thai message board.
Students and coworkers started contacting me to ask if I’d written it because they’d been unknowingly sharing it with their friends, and it was through them that I learned that it had been a topic of discussion on the radio. MET107FM, one of the biggest international music stations in Bangkok had broadcast it. Presenters had talked about the post and asked listeners to call in and give their opinion. They did the same on their Facebook page, offering a prize to the person who could best answer the question ‘should rape scenes be banned from Thai soap operas or can we not only blame soap operas for rape in our society?‘ Here are a few of the comments (which have translated as accurately as I can):
“We should remove rape scenes because they make viewers believe it’s something normal and that couples live happily ever after, but in reality, it’s not like that. If we removed these scenes, it would be a good thing. Korean dramas don’t have this.”
“We can’t only blame the soap operas. We must solve the problem by giving harsher punishments to rapists, as Boom Pannada (a famous model, actress and Miss Thailand 2000) said. Rape = death penalty”.
“Other countries don’t have soap operas like this, but they still have rape”.
“Don’t only blame it on soap operas. We need to be serious about porn, sex toys and stuff that sells openly on the street. The more you prohibit these things, they more they want to try. Kids these days just can’t wait to have sex.”
“It’s deeply rooted in Thai culture. I think a society that avoids sexual topic in public but presents it in soap operas this way is very wrong. They project the myth that rape is normal then the characters are get married and live happily ever after.”
“We can’t just blame soap operas. Good or evil is within your self and what you do. How can we fix this siuation? … Don’t blame the media. It’s better if we blame ourselves”.
This was the winning comment (which came from a female):
“Of course we can’t blame only soap operas. I think that we should teach boys from a young age not to attack or insult females who don’t consent (and even if they do consent, that’s another issue). We should also teach girls that they should dress and behave well, so that it’s less dangerous for them #notbeautifulbutstillafraid“.
I agree with the first half of her comment, but the second shows an example of how it’s still a common idea around world that covering up is an effective method of protection from rape. This perpetuates not only victim blaming but a fundamental understanding of rape itself and why it happens. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha made some comments just the other day that came as a swift reminder that we still have a long way to go with this. During a speech about a crackdown on public behaviour during Songkran, he is reported to have compared scantily-clad women to unwrapped candy.
Coincidentally, one the same day that my post was published, there was a seminar on ‘Women in Media’, where people gathered to propose and discuss new guidelines for TV broadcasting in relation to women’s rights. Speakers included female university lecturers and news reporters, the vice president of Thai Film Archive and Nitipan Wiprawit (creator of the Change.org petition to stop the normalization of rape in soap operas). The results of this meeting have yet to be announced, but I’m keeping my eyes on the Twitter accounts of some of those speakers in hopeful expectation. See here for another article on the lead-up to the seminar from Al Jazeera. Khun Nitipan shared my post to the petition webpage, after which I tweeted him to say thank you. He responded with this:
I received lots of similar messages, both publicly and privately, from Thai and foreign women. The post itself currently has 55 comments, and I’d like to share a few of them here:
“I totally understand what you’ve been through. As a Thai feminist I got rape threat and almost got raped. Most of Thai people would keep their mouth shut when men jokes about rape. Thai people like to avoid face-to-face conversation when it comes to someone talks or does inappropriate things. I don’t know why, maybe Thai people are coward, and when someones try to speak up something violent often happen to them. Sometime I wish I look else where and let the whole country burn. The majority are too shallow. They are like old dogs that don’t want to learn new tricks. I’m actually fed up with them but I can’t stop caring about the future of the people I love, the people who are close to me. That’s why I can’t quit feminism. That’s why I can’t stop trying to get through these people’s thick skulls.”
“Some men still don’t know what they did was called rape. They think that it’s fine if you already known each other. Sometimes when a woman say ‘no’ man will do the opposite way because they think that a girl is just act like television show later she will be fine and enjoy it with him. How can this be right? How Thai student study so damn hard everyday but sex educated was so low? Here’s why, It is beacause schools and government take those class away from them, they do whatever they can to hide everything about sexual stuff from this “beautiful cultural” country. Adult think it’s wrong to teach kids about sex, they afraid that kids will behave bad if they know those things to early. Jokes on them, just take a look at the social network and internet these days, ICT keeps shutting down pornography website leaves no choice for people to start think about raping someone. I’m no professional writer. This was just my teenage humble opinion. Yeah sad but true isn’t it?”
“Firstly, I want to express my gratitude for taking your time to write about this issue in Thailand. I was really happy that someone finally raised this issue up!”
“I agree with you, I hated seeing those rape scenes and then the women would fall in love with the rapist. I wanted to walk up to the director and punch him in the face. So I stopped watching Lakorn for 10 years now. I’m glad someone wrote and article like this. Thank you. I think most directors are males. That needs to change soon.”
“I believe that most of Thai people have negative feelings about this issue. As you can see, they always post negative comments online, saying that the rapists should be sentenced to death penalty. Yet, they turn on the TV, watch soap operas and enjoy raping scenes. Isn’t it ironic?”
The reaction to the post proves not only that rape culture is a real problem here, but that people recognise it and feel strongly about it. Some are already campaigning to change it. It’s safe to say that the scale of the response has gone far beyond what I expected to receive. I didn’t anticipate that many Thai people would read it at all, so to see it take off in the way that it did over here was very surprising. Both this site and my Facebook page have acquired lots of new Thai followers, which is wonderful (thank you to everyone who’s just started following!) Lots of people have found an old post of mine on racism in Thailand via this one, and it has started up some interesting conversation there. It’s been great to get a conversation going, especially since so much of it has been positive and supportive. Of course, there have been people who disagree with what I’ve written, and I’m grateful for that because I’m open to learning more about it and it’s important to get perspective from both sides of any debate. Even the most ridiculous of comments can have a positive effect by driving further discussion. The more discussion there is, the more awareness there is, and that can only be a good thing.
Even while I was writing this post, I was contacted by the producer of an Australian TV show who’d seen the post and wanted talk more about it for the purpose of their show. It just goes to show what can happen when you put something out there. Let’s keep the conversation going.
Any women looking for a platform to talk more about this might be interested in the Muay Thai Roundtable forum, where there’s a women’s only section. Sharing ideas and stories publicly can be very uncomfortable to say the least, and this is a place where you can have an element of privacy and safety. There’s even a completely anonymous option for posting. Sign up here if you’re interested.