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#DontTellMeHowToDress: Water Guns, Gr*ping, and Governments

Updated: Mar 4

English Version

TW: mentions of sexual assault

Dear Asian Youth,

It’s summer. April 13th, Songkran Day, to be precise. People swarm the narrow streets of Bangkok, from Silom to Khao San Road, bodies sizzling and melting in the weather. Water guns, hoses and buckets splash, and spray. The whole country goes enthusiastically haywire. Hands and fingers go everywhere. It’s Thai New Year’s day; people are happy and ecstatic. But if happiness blinds the crowd, how elusive can touching, groping, and sexual assault be?

(Note that the previous sentence is a rhetorical question, but most of you know that answer to it, and the statistics are below.)

The topic of sexual assault during the annual Songkran Festival has hardly ever been acknowledged. The festival is viewed as a joyful and euphoric one, but it is also notorious for having fingers, hands and other body parts go in wrong and unwanted places. These sordid actions are intentionally excluded from conversations not because it’s elusive, but because it goes unnoticed by the general public.

During the exhaustive aftermath of the festival, women swarm the police stations. (Note that not all victims of sexual assault report their cases). The government, rooted with a deeply misogynist values, decides to see Songkran’s sexual assault cases as a crucial issue. Since they have an obligation to care about this, the government decides that they need to take action. Then, there’s an announcement. And all over the papers is the government’s stance on the horrors of Songkran Day. (Copied Verbatim)

BANGKOK POST: Don’t Dress Sexy, Says Government.

THE PHUKET NEWS: Don’t Dress Sexy, Says Government.

THAILAND NEWS: Don’t Dress Sexy, Says Government.

A myriad of Thai news outlets and studies prove that these actions occur more often than people think. They happen to more than half of the women at the festival, but they are ignorantly disregarded. A study shows that sixty percent of women who responded to a survey said that they were sexually harassed and assaulted during the Songkran Festival. And when an infinitesimal amount these cases are reported, authorities point their accusative fingers at the victim and use their fashion choices to justify their trauma.

The sexist problem-solving and conclusions don’t end here. Previously, the Thai government decided that banning “sexy dance moves,” “sexy pants” and “sexy muscles” would dramatically eradicate the existence of all sex crimes. And instead of arresting and fining those who commit sex crimes, people, mainly women, will be fined and arrested for publicizing their “sexy” dance moves and clothing.

Victim-blaming also exists outside the Songkran Festival. It is a recurring theme in sexual harassment conversations in several ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian nation) countries. And a journalist for a renowned news outlet from Bangkok, The Nation, stated in an opinion article that, no sex crime case has ever gone to court, and legally, “sexual harassment doesn’t exist in Thailand.” Furthermore, the journalist also advised Thai women to either tolerate the unwanted sexual actions or quit their jobs if a coworker or boss sexually harasses them.

But the Thai government has underestimated the potential of women by believing that the release of poorly PR-ed headlines and lackluster problem-solving can silence half of the Thai population. And the current of these sexist and victim-blaming notions prompted the genesis of a nationwide campaign titled: #DontTellMeHowToDress.

The bombardment of these sexist claims and advice marks a dead end for victims of sexual assault in Thailand. However, with the establishment of the resonating campaign, #DontTellMeHowToDress, women have been more confrontational and confident to speak up and fight against the patriarchal society and system.

Cindy Sirinya Bishop, a Thai-American model and founder of the campaign, told UN Women that, “It just struck a chord in me. When I saw this warning, I was so angry that women were warned to dress appropriately, but men were not being told to behave.” She then posted a video stating that women should be allowed to dress however they want, and that sexual assault and harassment is never the woman’s fault.

In a flash, the video went viral and the campaign was established. Bishop went further and turned it into an exhibition inspired by the “What Were You Wearing?” exhibition previously displayed in the University of Kansas. Bishop’s exhibition showed the clothes women were wearing when they were sexually assaulted.

The clothes displayed in the exhibition include baggy T-shirts, tank tops, ankle-length pants, polo-neck shirts, knee-length shorts, uniforms and so on. If clothes deemed “sexy” are those that women get sexually assaulted in, aren’t all clothes “sexy”? Not only depicted in this exhibition, but also depicted everywhere, people can be sexually assaulted in any type of clothing. And if a visual representation of this isn’t enough, I am going to say it right here. Loud and clear.

Getting sexually assaulted is not the victim or their fashion choice’s fault. It is the assaulter’s.

To quote Cindy Sirinya Bishop, “Our culture is not one that is so confrontational, and it’s going to be a while until a woman comes out and names names or points a finger in the media. But over the last few months, I’ve seen women in Thailand begin to collectively speak out, sharing their stories and pushing back on this victim-blaming which previously has gone completely unchecked here.”

The #DontTellMeHowToDress campaign has been an inspiration for women all around Thailand and Southeast Asia, and it has brought light to issues surrounding women’s rights, sexual assault and the internalized misogyny in the patriarchal society. These issues have not been mentioned enough in Thailand, and there is a deficiency in educational resources. But as awareness is spread by women around the country, this progressiveness also needs to be embedded in the government’s values and societal norms.

- Yanitta Iew

Thai Translation

#DontTellMeHowToDress: ปืนฉีดน้ำ การจับ และ รัฐบาล

คำเตือน: บทความนี้มีการพาดพิงถึงการล่วงละเมิดทางเพศ

ช่วงฤดูร้อนในวันที่ 13 เมษายน ผู้คนชุมนุมกันบนถนนแออัดๆของเมืองกรุงเทพมากมาย ตั้งแต่ถนนสีลมไปยังถนนข้าวสาร เนื้อตัวเสียดสีกันและละลายในอากาศ ปืนฉีดน้ำ สายยาง และกาลามัง สาดน้ำกันทั่วเมือง ทั้งประเทศวุ่นวายแต่สนุกสนาน มือและนิ้วมือไปทั่วทุกที่ นี่คือวันปีใหม่ไทยที่ทุกคนรู้จัก ทุกคนมีความสุขและตื่นเต้น แต่ถ้าความสุขทำให้คนตาบอดไม่สามารถมองเห็นความจริงได้ และถนนแออัดขนาดนั้น การล่วงละเมิดทางเพศจะหายากยนาดไหนกัน?

(รู้ไว้ว่าคำถามข้างต้นไม่จำเป็นต้องการคำตอบจากผู้อ่าน แต่หลายคนคงจะรู้และพูดในใจว่าคุณรู้คำตอบ สถิติอยู่ด้านล่าง)

ในช่วงหลังสงกรานต์ ผู้หญิงทั้งหลายไปรุมสถานีตำรวจ (รู้ไว้ว่าเหยื่อของการล่วงละเมิดทางเพศ น้อยคนที่จะไปแจ้งตำรวจ) และรัฐบาลจึงตัดสินว่าการล่วงละเมิดทางเพศในช่วงสงกรานต์คือสิ่งที่สำคัญและร้ายแรงอย่างยิ่ง เนื่องจากรัฐบาลมีความจำเป็นจะต้องประพฤติเหมือนเขาเห็นและเอาใจใส่กับเหตุการณ์พวกนี้ เขาจึงเลือกที่จะพูดออกมาและให้ความคิดเห็นเกี่ยวกับสถานการณ์ หลังจากนั้น มีการประกาศเกิดขึ้น และหนังสือพิมพ์ทั่วประเทศได้ตีพิมพ์ความคิดเห็นของรัฐบาล ดังนี้