The hashtags #DontTellMeHowToDress and #TellMenToRespect have gained popularity on Twitter over the past few days in Thailand. The social movement is a rare clapback from Thai women, who are speaking out against the government’s advice that they should cover up in order to avoid sexual harassment during the upcoming Songkran festival.
The hashtags were brought to public attention by Thai-American supermodel Cindy Sirinya Bishop, who posted a video response to what has been construed as a victim-blaming statement from the government.
“This sort of thinking is why women’s rights in our country are way behind others,” Cindy said in a video posted to Instagram on Thursday.
She captioned the video, “Women have the right to dress however we choose, as long as it’s not illegal. Sexual assault and harassment is never the woman’s fault! Tell men to keep their hands to themselves. [sic]”
Every year, just before Songkran, a Thai New Year water festival in April, some big-named official, from some organization, speaks to reporters and says something along the lines of “don’t dress provocatively.”
While the quote is usually published in Thai media only, this year, the warning for women not to wear “sexy” clothes at water fights from the Department of Local Administration Director-General Sutthipong Chulcharoen made international headlines last week.
— Cindy Sirinya Bishop (@cindysirinya) March 25, 2018
The #DontTellMeHowtoDress movement, which Cindy then continued on Twitter in a series of messages, was well-received by hundreds, including Thai celebrities such as Miss Universe Thailand 2015 Aniporn Chalermburanawong, Davika hoorne, and Opal Panisara.
Don't tell me how to dress. Tell Men To Respect.
— Opal Panisara (@chocoopal) March 25, 2018
Others had a pragmatic responses:
“About the clothes, well, I’d like to wear a hoodie every day but it’s nearly 40 degrees in Thailand. Do I really need to bear this heat and cover up for these low lives?”
— WITHKJI (@Ethereal_K88) March 27, 2018
“100 percent of rapists can’t control their urges. Compare that percentage to the victims. How many of them dressed provocatively? How many were wearing their Winnie the Pooh pajamas? Anyway, 100 percent of them were raped by people who couldn’t control their urges. This indicates that sexual harassment was caused by the abusers, not the victims. So, are the victims’ clothes still the issue here?”
Silence on #MeToo
The #DontTellMeHowToDress hashtag is the first social media movement against sexual assaults and victim blaming in Thailand in recent history, since the #MeToo sexual harassment hashtag movement failed to gain traction in the country despite spreading like wildfire globally in the wake of harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Meanwhile, street marches for women’s rights in Thailand are not mainstream, and most of the time, not even held by Thai people.
However, Wipaphan Wongsawang, the founder of Thaiconsent, a local Facebook page that encourages open discussion of sexual consent, hopes that the online messages are a start to action in the real world.
“I totally agree with the movement, and I’m happy that more people started speaking up over the years. I hope to see the online movement turn into action in the real world,” Wipaphan told Coconuts.
“I think the online world does make an impact. When people with the same thoughts meet online, then they know they’re not alone. If only they can unite, they can change society.”
In a culture where sexual assault victims often become an object of scrutiny when they speak out, it makes sense why the #MeToo movement, which had people all over the world sharing their own experiences, received little support in Thailand.
Last week, Intuporn Deebookkama, a singer from a TV comedy show, apologized to the public for “being too drunk and passing out.” The result of her driver seeing that was — instead of simply making sure his passenger got home safely — was to take her to a love motel on the night of March 23.
After a drunken night out, the 22-year-old hailed a cab to her sister’s house in Huai Khwang, but then passed out and woke up to find a naked taxi driver on top of her at a Lat Phrao love motel.
“I admit that I got drunk, passed out, and dressed provocatively. I admit it’s also my fault,” Intuporn told reporters on Saturday.
Two months before the #MeToo movement started, Thararat Panya, a law student at Thammasat University, shared her story of how she was assaulted by an older student in the program.
She encouraged other victims to come forward, but the student was criticized and received backlash as much as she received praise for speaking out.
Thararat said in a last year’s interview on national television, “What the victim has to endure is much more than the sexual assault itself — they have to face judgement from society and questions from people around them about why they became victims in the first place.”
On the government’s part, little has been done to educate people on sexual consent, as most campaigns focus on birth control or, even more commonly, complete abstinence for teens.
In previous years, the measures to prevent sex crimes during the water festival were as imaginative as banning “sexy dance moves” instead of simply asking people to not sexually harass others.
“The government doesn’t care that campaigning for women to cover up does nothing but make themselves feel better,” Wipaphan said.
There may have been one minor attempt from the government to address the issue of sexual assault, when Dr. Air, or Lt. Col. Anchulee Thirawongpaisan, a former spokeswoman of the Royal Thai Police, led the online YouTube campaign “Rape Diary” in 2014 when she was one of the country’s most visible police officials.
In the videos, convicted rapists faced the camera and explained why they raped, only for the video to close with a slogan, subtitled in English, “If you do not want to be a victim, then do not open any chances to a rapist.”
Wipaphan said, “Let’s say this culture doesn’t really care about the oppressed…they just want to come across as caring, but they aren’t.”