When COVID-19 hit, Natanin “Blue” Rachapradit was anxious about returning from her studies abroad.
She knew the kind of women’s issues animating conversations around the world struggled to be heard at home, where rates of sexual violence remain high, rape scenes are prime time television entertainment, and female sexual pleasure undervalued.
“One of my biggest fears was having to come back to Thailand because the entrenched sexism really marred my sense of self growing up, and I worked so hard to get a scholarship abroad. But now that I am back because of COVID-19,” said Blue, who ultimately turned it into a positive. “It gave me an opportunity to get to know my motherland again and made me realize that this time around, I am not helpless, and I am actually equipped to create the change I want to see.”
Last week, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Blue, 22, launched a platform to give Bangkok’s women a voice and showcase “honest, human and empowering” perspectives through journalism and the arts.
It’s called The F Word, and its first official issue featured a slew of content with a unifying theme that women can accept themselves and feel good. This is not the chaste and chilly fare the haters imagine, either. The first issue includes an interview with a photographer with an eye for steamy bedroom pics, a non-judgy photo essay on sex workers and a run-down on buying sex toys.
Born and raised in Phitsanulok province, Blue was enrolled as a senior at Minerva Schools at KGI, a university program with a campus in downtown San Francisco, to major in arts and literature and minor in cognitive science.
Blue is also an artist – a painter, spoken word poet and stand-up comedian (“I like to joke about vaginismus and how Thai Buddhism ruined sex for me.”). Her art can be found on Instagram at Blue the Artiste. Apart from The F Word online magazine, Blue is working on an installation project with friends under the name 3.24studio which will show in May as part of the Bangkok Design Week.
Blue unspooled for us what The F Word is, its inspirations, the hostility it can evoke and more in our lightly edited interview below.
Bangkok has long been considered a great place to be a guy. Is that changing?
I think we have a long way to go for it to be a female-friendly space, but I have hope. There are many women I look up to who are doing great work in making it an empowering space for women. I know that there are spaces like the Maison Rouge Comedy Nights and Lady Laughs at the Hive that represent an all-female comic lineup where female sexuality gets to be explicit, and sexism gets to be made fun of.
Bangkok Rising has also been hosting events to advocate for gender equality and networking events to empower women. It still sucks to be a woman in Bangkok in a lot of ways. There is the toxic beauty standard that is normalized, foreign men who would look down on Thai women or local men who might say they believe in gender equality but don’t want to do the hard work of taking personal responsibility. But I have faith in the female camaraderie that exists in Bangkok, and I believe that great things can happen. After all, we were able to jumpstart something like The F Word in two months with no seed funding. Just pure girl power. So hopefully it will become better as times go on, especially with the female communities that are growing here.
Let’s talk about The F Word.
The F Word is an online art magazine aimed to lift up women’s voices through journalism and the arts. With the second lockdown in January putting a big pause on my other projects, it made me wonder if I could begin to form a smaller version of an all-female art collective. I just knew that at the end of the day I want to cultivate a community that revolves around the arts and feminism, no matter the form it took.
Additionally, coming back to Thailand and living in Bangkok for the first time, I realized it was rich with so many subcultures and female artists, commediennes and poets within the local scene that deserves to be known and are advocating for feminist issues in their works – and would benefit other women for their works to known. So I thought – why not make a publication that amplifies these voices.
Who will be featured on the platform and how can people get involved?
For each issue we have one featured artist who we feature in our podcast and collaborate with in the Rebellious X column. Bangkok is quite international, and we hope to be representational of the womanhood that exists here so we are not exclusive to Thai artists only. However, we do aim to prioritize Thai female voices in future issues.
In terms of getting involved, we are always looking for all kinds of volunteers, writers, photographers, illustrators, editors. We are also very open to creative collaborations. Our Rebellious X column is purely a space for that.
Feminism, or any attempt to boost women, is often met with a kind of ugly hostility, particularly by foreign men. Have you experienced any of that? What’s your response?
Yes, definitely! I can’t tell you how many times I have had to explain male privilege to men, or, if I mention toxic masculinity, they will quip right away with ‘there’s toxic femininity’ too, as if both aren’t instigated by the patriarchy! I think what I find frustrating as a Thai woman is that I am conditioned to be so agreeable, so I find it hard to be firm with my point of view in face-to-face discussions. I think it’s why it ends up coming out through my personal works like The F Word or my poetry.
But on days when I am generous, I try to educate them on how the patriarchy oppresses everyone, that it’s not about them being the enemy per se but because of the way we are socialized by this system we end up instigating oppression in different ways – it’s why men feel like they can’t show emotions and up being victims of suicide because they are less likely to seek help due to their gender role.
But oftentimes a thoughtful discussion with men requires so much patience because of fragile male ego, and sometimes it feels like coddling fragile masculinity when the other person has no interest in listening. So I guess that leads me to start a feminist art magazine instead of trying to spend my energy convincing some guy that they need to check their male privilege.
Do Thai feminists owe anything to the legacy in the West? How would you say it differs, if at all?
I don’t think we “owe” anything to the West, we have our own legacy that has been built and is building in Thailand. There are many local feminist activists who are doing great work like ThaiConsent or the Instagram page @ThatMadWoman. Feminist movements in other places definitely help to speed up the process. It helps to borrow vocabulary from the West to identify facets of oppression like “gaslighting,” “the patriarchy,” waves of the #MeToo movement and social media like Instagram and Tik-Toks that are now flooded with more feminist views on body-positivity really helps.
We need to unpack how our own history has been written in a way that’s male-centric, look into how sexism is embedded in Thai literature or how Thai Buddhism plays a role in wrongly instigating the idea that men are inherently superior to women for example. And we cannot do that by simply importing Western feminism.
If we want to become better, it’s not going to help to simply copy the West – they have their own issues too – it’s looking into our local ecosystem and thinking about how we can empower local voices. There are activists that are definitely playing big roles in changing things. Working on The F Word, something I worry about is just simply importing Western feminism when there is a legacy of local feminist movements happening in Thailand concerning local issues. It’s definitely something The F Word is hoping to work toward by recruiting more Thai writers and eventually making the publication bilingual for our future issues.
What are the challenges advocating for feminism in Thailand in your opinion? And how do you see the future of it?
I think in Thailand the concept is sadly pretty new. Now that people are questioning the status quo in multiple ways, it gives room for feminist conversations too. However, because it is new people are particularly averse to it and thus, feminism is forced to constantly try to justify itself.
I think we are still stuck debating the legitimacy of the concept. I remembered meeting a friend of a friend and I started talking about feminism then my friend had to quickly jump in with a disclaimer saying “Oh don’t worry – Blue is the good kind of feminist.” I think this shows how feminism gets so demonized here, and how people are still so weary.
That’s why The F Word is less focused on trying to “educate” the public on feminism but rather to simply show what the feminist point of view in action looks like.
Any feminist media outlets you’ve looked to?
I discovered Yeoja Mag when I was in Berlin, and it’s been on my mind ever since. It’s a Berlin-based feminist art magazine that mainly focuses on female artist interviews. I think Yeoja-Mag represents the kind of ripples that we want to make with The F Word, and really made it clear to me the format we want to take.
The Lily is also another publication I follow. I really liked how op-ed-driven it is and how thoughtful and informed its content is. The Lily made me realize how there are actually not that many publications targeted toward women that are not condescending.