It isn’t that I’m not used to the negative stereotyping and degradation of Thai women, it’s just that each time I witness the mindlessness of my fellow Europeans, the more disturbed I become by the ignorance and damage caused by such behaviour.
It seems Thailand can’t be mentioned without some ignoramus making a stupid comment based on pub rumour and the experiences of a sex tourists. A prime example of this was a dinner I recently attended with some friends and associates.
A few members of the party had previously holidayed in Thailand, others had heard about Thailand through friends and naturally with my presence the conversation took a Thai theme. It wasn’t long before the comments started to fly and Thai women became the punching bag.
One of the guys explained that he had gone for a Thai massage to heal a neck problem, this statement was then met with rude comments pertaining to Thai women and oral sex. Another guy in the group then told of a woman he knew who had recently returned from a business trip in Thailand and had witnessed Thai women putting darts in their private parts at a show. The jokes continued to spill, and even when someone tried to describe a non-sexual experience of the country, he or she was met with a barrage of double entendres and sleazy comments.
I sat back and decided that rather than defend Thailand’s corner and bring some sensibility to the conversation, I would, on this occasion, observe and then write something about this on my blog.
What’s strange to me is that the general perception of Thailand is one of a huge knocking shop, a country consumed by sex, yet except for a few strips in the major tourist areas, not only is this completely inaccurate, but totally out of sync with what is in fact a very prudish nation by nature.
Any person who knows a typical Thai women will tell you that they don’t like to openly speak about sex, and funnily enough, it is European women who have a reputation in Thailand for showing cleavage, getting naked and being somewhat promiscuous – yet it is we who point fingers. Even more disturbing is that the negative imagery engrained on the minds of foreigners is passed on by the most unreliable of sources – ill-mannered tourists who spend weeks on end sitting drunk on bar stools, sleeping with prostitutes and never even getting close to understanding Thai people, Thai culture or Thai history.
Thailand is known throughout the world for the red light strips of Bangkok (all three of them) and a few scattered amongst the tourist islands, but then Amsterdam is also well famed for its prostitution, and indeed the group I had dined with that night had recently been to Amsterdam. Yet Dutch women are not perpetually referred to as potential prostitutes or constantly degraded in jest.
No, Holland gets away with being a place where prostitution is legal. English women also escape punishment, even though we have Soho in London and a wealth of street prostitution up and down the country, not to mention endless adverts for visiting massage services online, in local papers and magazine supplements. And let us not forget the numerous times Spearmint Rhino and other strip clubs have been exposed for prostitution.
If a Thai man spoke about English, or European, women in the way we European men speak about Thai women he would be verbally abused, but we think its fine to tarnish an entire nation of women with the sex worker brush. “He’s got a Thai girlfriend”, “Did she used to work in a bar/is she a ladyboy?” Would you ask a friend if their European-born girlfriend, or mum, used to be a prostitute? I very much doubt it.
So how and why did the Thai female come to be seen in this light?
Largely because of the Vietnam War, actually. To simplify the story, American forces had a huge presence in Thailand during the war, and carried out 80% of air strikes on North Vietnam from air bases situated mainly in the North East of Thailand. At the request of the U.S. government, Thailand provided rest and recreation services (R&R) to U.S. servicemen, which the Americans affectionately labelled I&I, intercourse and intoxication.
The war injected $16m into the Thai economy year on year, money that would need replacing by some means when the war ended. During their stay, some servicemen took girlfriends and some took wives, many had mistresses and took care of their needs financially. But with the servicemen gone, tourism rising and the rich-poor divide increasing, many of those involved in R&R were lured to the capital for more I&I with foreign tourists. Subsequently, Pattaya, Soi Cowboy, Nana and other sex areas were born, and ever since, the government has allowed and some would say encouraged the exploitation of Thai women because it injects money into the economy and acts as a self serving welfare system.
Contrary to popular belief, the concept of Go-Go bars and “Bargirls” actually originates from China. The concept migrated to Thailand as demand rose. Statistically, both China and Japan have bigger sex industries than Thailand. In fact, less than 1.7% of the population work in the sex industry (men and women), so why the funny looks when a person says they live in Thailand, or they have a Thai girlfriend or would like to visit the country – ignorance, I assume.
Arguably, Thailand has no more sex available then any European country, so I wonder if there is a deeper issue at hand? I ask, if we were to cinsider Thai’s as “white”, would we condemn their women in the same way? That might sound far-fetched, but the same people who demonise Thai women are for the most part the same who make racist and bigoted comments about other non-whites. Some Europeans make a habit out of stereotyping entire ‘dark skinned’ countries over the actions of a minority of their citizens, but as Europeans we would never admit that copious amounts of our own women are stripping and sleeping with men for money.
Seldom do conversations concerning Thailand speak of beautiful temples, serene landscape, provincial diversity, an interesting amalgamation of eastern culture or the fact that its people are some of the kindest, dearest, friendliest in the world.
No, generally we would rather focus on the men who flock to Thailand each year and pay peanuts to sleep with under-privileged women whose lives have put them in a position none of us would choose for our own daughters, mothers or sisters. We would rather come back home and speak about a show where a woman is completely degraded through the firing of ping-pong balls out of her vagina than speak of the hospitality of Northern Thailand or the fine architecture of the Grand Palace. And because of that, Thai women are thought of in a derogatory way, not seen as individuals, but as a collective representation of a few seedy sex strips in a foreign land.
But then this is what we are good at. We Europeans have been doing this for centuries, going around the world degrading, judging, manipulating and stealing; all in the name of progression, self satisfaction and enjoyment.