The feminist agenda has arrived in Bangkok scoring a famous victory over a hugely popular Facebook expat page used by western men in Thailand.

Western woman who was attacked online in a viral onslaught for wearing a feminist T shirt at a rally for International Womens Day in March. Following the attack, a hugely popular expat Facebook page was banned and the story made news around the world highlighting the growing community of western expats in Thailand. (Source: Facebook)

The popular western expat Facebook page Everything Bangkok was banned last month following a viral attack by members on what appeared to be a photo of a western woman wearing a feminist T Shirt. The woman was attending an International Women’s Day event at a shopping centre in central Bangkok. The Facebook page with tens of thousands of members, mainly western expats living in Thailand, was promptly banned by the social network host when users openly threatened violence towards the woman featured in the photograph.

Threatening and violent comment sinks expat page

One particularly threatening comment came from a member named Dan who, while he suggested that the western woman ‘looks alright’, added the now infamous line, that he could ‘soon beat the feminism out of her’. The woman, who participated in the event which featured a flash mob at the world famous Central World Shopping complex, was pictured in a post wearing a T shirt with the words: ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ emblazoned on the front. The event was organised by Bangkok Rising, a feminist group campaigning to prevent violence against women. The viral adverse reaction to pictures from the Bangkok Rising event was apparently spontaneous from members of the Facebook page popular with expats living in Thailand. It started after one member announced that feminism had finally arrived in Thailand.

The outburst of vitriol that followed included up to three hundred posts before the page was pulled by the silicon valley based social network. Included in the posts were expressions of hatred for feminism and lurid suggestions on how the woman could take her own life.

Feminist stands her ground faced with abusive onslaught

The woman herself, featured in the photograph, who was the subject of abuse, did not seemed fazed in the aftermath. Following the vile comments, the feminist group Bangkok Rising set about organising a social media campaign to support the feminist point of view to counter the viral attack. In an interview with a well known Bangkok website, Coconuts Bangkok, the woman, originally targeted, said: ‘I was shocked..but at the same time I think these people proved why we need to be out there doing these events and wearing those shirts.’ She was later pictured with a homemade sign which said: ‘I rise because I wore a T Shirt to an event to  raise awareness for violence against women and was then verbally harassed and threatened on the internet because if it, women stay strong.’

Thai Expat’s rant against feminism echoes worldwide

Speaking to the online news website, a UN employee working in Bangkok, Sarah Martin, who is a gender based violence specialist, expressed her shock at what happened. ‘They were talking about beating and raping her, who can call that a joke, the thread was a shocking intersectionality of racism, classism and sexism.’

The banning of the Facebook page made news all over the world. The Daily Mail in the UK highlighted the story. However, unfortunately, the UK’s Daily Mail is itself banned in Thailand. In Australia, the SBS Television network, which controls 6% of the Australian market, carried the story. The news website for the television network headlined the shockingly offensive and violent comment from the Facebook Expat group member called Dan which prompted the ban.

Growing and happy western expat community in Thailand

Although there are no official figures, it is estimated that there could be up to one million western foreigners living in Thailand on a permanent or semi permanent basis. Lower estimates are half that figure. A survey by the popular expat forum Thai Visa, some years ago, showed a whopping 74% of expats happy with life in Thailand while 15% described their life as ‘blissfully happy’. One of the larger segments is that of retired expats from western countries. Western expats have established vibrant communities in all key urban centres within Thailand.

In 2014, the SBS TV Network in Australia featured a documentary on the subject. Australian expats living in Chiang Mai were interviewed at length about the phenomenon and the attractions of living in Thailand for foreigners. Most of the Australian expats featured in the documentary highlighted the exotic surroundings, culture and low cost of living in Thailand as key benefits for their move.

‘It’s much cheaper living here, it’s amazing,’ Ken Bingham, one of the Australian men told an Australian TV reporter. The sixty seven year old butcher from Melbourne in Australia told the TV network that he had made Thailand his home and was considering the purchase of an apartment in Pattaya, another expat hotspot, for $60,000. ‘I can live comfortably on our pension here and have a good lifestyle where at home it’s tight and you have to cut corners,’ he said.

Many of the Australian expats reported that, because of the worldwide financial crisis, Thailand had become very attractive destination due to the low cost of living in the country and the fact that westerners can enjoy a western lifestyle despite living such an exotic location. Of course, the SBS reporters from Australia also acknowledged that one of the attractions for some of the expats was the vibrant nightlife in Thailand particularly the prostitution industry.

Prostitution is more open in Thailand despite the fact that it is illegal. The culture surrounding the infamous aprostitution industry in Thailand seems to make it appear more acceptable to some expats although there have been moves by Thailand’s military junta to close down the sex for sale trade since it came to power in the 2014 coup.

Wrong to label western foreigners in Thailand as ‘sexpats’

One commentator believes that it is quite wrong to simply label the vast numbers of westerners moving to Thailand as sexpats. James Morris, a journalist and internet commentator who also writes for the Thai Examiner says: ‘The vast majority of foreigners and expats living in Thailand do not frequent the sex trade which is quite widespread. However there is also, undoubtedly, a significant minority that do. That said, I think what many people fail to recognise is how developed the western expat community in Thailand is becoming.

In relation to this story, I would have to accept that an overwhelming majority of the western men living in Thailand have a more traditional view when it comes to gender roles between men and women. But it is more complex than that. There are many younger and a few middle aged expats here with a more contemporary view. Also to remember that there are many Thai women who are feminists and quite active on the international stage. But Thailand is still very much a patriarchal society. It is this culture that attracts many of the western men who come to live here. Personally, I see nothing wrong with that and one of the things I like about Thailand is the fact that it is not so politically correct. I would say that you just have to look at the different crises in western countries to see that political correctness is not exactly the way to go.’

Expats in Thailand revel in the freedom of the culture

Despite the fact that the majority of western expats in Thailand are not the stereotypical sexpats, there is an acceptance that many western men living in Thailand feel the absence of the ‘feminist agenda’ is a plus. ‘I think many western expats like to revel in the freedom of the culture in Thailand, it’s like Benny Hill land for those familiar with UK TV from the 1970s,’ says James Morris. ‘Many western foreigners living in Thailand have been involved in failed relationships in western countries. A key reasons why many opt for Thailand is to find love and a new life in the land of smiles.’

A survey on Thailand’s popular dating site, ThaiLoveLines, in 2012 showed that 47% of western men seeking love had been involved in a failed relationship or were divorced within the last five years.  Also the TLL site featured an article on expats in Thailand and the explosive reaction that sometimes occurs when they interact with western women. Pointedly, the article also highlights a darker and growing trend of western men finding themselves homeless in Thailand.

Bangkok Feminists celebrate V-day in style

Meanwhile the Bangkok Rising group, which campaigns against violence to women and raises money for charities who support abused women, seem to have been given new impetus following the controversy and staged a fundraising event on March 24th and 25th 2016 entitled ‘The Vagina Monologues 2016 – V-Day Bangkok Rising 2016 at a venue in Sukhumvit.

Sarah Martin, the UN gender based violence specialist, told an online website: ‘People forget that women who find themselves attacked online are legitimately afraid, men are often clueless that this is actually frightening and there are women all over the world being attacked, or beaten to silence them.’ Sarah has worked previously in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar the US, Jordan and Syria.

It is also reported that another version of Everything Bangkok entitled Everything Bangkok (The Original) has appeared on Facebook. It is clear, from perusing the new Facebook page, that the community is back and retains its ribald sense of humour but there is no overt violent or anti feminist rhetoric. The newly reconstituted page is growing rapidly in followers but it may take some time to reach its former level and it will have to be perhaps a little tamer when it comes to commenting on feminism in the future.