I own a “This is what a feminist looks like” sweater. I wear it regularly and it elicits a wide range of responses. I’ve had blank stares. I’ve had sniggers. I’ve had a few high-fives. I’ve had no reaction at all from many people who know me because it’s certainly not the first time I’ve raised the subject (or had it emblazoned across my chest). I’ve had a lengthy discussion with my 7-year-old son after he read the slogan and had a zillion questions.
What I haven’t had are the vile, misogynistic threats levelled at a woman who wore a very similar top in the Thai capital of Bangkok. The photo of her happy, smiling face was posted to a Facebook community page for British expats in the city by a man called Albert, who captioned it: “The day that everybody was afraid of has arrived. Feminism is here.”
Sadly Albert is only one of many and it wasn’t long before the disgusting comments flooded in.
It’s hard to believe that an image of an unnamed woman wearing a T-shirt expressing her belief in equality could spark such hatred.
Her picture was taken on March 8, International Women’s Day, and the woman in the picture was a participant in a flash mob event at Central World that aimed to raise awareness about violence against women, revealed Coconuts Bangkok.
One commenter on the Everything Bangkok page wanted to “beat the feminism out of her.” Another called her a “c***.” A man called Rory declared that he “f***ing hates feminism.” The equally enlightened Lawrence claimed that more than “50 per cent” of married expats divorce their Western wives to marry Thai women, which “tells you that your ‘feminism’ isn’t feminine at all and men don’t like it.”
A man named Rob said the woman would “die alone with 50 cats,” while Paul focused on the woman’s appearance stating that she would “look better in a dress.” Another member called her “a no class westerner.” The reactions also included a photo of a smoking gun and an offer to point the woman to some “good suicide spots.”
The Everything Bangkok group was later deleted and a new page created called Everything Bangkok (The original).
Defending the deletion of the group its founder — who goes by the name of Charlie — told Coconuts Bangkok that the disgusting, sexist, threatening comments were nothing but a “joke.”
“Everything Bangkok is all about having a joke,” he said. “I haven’t got anything against feminists and good on them for sticking up for what they believe in… but when people don’t agree with them they get upset. Learn to have a laugh and realise it’s Facebook. I know there were a few people who took it too far, but there will always be those few people who do no matter what the topic is.”
“I was shocked,” the woman said of the reaction to her picture. “But, at the same time, I feel like these people proved why we need to be out there doing events and wearing those shirts.”
Sarah Martin, an international gender-based violence specialist who has worked for the UN in Bangkok, may be accustomed to reading about appalling statements made by expats on social media but even she was shocked by this particular saga.
“They are talking about beating and raping her. Who can call that a joke? The thread was a shocking intersectionality of racism, classism and sexism,” she said.
The flash mob the woman attended was organised by Bangkok Rising, a group of volunteers who focus on gender issues and are working towards getting rid of gender-based violence. In response to the Everything Bangkok backlash, two members of Bangkok Rising created a BuzzFeed post to draw attention to the incident. They named and shamed the offenders, most of whom are Western men, by posting screenshots of their misogynistic comments.
“With the Buzzfeed post, we tried to be hard-hitting, without being vindictive,” said one of the members. “We don’t hate the people that did this but think it’s not OK to do this to someone who did not sign up for the page and the kind of humour there. This is an innocent bystander who didn’t deserve to have such things said about her body, her sexuality, her safety. That is abuse.
“The fact that we got so much support shows that people were also shocked by this. It’s situations like this around the world that cause kids to end their lives due to cyberbullying.”
“Some people might find Everything Bangkok funny but there are actual people in the world, and in that group, that hate women and wouldn’t be afraid to inflict violence on a woman,” said the woman in the “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt. “When you participate in something like that, even making an innocent-seeming joke about a woman making you a sandwich, you are encouraging them.”