When I first announced my plans to move to Thailand a couple of years ago, a few of my male friends were curious.
Why would I, as a woman, want to live in Thailand?
As far as they saw it, Thailand was a western man’s paradise and they couldn’t really see the appeal for me, a twenty-something girl who wasn’t looking to backpack or become an English teacher.
Sex tourists, backpackers, English teachers – the three stereotypes of the Thailand apocalypse.
Of course, anyone with even a mildly nuanced appreciation for this country knows that Thailand attracts a wide spectrum of foreigners to its shores, some of which can be pegged to those three categories, but many of which harken from other walks of life.
I appreciate that Thailand is deemed a holiday paradise for many guys – tropical beaches plus cheap beer plus beautiful women equals a happy place for many a heterosexual man on vacation – but we all know that for many, this is merely the jumping off point for many of the people that fall in love with this country.
Men and women of different nationalities, sexualities, relationship statuses; regardless of sensibilities, we all love Thailand.
But while most people appreciate Thailand’s wide appeal, very occasionally a subsection of the expat population will surface who deign to treat those different from them as ‘other’. I’m particularly aware of those who are vocal about their problems with western women, if only because I am a western woman.
This isn’t a feminist diatribe, but more of a collection of observations. I know that online trolls and sexism are issues regardless of where you are in the world, but I’ve noticed a few tropes which pop up time and time again as an expat here…
Comparing western women to their Asian equivalents
Occasionally a blog post or forum thread will come to light that seeks to compare western girls with Thais. The stereotyping at play in these comparisons can occasionally be so ridiculous that they’re often more farcical than offensive.
You know the sort of comments: western women are obese bears intent on the destruction of men (while at the same time refusing to pay for dinner), while Asian women are angelically selfless domestic goddesses doubling up as sex kittens with the interests of their man always centre stage.
Of course, some will seek to paint Thai women as the devil incarnate too: compulsive liars intent only on leeching money (although always with a much hotter body than their western counterparts).
Regardless of the details, the extreme polarity of the narrative is pretty dehumanising, to both western and Asian women, reducing both of us to a baseless stereotype. We’re all shades of grey, regardless of ethnicity – just like men!
I tend to avoid this type of discourse, as it’s obviously not meant for me, although I found another angle to this cross-nationality comparison when I recently stumbled across an article called: ‘What I’ve Learned About Western Women While Living In Thailand.’
Upon moving to Thailand, the author finds that he prefers Asian women to western women. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that – different strokes for different folks, right? I like funny, intelligent men who are tall. I prefer them to guys who take themselves too seriously and are short. That’s fine too.
But the author goes a step further: not only are Asian women far superior to western women, he says, but the latter actively hate the former because of this.
You have only to look in the faces of Western couples who decided to spend their vacation in a city like Bangkok. He is busy gazing at all the slim and gorgeous Thai girls while he holds the hands of his obese western dragon. With eyes like daggers she signals to every beautiful girl who dares to make the slightest glance in her boyfriends direction that she will rip her eyes out should she venture any closer.
Firstly, not every western woman in Thailand is fat (although I grant that we’re probably more likely to be overweight in comparison to Thai girls). But to construct a myth that we hate Thai women for their beauty is bizarrely off piste and a fundamental dichotomy to the reality my friends and I live in Thailand.
Props for “obese white dragon” though; very emotive.
Bitter memories of home
These are the western guys who’ve moved to Thailand after being burned in the West.
They’re often a little older and perhaps a little old-fashioned. Maybe they’ve gone through a messy divorce, or a custody battle, where it’s well accepted that the scales are often weighted in favour of women. This isn’t the place to discuss the ethics of that, but I can certainly sympathise to some extent with the man who’s ended up, well, a little bitter at his lot.
A fellow Brit – let’s call him Nigel – who I’ve spoken to a few times in the pub fits into this bracket.
Nigel endured a messy divorce with a woman he thought he’d be with forever who essentially just went off him. It happens.
Once a successful engineer in a UK city, he packed it all in and moved to Thailand (minus half his cash assets) and found that much-hallowed western man’s paradise I mentioned earlier. He fell in love with a Thai woman around ten years ago and they’ve been married since about one year in.
But despite routinely making claims about his new found happiness, Nigel is still hung up on the perceived horror of western women. He’s projected the bitter memories of his ex-wife onto the entire population of white women, and the thought that they’re now invading his ‘happy space’ – i.e. Thailand – is heinous.
At this point I’m not sure why he’s talking to me – very much a pasty white woman – but that can presumably be attributed to the size of his ever-growing checkbin.
While I semi-understand his psychology, it’s clear that Nigel can’t be that happy if he’s still holding on to all that bitterness.
And he’s not alone; Thailand’s expat forums are bursting with his type, complaining about ex-wives and girlfriends, the mothers of their children, the western women in Thailand they’ve never even met. In fairness, they often moan about Thai women as well; they’re very inclusive that way.
I’m not sure I’d necessarily paint these men as sexist, but to be the recipient of their projected bitterness is at once tiring, annoying and a little sad – for all involved.
The flatulent bleatings of sexist trolls are a well-established feature of the internet wherever you are in the world, and Thailand is certainly no exception.
From threats to beat up a female expat wearing a feminist t-shirt under a Facebook photo of said woman – hurriedly brushed under the carpet as a joke – to just plain rude comments written under articles written by women in Thailand; these trolls live among us, whether you take them seriously or not.
You can pretty much take any Thailand-related blog post written by a woman, particularly if it’s on the subject of women in Thailand, and be guaranteed of some raucously trolling comments waiting below.
For instance, ‘On Being A Western Woman In Thailand’ garnered plenty of attention when it was published a few years ago. While many of the commenters don’t agree with the author – which they’re perfectly entitled to – the majority at least intelligently engage with the content, however defensively.
Some, however, are just plain rude.
What’s the point of comments like this?
What is particularly annoying about this sort of comment is that these (assumedly) guys have taken time to visit a blog – someone else’s intellectual property – read said blog, and then proceed to effectively shit all over it. Why do these people assume that a website comment section equals a public forum or a place to vent your spleen?
I’m not saying that women should be infantilised and not have their work and views criticised, but there’s no need to be a sexist troll about it.
Not All Men, and I don’t speak for all women
It would be an injustice to paint the entirety of Bangkok’s expat population with the sexist brush.
None of my male friends over here behave this way towards women, whether in public or online, and most are embarrassed at the outdated stereotype that all foreign men in Thailand are simply here to find willing Thai women after striking out back home.
The problem lies with a small subsection of the community here, who are seeking that western man’s paradise and view any incoming western women as an obstacle to their Thailand nirvana.
Unfortunately, however small this demographic, they are quite vocal – I imagine partially because they have little to occupy their days other than winding each other up online – and can drown out the more rational and egalitarian slices of the Thailand expat pie.
I don’t pretend to speak for all expat women either, although I imagine most would appreciate being treated just like any other expat and not an invading obese white dragon that some have envisioned.
What do you think – do Bangkok’s expat population have a problem with women?
Featured image is by Exile on James Street and used under a Creative Commons licence