Tongue-Thai’ed – A woman's (supposed) worth in a military man's world

Originally published at Asian Correspondent on February 1, 2016 This is part XXXII of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

AS we're entering the second full year of the Thai military government and with things likely to stay the same for the foreseeable future, one thing is for certain: we're still have to endure another year of the junta's authoritarian rule. But it also means that we will have another guaranteed year of the generals putting their foot in their mouths, be it out of temper, not enough understanding of a certain matter, or just hypocrisy. For the even more ridiculous and outrageous ones we fortunately have our long-running "Tongue-Thai'ed!"-section, a standing record of astonishing verbosities of Thai public figures.

And no other Thai public figure has been delivering it like Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. For several years already, back when he was 'just' army chief, Il Generalissimo has regularly contributed to this section here and it has only increased when he assumed the highest ranking political office in this country. Be it his constant aggressively sardonic remarks against reporters, his lengthy rants during his weekly TV addresses, or other seemingly off-script moments, his compulsive loquaciousness always causes a raised eyebrow or two. And the first Tongue-Thai'ed! of 2016 is par for the course.

A man of his (thousand) word(s)

Prayuth spoke on Friday at an event originally promoting vocational education, but the junta leader decided to temporarily talk about something entirely different.

"Everybody's saying that we should create equality, women and men should have the same rights, should be able to do the same good and bad things - if that's the case, if that's how you think, Thai society will deteriorate!"

Erm, yes... Gen. Prayuth and his government ministers have stated several times in past what they think is going to lead to Thailand's downfall - such things like "extreme human rights", people voting for the wrong partylimiting military power and just generally "too much democracy". For the generals, these things have brought Thailand to the brink of collapse and made the 2014 coup necessary.

Prayuth continues:

"Women are the gender of motherhood, the gender of giving birth. When you return home... who is it? Who has a wife? Isn't the wife looking after the home? At home she's the big boss, isn't she? Outside I'm the boss - at work, everywhere I have lots of authority. When I return home, I have to be quiet because she's looking after the home, the kids, everything in the house. I haven't done anything at home since we married, she's doing everything."

It seems that Gen. Prayuth is mixing up women's rights with women's (supposed) roles in the family and at home - and still gets it wrong for the most part or at least it sounds awfully antiquated. But okay, he's from a different generation with very distinct gender roles and at least also admits one area in his life he has absolutely no control over.

He then concludes:

"That's why I have my head free to think about everything [else], not worrying about anything, not picking up the kids, not doing anything at all, because I work far away from home. That's the small difference! But all the bad things I have done to her, have benefitted others. That's what I think."

Wait, "all the bad things I have done to her" ("แต่สิ่งที่ผมทำไม่ดีกับเขา")? Did he just admit something he shouldn't have said? And who's benefitting from that? Let's assume for a moment that Gen. Prayuth, in his usual off-script manner, meant with that "the things I haven't done for her" - which still shows that he's absolutely unwilling to do anything in the family household!

All in all the whole quote is astonishing and reveals Gen. Prayuth's thoughts about women: stay at home, do what you're told, look after the kids and don't make any demands!

What doesn't seem to be clear to him is the fact that he is prime minister over a country with a female population of 50.7 per cent and they comprise roughly 45 per cent of the country's workforce, which makes it among the highest rates in Asia. Thailand has also an above-average number of women in senior management positions. However, despite countless policies and campaigns by previous administrations, a lot more women are still facing at least some discrimination at work.

Other women's issues in Thailand are still in need of improvement as well, such as abortion still being illegal (with very extreme exceptions), sexual assaults still ineffectively dealt withfemale Buddhist monks still not recognizedsexual hypocrisy still prevails with a stark bias against women. In fact, the country is currently ranked 93rd out of 188 in the most recent Gender Inequality Index by the United Nations Development Programme (PDF, page 225).

Women's representation in politics has been rather low in recent years and even lower since the military junta took over, with now a meager 5 percent of women in the junta's fully-appointed legislative assembly (from previously 15 per cent). Thailand's only female prime minister so far, Yingluck Shinawatra, was never supported by Thai women's groups, solely for political reasons, until the 2014 coup.

Which brings us back to Gen. Prayuth - the same man who suggested after the murder of two British backpackers in 2014 that tourists wearing bikinis wouldn't be safe "unless they're not beautiful" (for which he later apologized). His views about family values and clearly defined gender roles reflect the old Thai saying that "the husband is the fore leg of the elephant, the wife is the hind leg" ("สามีเป็นช้างเท้าหน้า ภรรยาเป็นช้างเท้าหลัง") - and for him, that should stay the same. But what if the front leg has been limping for a while?

P.S.: Ironically, the Royal Thai Air Force announced last week that they're looking to hire female pilots for the first time amidst a shortage of male pilots.