On Monday, June 25, the #DontTellMeHowToDress campaign started by Sirinya Cindy Bishop back in April of this year made a second wave with the launch of the Social Power Exhibition Against Sexual Assault at Siam Paragon.
Supported by UN Women and many other organisations, including Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation Thailand, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and the Embassy of Canada, the mix-media exhibition now occupying Siam Paragon’s Fashion Hall on the first floor showcases artistic photographs conceptualising the social stigma against female sexuality, as well as video clips of famous figures in Thai society—from Ananda Everingham to 2015 Miss Thailand Aniporn Chalermburanawong—voicing their opinions on the issue.
There are also interactive installations that make a point about what we seem to recognise as justice, inherently, and yet what our reality looks like. But most memorable and harrowing of all are the displays of actual clothing victims wore when they were sexually assaulted, accompanied by written testimonies.
Opening the press conference for the exhibition, Anna-Karin Jatfors, regional director of UN Women, pointed out the common practice of questioning women, or victims, about what they wore or why there were out when the assault occurred. Given this precedence of treatment for victims of sexual assault, it’s no wonder a recent UN survey concludes that less than half of the sexual assaults that occur are ever reported, and fewer than 40 per cent to formal authorities who can do something about it. This doesn’t even touch upon the reported cases that survive an often stigmatised and prejudiced system.
Although this problem is definitely not exclusive to Thailand or worse here than anywhere else in the world, it’s a proud moment that Thailand is having a #metoo moment of its own through #donttellmehowtodress. Any woman in this country can tell you the normalisation of assault that exists in our society, from the repeated glorification of rape in our popular soap operas to, yes, the general attitude on how women should dress and behave in public versus the exemptions we offer to male behaviour.
We need to change the notion that a woman’s appearance behaviour are to blame when they are assaulted. We need to change the notion that the victim is to blame. As Cindy Bishop puts it, “Don’t tell women how to dress. Tell men to respect.”