Police charged into Chaichana Sirichat’s Bangkok apartment to rescue the girlfriend he was beating live on Facebook and threatening to kill. She was crying and her face a swollen mess of contusions and blood. After the disturbing video spread, people claiming to know Chaichana came out to blame the woman for forcing his hand by having a string of affairs and using him for money.
Suddenly, their campaign quickly turned the virtual court of public opinion to his side.
“She’s kind of a bitch, taking his money and then shagging other guys,” Facebook user Kluay Krab wrote in a comment to a news article.
“She did it first. The guy wasn’t wrong – he loves her so much that he just snapped,” user Suparad Danai Kangfu wrote.
In story after story, men proclaimed love for the women they hurt or killed, attempting to justify their crimes. Women wronged them. Cheated or manipulated them. And in today’s hypertoxic online discourse, many leap to their support, evincing the same beliefs that the victims “had it coming.”
Phuchaisaivan is a popular Facebook page followed by more than 900,000 people. It is a clearinghouse for unabashedly misogynistic posts depicting women as disposable playthings for male pleasure through a romanticized lens of “traditional” roles.
The day Chaichana broadcast his violence on Facebook, the page posted an image suggesting solidarity with his actions. Captioned “You Can See,” it shows the silhouettes of a man and woman, both holding knives. While the woman is soaked in blood from head to toe, the man cries and bleeds from a wounded heart. The message is clear: Male attackers are the victims of female guile.
The controversial post drew both support and criticism. Defending his work, the admin wrote that it “reflects one kind of violence which is mental and another kind which is physical. I just posted the picture, and the audience will interpret it by themselves,” and “It’s freedom of thought. No one is right or wrong here.”
He deleted the post the next day but continues to produce more subtle content that romanticizes rape, objectifies women and stereotypes them as shallow materialists. In a cycle, posts that accrue more criticism than support are eventually removed.
That brand of rampant online sexism is rooted in the real world.
Patriarchy and misogyny, tolerating or even supporting men’s violence toward their partners, is deeply intertwined with Thai cultural values, so profoundly that “we don’t know that it’s violence, since we’ve already condoned it with this rationale,” according to a women’s rights activist and media professor.
“We’ve fostered the concept of manhood for thousands of years, making men believe that they’re owners of women’s lives,” said Chulalongkorn University’s Chanettee Tinnam.
That suppression thrives in the rhetoric propagated at the institutional level. Thai literature and school textbooks glorify male supremacy and female subordination. Buddhist doctrine also belies various forms of discrimination against women.
Thailand in 2016 slipped eight places to 87th in the UN Gender Inequality Index from the year prior. Five years ago, the women’s affairs department reported findings that Thai men were seventh the most abusive in 49 countries studied.
“Men justify their violence against women as acts of love and goodwill, because a wife might misbehave in the eyes of her husband,” Chanettee said. “They believe they do it because they want their wives to be ‘good’ again.”
In 2016, the Thai Health Promotion Foundation reported that 14 percent of male survey respondents believed it’s okay for men to show their love and express their jealousy with violence.
These attitudes, also normalized in mainstream media representations, are shared by some women. UNICEF in 2014 found 13 percent of female respondents in Thailand said women deserve to be beaten in certain circumstances.
“When [men] fight or hit someone until they bleed, [they believe] it’s only an expression of masculinity,” said Sompong Buathong, a leading activist for gender equality in a northeastern community he said used to be plagued with violence, from beatings and rape to murder, before an awareness raising campaign reached it about 20 years ago.
He said he only understood afterward that the social norms in his town in Amnat Charoen province made him, without thinking, accept and be part of abusive male dominance. Instead of laying hands on his wife, he neglected her needs and well-being.
“I really thought it was normal. I wouldn’t hit my wife, but when friends asked me to go out drinking, I would go out until dawn. I didn’t think of her feelings, if she would be scared staying home alone all night,” he said. “I wouldn’t consult her on anything financially as well… although she also earned money for the family.”
She had been raised to be submissive to her husband, so Sompong said she also didn’t see the problem. Even now she doesn’t like him doing laundry because “she thinks it’s sinful.”
This mindset not only compels female obedience but also places high expectations on men to lead and provide for their families at risk of being considered failures. These rigid roles on both sides can prove a potent force behind the violence, said women’s studies professor Kosum Omphornuwat.
Read Part 2: Women Died When ‘No One Helped’
“Men are pressured by values of patriarchy to be prosperous in many aspects, and many of them cannot reach that goal,” said Kosum, who teaches at Thammasat University. “As they feel like they have nothing, when a woman comes into their lives … [they] think they own her already.”
“When it turns out one day that the women want to leave them for someone new, it’s unacceptable as it represents failure, and now they again will have nothing. Thinking of her as an object, this attitude translates [disappointment] into violence,” she said.
In order to solve the problem, Kosum believes social structures and education need to be reformed to eradicate the toxic perception Thais have about violence against women.
“Men taking violent actions is just a symptom of failures in the whole of our social system. … We have a law specifically protecting victims of domestic violence, but it still doesn’t help,” she said. “If we look at it only as an individual problem, it might not lead to any impactful solutions.”