In the annual lead-up to Thailand’s water-soaked new year festivities, Bangkok officials habitually roll out an admonition: In order to avoid sexual harassment, women must watch how they dress. But this year’s warning, issued in the wake of the #MeToo movement, has triggered a monumental backlash on social media.
Women are sharing stories of sexual misconduct experienced during the boisterous three-day holiday called Songkran, while taking umbrage at the suggestion that their clothing, and not the perpetrator, is to blame for the harassment or assault.
To shift the focus back onto men’s behavior, Cindy Sirinya Bishop, a Thai-American celebrity and host of Asia’s Next Top Model, launched a now-viral campaign #DontTellMeHowToDress.
“Women have the right to dress however we choose, as long as it’s not illegal,” she wrote in an Instagram post that has now been viewed more than 100,000 times. “Sexual assault and harassment is never the woman’s fault! Tell men to keep their hands to themselves!”
Plenty of social media users quickly chimed in to agree. The hashtag campaign has already reportedly generated more of a buzz in Thailand than #MeToo did.
“Maybe the reason this is taking off faster is because they’re not coming out and accusing anyone,” Bishop told Bloomberg. “Our society is quite conservative, and for someone to come out and point a finger at someone who’s assaulted her is huge, I don’t know if we’re ready for it yet.”
Thailand’s annual Songkran celebration and its tradition of using water to cleanse away misfortune has evolved into what has been dubbed the “world’s biggest water fight,” drawing huge crowds of locals and tourists alike.
In a recent survey of 1,650 women, nearly 60% of respondents said they had been groped during Songkran, and only a small number reported the incidents to police, according to Bangkok-based nonprofit Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation.