Is #DontTellMeHowToDress Thailand's own answer to #MeToo? 

Cindy Sirinya Bishop, 39, is a TV host, entrepreneur and model. In response to recent remarks made by authorities that women should not dress sexily during Songkran to avoid sexual assault, Cindy posted a video that has taken the internet by storm. Her message: don’t tell women what to wear; tell men to respect women. She has now begun a hashtag campaign—#DontTellMeHowToDress #TellMenToRespect—with the hope of kickstarting Thailand's own answer to #MeToo.

 

What do you hope to achieve with the #DontTellMeHowToDress campaign?

 

The hashtags are supposed to encourage people to talk about it. I don’t want to be just this celebrity who comes out and says do it my way then just fades away.

 

What made you want to post the video?

 

I wouldn’t have been so upset about it if I hadn’t had these experiences myself before. To the men who govern Thailand, there seems to only be one solution [to sexual harassment] that they talk about: women shouldn’t dress sexy. I just think it's too easy and lazy.

 

What are some of your own experiences with sexual harassment?

 

During one Songkran on Khaosan Road, I was there with a big group of my friends but accidentally got separated from them. A group of men, like five of them, ganged up on me and tried touching me everywhere.

 

And how did you react to that? Did you report it to anyone?

 

No. I got so scared and got in a taxi home straight away.

 

And were they tourists or Thais?

 

They were Thai. I’ve never had a bad situation with tourists. All the stories I've heard from women are also about Thai men.

 

Why do you think Thailand has a particular problem with sexual abuse?

 

Thailand doesn’t talk about sex, we learn about sex from our friends or from the internet. When you say things like, “women shouldn’t dress in sexy clothes in order not to get raped,” what kind of messages are we sending to our children? The girls will be reading it and blaming themselves while the boys will see it as they have the power to do whatever. There has been a lot of talk about how un-Thai I am: who is this farang girl? She doesn’t understand Thai culture. Now you tell me it’s Thai culture for men to touch a woman inappropriately? When you play the “culture” card, it’s just so wrong.

 

Why do you think women get blamed?

 

Because it’s easy. It’s a patriarchal society, traditional, conservative. Men are superior and women are placed at home. Here’s one response I got from the campaign: “Oh if you’re so confident then go ahead and lead a parade of women in bikinis in public. When you get raped, who can you blame?” That’s not the kind of message I’m trying to send, don’t misunderstand me. I’m saying it is not the only solution.

 

Do you think, being part Western yourself, that people judge you less when you dress sexily just because you’re not full-Thai?

 

Don’t tell me it is a culture thing. We have this problem everywhere in the world, like slut-shaming happens in America as well.

 

Does what a woman wears have nothing to do with sexual assault?

 

Do I think it has anything to do with it? Yes. Do I think they are asking for it? No. Maybe a woman dresses sexy in a dodgy place where men are drinking alcohol or whatever, but at the end of the day, it is still her decision. It is her rights to wear whatever she wants without men touching her. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not telling you to go out and dress in sexy clothes, but do I think it’s a risk factor? Yes because Thai men still can’t figure it out whether the outfit becomes a license or not.

 

How are you teaching your children about this whole thing?

 

My daughter is eight and my son is five. I’m going to make sure they’re not going to learn about sex from their friends or the internet because this is going to stick with them for the rest of their lives. I already talked to my daughter about how a female body changes in terms of reproduction and how nobody has the rights to touch her. You don’t have to do a whole, full-on sex talk, it’s the whole idea of respecting others—you don’t have the rights to force anyone to do anything.