Advertising Phuket's nightlife on the internet: a case study of double binds and hegemonic masculinity in sex tourism.
International tourism generates more than US$500 billion annually and tourism represents a significant part of the economic and social development efforts of many parts of the world. One aspect of worldwide tourism is the phenomenon of "sex tourism" or travel for the purpose of sexual activity with workers in the sex trade. Accordingly, Ryan and Hall (2001, p. x) observe that:
Representations of sex and sexualities are therefore integral to contemporary tourism, as are the social and economic structures within which those representations and transactions take place. The actualities of sexuality--the manners in which bodies are used by the tourist--are becoming a more widely acknowledged issue within the public sphere.
One negative impact of tourism on the human rights of women in Southeast Asia is the sexual exploitation brought about by sex tourism. Hemingway (2004, p. 279) notes that "the overwhelming majority of sex workers are female, illustrating a striking sex dimension to sex tourism that is representative of a culmination of discriminatory practice experienced throughout women's lives". Regrettably, sex tourism is on the rise. This is partially due to "increased awareness of its prevalence in certain destinations" (Hemingway 2004, p. 279). According to Franklin (2003, p. 256), "red light districts are routinely listed as attractions in most tourist cities". One avenue of this increased awareness (or listing) is the Internet (Bishop 2008, p. 353) and one of these destinations is Thailand. Thailand has an international reputation as a sex tourist destination (Johnson 2007, p. 164). This phenomenon has been noted in the popular press. Robert Jan Nuis, a counselor working in Bangkok, is quoted in the Bangkok Post Brunch Magazine as saying, "Unfortunately, Thailand has a reputation as a paradise for sex tourists, so many farang men think that it is okay to approach Thai-looking women here. They would never do it in another country, even in Asia, but because it's Thailand, it's apparently okay" (Johansen 2009, pp. 6-7). In Phuket alone, there are over 7,000 sex workers (Fein 2009).
Johnson (2007, p. 154) argues that men travel to Thailand to rediscover their masculinity by participating in sex tourism. These men seek an authentic self-image, but this "authentic" image is coloured by preconceived ideas about masculinity and the tourist destination--it is an imagined authenticity (Johnson 2007, p. 158). Even the Tourist Authority of Thailand gears many of its advertisements toward selling "a sexualized image" of Thailand (Johnson 2007, p. 163).
Engaging in prostitution in Thailand is against the law. However, the law is under-enforced for a number of reasons--including the involvement of some law enforcement officials themselves in the running of the sex industry (Hemmingway 2004, p. 279). Additionally, Buddhism in Thailand has not taken a clear stance against the sex industry, perhaps, as some have suggested, because "monks receive substantial monetary donations from commercial sex workers" (Tomalin 2006, pp. 390-91). Thailand has been described as having "an internal culture of male-chauvinism and prostitution" ("Developing Columbia's") with the majority of prostitutes in Thailand working for Thai clients (Thiro 2004, p. 112).
Regrettably, it is not surprising that sexual exploitation through tourism occurs in Thailand because deep structural institutions (both church and state) are complacent towards the problem, and society possesses social norms accepting of the practice. Is there anything that can be done to protect women in this situation? Hemingway (2004) suggests that one possible solution is to be found in the alternative concept of promoting responsible tourism. She writes:
Responsible tourism places emphasis on the education of the tourist, encouraging research into the place of destination and the observance of human rights in interactions between the tourists and those affected by the industry. Education is fundamental for the transformation of tourism into a rights-respecting industry. (pp. 290-91)
She concludes, "the most influential actor, as yet the most difficult to regulate, is the individual. The success of Responsible Tourism ultimately depends heavily upon the education and moral character of the tourist" (p. 294).
One possible avenue of this moral education is to be found in feminism and feminist criticism. This essay explores the concepts of double binds and masculine hegemony in order to critique websites which advertise "nightlife"--websites which attempt to generate sex tourism revenue by constructing a sexualized notion of Thai women that is based in male fantasy. It is our belief that exploitation will continue as long as the relationships between women and men are guided by the inequalities inherent in patriarchy. In other words, feminism (as illustrated by this critique) is part of the education that is necessary for the "transformation of tourism into a fights-respecting industry". Singh and Hart (2007, p. 157) argue that, "The rise of sex tourism is hard to understand without noting the increasing scope and intensity of globalization and the fantasies of people, places, and things tourism generates." Feminist criticism is one method that can be used to identify and debunk these fantasies.
Feminism is not a unified concept and many feminist theories have been developed to explain the process of gender socialization. Two theories which are particularly useful in explaining peoples' concepts (constructions) of femininity and masculinity and, thus, form relevant foundations for this critique, are the theories of double binds and hegemonic masculinity. It is important to examine how both femininity and masculinity are defined in a culture, because they are complementary ideas. One's concept of femininity is influenced by one's concept of masculinity and vice versa. After all, it seems that society's number one rule for being masculine is to not be feminine (Doyle 1997).
Kathleen Hall Jamieson (1995, p. 5) writes, "the double bind is a strategy perennially used by those with power against those without. The overwhelming evidence shows that, historically, women are the usual quarry." She continues by defining a double bind as:
a rhetorical construct that posits two and only two alternatives, one or both penalizing the person being offered them. In the history of humans, such choices have been constructed to deny women access to power and, when individuals manage to slip past their constraints, to undermine their exercise of whatever power they may achieve. The strategy defines something "fundamental" to women as incompatible with something the woman seeks--be it education, the ballot, or access to the workplace. (p. 14)
Jamieson's book, Beyond the Double Bind, delineates five common double binds that women face: womb/brain, silence/shame, sameness/ difference, femininity/competence, and aging/invisibility. While Jamieson's work focuses on women in Western cultures, there is reason to believe that the same binds apply to women in Eastern cultures as well (Na Pattalung 2008; 2009). An anecdotal look at Thai cultural norms and practices provides support for the existence of these binds in Thailand.
This review of literature will proceed by examining the double binds one at a time. In each instance, Jamieson's definition of the particular double bind being discussed will be presented. Each definition will then be illustrated with examples from Western culture. Finally, when appropriate, examples of these double binds from Thailand will be presented to illustrate that these binds are not restricted to Western society.
The womb/brain bind claims that a woman must use either her womb or her brain because her physiology makes it impossible for her to use both. Jamieson explains, "Women could use their brains only at the expense of their uteruses; if they did, they risked their essential womanhood" (p. 17). She goes on to say, "Throughout history, women have been identified as bodies not minds, wombs not brains" (p. 53). Examples of the womb/brain bind include dumb blonde jokes that feature oversexed women who have no reasoning ability whatsoever, women being told that they are "too smart" to be appealing to men and that they should "dumb down" to become more attractive, women being told that they cannot be a good mother and have a career at the same time, and women being told that they are "irrational" because it is "that time of the month". This bind offers a no-choice choice (p. 17).
Examples of the womb/brain double bind in Thailand include having marital status as a required category on Thai job application forms. The inclusion of this category suggests that employers possess a cultural norm which causes them to believe that married women and/or women with children are unsuitable candidates for many jobs. Additionally, there are Thai songs that ridicule women for not being married because of their pursuit of education. For example, the song, Jop Parinya Toe Young Mai Mee Samee (which literally means "Masters Degree Graduates without Husbands"), disapprovingly avows that women with masters degrees do not have husbands, while women with bachelor degrees already have three to four children, and women who only went to grade school have even more children.
The silence/shame bind "condemns women for failing to do something they are forbidden to do. So, for example, women are forbidden to speak and then condemned for failing to produce great oratory" (Jamieson 1995, p. 17). She explains, "Just as public speech by a women invited inferences about promiscuity, so too her silence testified to her modesty" (p. 81). This bind creates a self-fulfilling prophecy (p. 17). Another instance of the silence/shame bind is the dilemma a woman is confronted with when raped. If she remains silent, she is shamed for not reporting a crime. If she reports the crime, she is shamed for having been raped.
Reporting sexual harassment is also a problem in Thai culture. Most Thai women are ashamed to report sexual harassment and then they are blamed for not speaking up to report it. Suparsit Son Ying, a poem on how to be a good Thai woman written by the famous Thai poet, Suntorn Pu, advises a woman to not get upset when a man that she does not like flirts with her. However, she is not to speak to men or she will not be taken seriously. Suparsit Son Ying is used by parents who want to teach their daughters proper Thai manners when it comes to speaking. There is a Thai word, rieproi, which literally means "good manners". Thai women are only considered rieproi if they are silent. Thai women who speak up in a public setting are considered too bold. Additionally, there is a Thai phrase, me nisai mauen puying (which literally means "having a woman's habit"), that is used to describe a man who likes gossiping and/or a man who is indecisive.
In the sameness/difference bind "women are judged by a masculine standard, and by that standard they lose, whether they claim difference or similarity" (Jamieson 1995, p. 18). This bind offers a no-win situation (p. 18). For example, if a woman chooses to be assertive like a man, she is labelled a "bitch". If she decides to be non-assertive, she is simply ignored.
In the femininity/competence bind, women "confront a bind that expects a woman to be feminine, then offers her a concept of femininity that ensures that as a feminine creature she cannot be mature or decisive" (Jamieson 1995, p. 120). Femininity and competence are defined as exact opposites. This bind creates unrealizable expectations (p. 18). For example, it is feminine to cry. But, crying is seen as incompetent because it involves a loss of control. Thus, if a woman cries, she is seen as feminine but not competent. And, if a woman does not cry, she is seen as competent but not feminine.
In Thailand, women are expected to wear skirts or dresses to work and school. However, Thai woman have to carefully choose what they wear to work or school so that they do not appear too feminine and, thus, are not taken seriously. When dresses are worn to work or school as expected, it is typical for men to tell the women that they "look sexy".
According to the aging/invisibility bind, "As men age, they gain wisdom and power; as women age, they wrinkle and become superfluous" (Jamieson 1995, p. 16). This bind presents a double standard (p.18) and is clearly illustrated by the tendency of Hollywood to cast aging leading men, but not aging leading women. Society also tends to believe it is acceptable for an older man to date a younger woman but not vice versa.
In Thailand, the phrase e kae tee barn (which literally means "an old woman at home") is commonly used to refer to one's wife. Women are reminded in a Thai song that they will kuen karn (literally "to store an old boat that will no longer be used") and become an "old maid" (another sexist term) if they do not marry when young. A man, in one song, persuades a woman to marry him before she gets so old that no one would want to look at her. In another song, a man expresses surprise to see a woman who is "already thirty but still looking good".
The second theory which informs this critique is hegemonic masculinity. Hanke (1990, p. 232) notes that, "Hegemonic masculinity ... refers to the social ascendancy of a particular version or model of masculinity that, operating on the terrain of 'common sense' and conventional morality, defines 'what it means to be a man'." He further explains, "It thereby secures the dominance of some men (and the subordination of women) within the sex/gender system." According to Foss (2004, p. 242), "Hegemony is the privileging of the ideology of one group over that of other groups; it thus constitutes a kind of social control, a means of symbolic coercion, or a form of domination of the more powerful groups over the ideologies of those with less power." Trujillo (1991, p. 291) argues that there are five distinguishing characteristics of hegemonic masculinity: "(1) physical force and control, (2) occupational achievement, (3) familial patriarchy, (4) frontiersmanship, and (5) heterosexuality".
Communication studies of hegemonic masculinity include analyses of media portrayals of Nolan Ryan (Trujillo 1991), Oprah Winfrey's biography (Cloud 1996), rape on prime-time television (Cuklanz 1998), and the television shows thirtysomething (Hanke 1990) and Friends (Baker 2001). These studies underscore the power and pervasiveness of masculine hegemony in the popular culture of the United States.
While the concept of hegemonic masculinity focuses on men in Western cultures, there is reason to believe that the same concept applies to men in Eastern cultures as well (Na Pattalung 2008; 2009). Continuing our anecdotal look at Thai cultural norms and practices provides support for the existence of these hegemonic characteristics in Thailand.
This review of literature will proceed by examining the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity one at a time. In each instance, Trujillo's definition of the particular characteristic being discussed will be presented. Each definition will then be illustrated with examples from Western culture. Finally, when appropriate, examples of these characteristics from Thailand will be presented to illustrate that these characteristics are not restricted to Western society.
First, masculine power "is defined in terms of physical force and control" (Trujillo 1991, p.291). Professional athletes are the paradigmatic embodiment of this characteristic as they use their physical strength to defeat others in competition. Television in Thailand is full of scenes depicting men engaged in physically fighting each other and scenes depicting men forcing themselves upon women sexually.
Second, masculine power is authenticated by success in one's career. However, the career must be one that is stereotypically masculine in nature because, according to Trujillo (1991, p. 291), "Work itself can be defined along gender lines." That is, a "real man" is a successful business person, not a successful elementary school teacher.
Third, masculine power is verified by having patriarchal control over one's family. A hegemonic man is the unquestioned leader of his family. In Thailand, the phrase, chang tao nah (translated as "the front feet of an elephant"), is applied to men and implies that men are to lead women just as the front feet of an elephant determine the direction of that elephant.
Fourth, masculine power is "symbolized by the daring, romantic frontiersman of yesterday and of the present-day outdoorsman" (Trujillo 1991, p. 291). The hegemonic man is self-sufficient and he does not need women or their assistance.
Fifth, masculine power is confirmed in the sexual conquest of women. A hegemonic man is certainly not a homosexual or celibate. Baker (2001, pp. 12-13) clarifies this characteristic when she writes, "Men, when depicted through the lens of hegemonic masculinity, are sexually aggressive in the heterosexual arena." This idea is illustrated by Thailand in its laws governing divorce. According to Shutt (2007), Thailand's divorce laws are dearly chauvinistic as a husband's adultery is not a basis for divorce unless he purposely flaunts the relationship in public, while any form of adultery a wife engages in, even the most discreet of relationships, provides a basis for the husband to file for divorce. Malam (2008, pp. 586-87) points out that "real" Thai men are careful to disassociate themselves from katoey (thai ladyboys)--using physical harassment as a strategy. And Thai television often features plots where Thai men force Thai women to "fall in love with them" through the act of rape.
Obviously, Hanke's and Trujillo's view of hegemonic masculinity is greatly influenced by the seminal work of Connell (1995; 2000). Connell's theory is not without criticism--mainly that it oversimplifies the complexities of gender and men's behaviour (Moiler 2007). However, this criticism of a theory is hardly unique. What theory of human behaviour is not an oversimplification of the issues involved? We believe that the theory of masculine hegemony is useful in a critique of communicated social order to the extent that it illuminates certain aspects of peoples' cultural concepts of masculinity. Additionally, Schippers (2007, p. 95) points out the interplay between hegemonic masculinity and double binds when she writes:
It is precisely because women often embody and practice these features of hegemonic masculinity, and because this challenges the hegemonic relationship between masculinity and femininity, that these characteristics, when embodied by women, are stigmatized and sanctioned.
Our view is that masculine hegemony places men (who accept these cultural expectations as normative) in a bind as they have only one "correct" choice available to them to be seen as a "real" man, and that this is different from double binds where women are not even offered one "correct" choice. In other words, men are empowered by society to be patriarchal ("asses"), while, in the same move, society seeks to disempower women by attempting to silence their voices and leave them with no acceptable options. Still, it is possible to read hegemonic masculinity as placing men in a double bind of a different nature. Boon (2005, p. 301) writes:
This figuration places contemporary men in a double bind, or paradox, which offers two alternatives: (1) reject traditional definitions of masculine behavior and risk being labeled by culture as less than a man, or (2) embrace the testosterone-based behaviors that define the hero figure and pursue the impossible acquisition of superhuman qualities, a goal that by its nature must result in failure.
The review of literature suggests that men travel to Thailand as sex tourists to rediscover (create or recreate, construct or reconstruct) their masculinity (Johnson 2007, p. 154). This rediscovery is based on imagined ideas of the authentic (Johnson 2007, p. 158) and creates constructs which inherently violate the human rights of women through sexual exploitation (Hemingway 2004, pp. 278-79). Two concepts which may influence sex tourists' imagined authenticities of masculinity and femininity are double binds and hegemonic masculinity. Men's failure to achieve "perfect" masculinity (Boon, p. 301) and/or to find "perfect" femininity at home--the perfect being impossible to find--may provide incentives for men to engage in sex tourism away from home. However, this study is not concerned, per se, with the psychology of these motivations or with the critical sociological implications of the persistence of these two underlying cultural constructs. Rather, this study seeks to understand if images of Thai culture and Thailand are constructed and communicated in a way that draws upon such motivations as a means of persuasion that serves to symbolically construct Thailand as an appropriate and desirable "sex tourist" destination. In particular, the explosion of Internet usage among "sex tourist" populations (as well as a means of marketing Thailand as a tourist destination) provides a logical starting place to investigate how such expectations are shaped or targeted in promotional efforts to entice tourists to Thailand. Thus, one move towards responsible tourism requires a critical look at the concepts of double binds and masculine hegemony through a feminist lens as they relate to sex tourism. With this agenda in mind, the following two research questions are posed:
1. What gender roles are communicated as appropriate by websites used to advertise nightlife in Phuket, Thailand?
2. In what ways do the websites used to advertise nightlife in Phuket utilize rhetoric to support or challenge patriarchy?
This section describes how a case study of websites used to advertise nightlife in Phuket was conducted--"nightlife" serving as one euphemism for sex (Singh and Hart 2007, p. 163). This discussion covers research purpose and design, sample selection, and data collection and analysis procedures.
Research Purpose and Design
A case study was conducted to discover what gender roles are sanctioned as appropriate in websites used to advertise nightlife in Phuket and whether these websites supported or challenged patriarchy. Gummesson (1991, p. 76) claims that, "an important advantage with case study research is the opportunity for the holistic view of a process". While one has to be careful in generalizing the results of a case study, Gummesson argues that some generalizations are possible due to a case study's comprehensive depth of study. He writes: "As long as you keep searching for new knowledge and do not believe you have found the ultimate truth--rather the best available for the moment--the traditional demand for generalization becomes less urgent" (p. 86).
The first five distinct websites found on Yahoo.com using the search term, "Phuket Nightlife", were included in the sample for this case study. (2) We reasoned that the first entries listed in a search engine were the ones more likely to be viewed by the most people. The homepages and relevant links on the homepages were included in the sample. We did not follow the links contained on the second level of pages. Again, we reasoned that the early links were the ones most likely to be viewed by the most people. Also, we did not follow any of the links that would have taken us to a new website. This sampling method resulted in a total of 87 web pages. All pages were accessed on 14 August 2009.
Data Collection and Analysis Procedures
According to Foss (2004), "Feminist criticism involves two basic steps: (1) analysis of the construction of gender ... in the artifact studied; and (2) exploration of what the artifact suggests about how the ideology of domination is constructed and maintained or how it can be challenged and transformed" (p. 158). First, when analyzing the artifact's construction of gender, the critic is concerned "with discovering what the artifact presents as standard, normal, desirable, and appropriate behavior for women and men" (Foss 2004, p. 158).
In the second step, the feminist critic has two options: "If [the] analysis of the artifact reveals that it depicts an ideology of domination, [the] next step is to use the analysis to discover how domination is constructed and maintained through rhetoric" (Foss 2004, p. 159). Foss continues:
If [the] analysis of the artifact reveals that it departs from the acceptance of an ideology of domination and challenges the status quo or creates a different ideology in which to operate, [the critic] will use the analysis to contribute to an understanding of how individuals can use rhetoric to claim agency and engage in acts of self-determination.
The concepts of double binds and masculine hegemony are applied as a lens by which to examine the artifacts' definition of appropriate behaviour for men and women. The nature of femininity and masculinity in the websites was to be inductively inferred from evidence gathered from the rhetorical analyses of the websites' use or non-use of sexist gender-role portrayals. The presence of double binds or hegemonic masculinity was to be interpreted as evidence of an ideology of domination. This methodology has been successfully used in the feminist criticism of debate ballots (Hobbs, Hobbs, and Paine 2007) and EFL/ESL textbooks (Na Pattalung 2008; 2009).
To answer the first research question, the websites were examined for content which promotes sexist assumptions concerning gender roles. Specifically, the texts were examined for examples that illustrate masculine hegemony and/or double binds. Critical judgments had to be made and argued for. In the results section, selected examples are reported in narrative form. These examples are described and explanations are given as to why they are sexist.
To answer the second research question, feminist criticism was used to highlight the implications of the language used in the websites. Ultimately, the judgment of whether or not an artefact upholds or challenges patriarchy is a decision made by and argued for by feminist critics.
Finally, in a case study of this nature, large numbers were not needed to prove significance. One does not compare the amount of sexism to the amount of non-sexism. For instance, the use of twenty non-sexist examples does not forgive or justify the use of one sexist example. This study takes the position that the presence of any amount of sexism is seen as producing harm in and of itself. One does not conclude that a cancer patient is healthy because he or she has more healthy cells than malignant ones. The cancer must be eliminated (Na Pattalung 2008).
We offer these identified representative anecdotes as the basis for our critique of the way in which sex tourism is marketed by using underlying exploitative social constructs to perpetuate and endorse sexist cultural norms to make profits at the expense of the bodies and souls of Thai women. This study takes the position that using deep cultural bias and patriarchal norms, intentionally or unintentionally, to symbolically construct and market Thai women as sex objects is inherently harmful. This is not to suggest that such dysfunctional prejudice is held by each and every citizen of Thailand--it only takes a powerful segment of society to perpetuate a myth that enslaves an estimated 200,000 women (Thiro 2004, p. 112).
The women in the webpages we studied are confronted, constructed, and constrained by all five double binds. The two most prevalent double binds found in the websites are sameness/difference and aging/invisibility.
Phuket-nightlife women, in their construction as bar girls, use their wombs (bodies) as their career. This particular career may explain why we found only a few references to the womb/brain double bind--how do you criticize a woman for not using her body in this career? Additionally, when working in a career that is exploitive in nature, there isn't a strong need to use this double bind to further disempower women. However, any women who choose to use their minds are quickly criticized: "There are plenty of old frustrated women's [sic] in certain international organizations who never had even one good sex encounter and think that since they didn't have it ... others shouldn't have it" ("Thai Sex"). The clear message is that women cannot use both their bodies and their minds and that, in this particular mindset, women are to use their bodies.
Women who are not Phuket-nightlife women are criticized for speaking when it comes to dating. According to these websites, women should simply hop into bed with any man without the need for talk as there is "no need to play all this nonsense bla bla and other games as it's done in the 'West'" ("Phuket Nightlife") and "you will immediately notice a naturally [sic] language barrier, just ignore it" ("Bar Girls"). However, even outside the confines of the major bar girl scene, any communication is to be taken as a sign that the woman is a prostitute: "The rule of thumb here is if she's provocatively dressed and assertive she's looking for money" ("Phuket Town Nightlife"). Since women are criticized for both speaking and not speaking, the silence/shame double bind is enforced in these websites.
The sameness/difference double bind in these websites illustrates the age-old double standard that exists for men and women when it comes to sexual behaviour. When men seek multiple sex partners, they are normal. But when women seek multiple sex partners, there is something wrong with them. Men are repeatedly encouraged to seek "Phuket night-life women" to have sex. However, these same women, who are seeking sex, are not to be trusted. They are only after money and they are not "normal" Thai women ("Phuket Town Nightlife"). These women only see men as "walking ATM machines" ("Thai Bar Girl's") and you may "end up being robbed" ("Nightlife Advice and Tips").
As with the womb/brain double bind, women employed as bar girls make the use of the femininity/competence double bind problematic. In these websites, bar girls competently use their femininity to seduce and arouse men. Again, when women are working in a career that is exploitive in nature, there isn't a strong need to use this double-bind to further disempower them. However, if a woman decides to use her body in a more masculine and competent way, there is a need to criticize her lack of femininity as in the case of a woman who gave up a traditionally feminine career (clothes stylist) in order to become a professional Thai boxer ("Phuket Muay Thai, Thailand").
Phuket-nightlife women are to be young and act even younger. You can find these women in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms dancing at places called "Playschool A-Go-Go" and "Lolita A-Go-Go" ("Bangla Road Nightlife"). One bar sign advertises, "Many Sexy Ladies One Fat Mama" ("Phuket Nightlife: Bars"). And, to be happy as a woman, you must be "sexy and young" ("Phuket Nightclub Girls"). Since these websites make it clear that the younger a woman is, the better she is, the aging/invisibility double bind is strongly enforced. After all, they are called bar girls--not women.
The construction of men in the websites we studied exhibits all five characteristics of hegemonic masculinity. Not surprisingly, given the nature of the websites, the overwhelmingly predominant masculine characteristic is heterosexuality.
Phuket-nightlife men are physically strong and use force to exert their power. The farang fight with each other ("Rawai Phuket Nightlife") and with the Thai men whom they insult ("Phuket Bars"). And one pleasure of Thai nightlife is watching "the violence" of male Muay Thai boxers fighting with an "arsenal of elbows and knees" ("Phuket Muay Thai, Thailand"). And, "Everyone who has some 'cochones' [sic] left" will actively support the freedom of a bar girl to do as she pleases ("Nightclub") as they face a "gauntlet of girlie bars" ("Phuket Bars").
Phuket-nightlife men are occupationally successful because they have earned enough money to attract Thai bar girls--the more money they have, the more they can attract. Thai bar girls like "well filled wallet(s)" ("Bar Girls"). And, in contrast to the plethora of pictures of women dancing with little or no clothes, men are pictured as boxers ("Phuket Muay Thai, Thailand"), sailors and sea captains ("Sunset Dinner Cruise"), and musicians ("Phuket Nightlife: Bars").
Familial patriarchy is highlighted by the ease Phuket-nightlife men have in controlling Thai women--"mythical Kinnarees, half-bird and half-woman of legendary beauty and graciousness, [who] look after their guests like proverbial kings" ("Phuket Fantasea") and the difficulty they have in controlling their women back home. For example, "German girls are extremely difficult to handle, they call this emancipation" ("Thai Girls").
Phuket-nightlife men are frontiersmen. They "hunt" ("Phuket Nightlife 2") women who are painted to look like wild animals ("Phuket Nightlife 2") in exotic locations ("Phuket Nightclub Show"). They brave the dangerous elements as "The ladies let the sexy stuff out and the waves are riding high. A Tsunami of hip-hop" ("Phuket Go Go"). Also, a Phuket-nightlife man is able to stay emotionally distant from women. The sex has "no strings attached" ("Go Go bars in Phuket") and he is encouraged to "stay with a girl for only one night. This avoids the situation where after two nights, she considers you her boyfriend" ("Patong Beach Nightlife Essential Info").
The heterosexuality of the male is highlighted and defined by the heterosexuality of the constructed female in the Phuket-nightlife world. Phuket-nightlife women are willing to have sex for "a modest fee" ("Patong Beach Nightlife: Patong")--they are "female takeaways" ("A Visitor's Guide") from the bar. They are "dedicated to ensuring all who step close are in for a good time" ("Patong Beach Nightlife: Where") and they "lavish attention on you like you are Hugh Hefner" ("Patong Beach Nightlife: Patong"). They are "scantily clad maidens" who wear less "than is strictly legal" ("Bangla Road Nightlife"). They entice men by "shaking what they've got" ("Bangla Road Nightlife") and by pole dancing which "shows the girls to the guys from any angle" and is "a pre-form of coming together on a sexy trip, at least in Thailand" ("Phuket Nightlife").
Phuket-nightlife men are constructed as having multiple sex partners. They are advised that to have fun in Thailand "there are a few things you should leave [at home], one of them is your girlfriend" ("Phuket Nightlife"). After all, these men have a "98% chance of success" ("Phuket Nightlife") with the "several thousand pretty Thai bar girls hang[ing] around just trying to have some fun with [them]" ("Phuket Nightlife"). One bar is described as the place "to do a quickie with a real pretty Phuket nightlife girl" and have "about 50 young girls [to] select from" ("Phuket Nightlife"). The "girls will approach like the bees the flower" ("Bar Girls"). There is no need to be "shy with Thai girls" ("Phuket Nightlife") nor is there a need to fear rejection ("Bar Girls"). According to one website advertisement, this is also true of Thai women outside the Phuket nightlife scene, as "there are also lots of regular girls who aren't prostitutes but keen on meeting foreigners for a fling. Hundreds of lonely and horny modern city girls go online looking for sex with a visiting or resident westerner, no strings attached" ("Go Go Bars").
A discussion of hegemonic masculinity in Thailand would be incomplete without discussing the treatment or construction of katoey (ladyboys) in the websites we studied. The term katoey is applied to any male that looks and/or acts like a female--including transvestites and transsexuals. Thailand claims to be tolerant and accepting of katoey, but the websites we studied seem to tell a different story. First, the websites want to make it clear that Phuket-nightlife katoey are not "real men"--they are not masculine. Katoey are described as "boys who pretend to be girls (so well that it is hard to tell they're boys, if they still are)" ("Phuket Beach Nightlife: Patong") and one would "be hard pressed to detect even a hint of masculinity in their movement" ("A Visitor's Guide"). There is no way one would think a katoey was "born a man" ("Patong's Nightlife"). Second, Phuket-nightlife katoey are ascribed unflattering personality and behavioural characteristics. They are "infamous for lifting wallets and having sudden bursts of nasty behavior" ("Patong Beach Nightlife Essential Info") and "They have hormone problems and can get out of control in any direction" ("Phuket Nightlife 2"). They can be "extremely rude, dangerous and revengeful" ("Patong and Phuket Nightlife"). They have "a reputation for being spiteful and untrustworthy" and "it is shameful to father one" ("Thai Ladyboy--Katoey or Shemale"). "Real men" are cautioned to be careful when looking for "real women", so that they are not fooled by a katoey--"Some ... are ladyboys, so look closely" ("Phuket Prostitutes"). After all, katoey's "most common approach seems to be trying to fool very drunk men" ("Thai Ladyboy--Katoey or Shemale").
In many ways, it seems that Phuket-nightlife katoey are Thailand's parody or social commentary on women. That is, if katoey act like women and kataey act in the ways mentioned above, then women must be just as dangerous and unstable. In fact, a katoey is better at being a woman than a woman is. Katoey have "over the top femininity" ("Patong's Nightlife"), women would "die [to have] a figure like" a katoey's ("Tour Review"), and katoey can be "easily mistaken for real women" ("Nightlife Advice and Tips").
Discussion and Conclusions
Feminine Gender Roles
Based on the symbolic constructions presented, Phuket-nightlife women are young and Thai. They are nymphomaniacs who know how to please a man and, other than making money off of "walking ATM machines" ("Thai Bar Girl's"), that is their goal in life. Phuket-nightlife men view these women as "female takeouts" ("A Visitor's Guide") who do not need to be talked to or understood ("Bar Girls").
Based on the symbolic constructions presented, Phuket-nightlife Katoey are beautiful, but dangerous and unstable. They are Thai men's social commentary on Thai womanhood.
Masculine Gender Roles
Based on the symbolic constructions presented, Phuket-nightlife men are farang. They are frontiersman who "hunt" wild, exotic women ("Phuket Nightlife 2") and, once the prey is captured, "love" them and leave them. The goal of these men is to have sex with as many women as possible--and the women will cooperate. Thai women are not "emancipated" like the women back home ("Thai Girls"). Thai Phuket-nightlife men are fighters--either to defend their honour or as professional Muay Thai boxers. They want to make it clear that they are "real men".
Phuket nightlife is portrayed as a patriarchal world where a man believes he can live his fantasy of being the perfect hegemonic male. After all, the websites we studied advertise that Thailand is the home of "the best sex encounter in the world" ("Thai Sex"). It is a land where the "girls are legendary" ("Thai Sex") and the "barn bam" is so "great" that a man will feel more like a man than he has ever felt before ("Thai Girls"). Thailand is "the greatest country for girls on planet earth" ("Bar Girls"). It seems that, in these pages, the main tourist attractions of Thailand are the prostitutes ("Phuket Prostitutes") and girlie bars ("Bars and Night Life"). Phuket nightlife is a world where women are disempowered by double binds and men are encouraged to pursue the traits of masculine hegemony.
The websites we studied add support to Johnson's (2007) thesis that men travel as sex tourists to Thailand to rediscover their masculinity. As one can see from the above descriptions, the websites dearly advertise Thailand as such a place. These pages promise that Thai women are not like the women back home--so farang men can come to Thailand and act like "real men". This type of advertising on the Web makes life difficult for all Thai women. Apparently, many farang men believe the advertisements, come to Thailand, and expect sex from every Asian woman they meet (Johansen 2009): "Rice fever ... seems to strike everywhere in Bangkok--in shopping malls, cafes and on busses and trains" (p. 6)
How does one change a patriarchal world? Kathleen Hall Jamieson (1995) wrote:
If everyone woke up tomorrow assuming that men and women ought to be treated the same way in the same situations, a lot would change. Teachers would call on girls as often as boys. Women would earn the same salaries as men with comparable degrees. Ken would have joined Barbie in claiming that "math is tough"--or neither would have uttered the phrase.
But it seems that the only thing that the men of the Phuket-nightlife world will wake up with tomorrow is a hangover. As previously noted in the review of literature, governmental solutions do not seem to be the answer. And we certainly would not recommend any curtailments of free speech on the Internet.
There is a saying that one eats an elephant one bite at a time. We believe that this is also the way one goes about changing a patriarchal world--one person at a time. We join in Hemingway's (2004) call for responsible tourism, believing that "success ... ultimately depends heavily upon the education and moral character of the tourist" (p. 294) and that "Education is fundamental for the transformation of tourism into a rights-respecting industry" (p. 291). Hopefully, this paper is "one bite of the elephant" towards providing that education. As Sanitsuda Ekachai (2010) points out in the Bangkok Post, "For when society is forced to confront its sexist cultural values, the important step to dismantle gender double standards and injustice has already begun."
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(1.) An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the International Communication Association Conference in Singapore (June 2010). Funding for this project was provided by a research grant from Phuket Rajabhat University.
(2.) The five websites creating the sample were www.phuket.com/nightlife/ index.htm, www.phuket-info.com/nightlife.htm, www.phukemightlifecentral. com/, www.lstopphuket.com/hospitality/night_life/, and www.phuket. net/going-out/nightlife/nightlife.htm. It should be noted that all of the websites, except www.phukemightlifecentral.com/, are part of larger travel sites.
Jeffrey Dale Hobbs is Professor of Communication Studies at Phuket Rajabhat University, Thailand. Piengpen Na Pattalung is Assistant Dean for Academic and Research Affairs, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Phuket Rajabhat University, Thailand. Robert C. Chandler is Director of the Nicholson School of Communication, University of Central Florida, USA.
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|Author:||Hobbs, Jeffrey Dale; Na Pattalung, Piengpen; Chandler, Robert C.|
|Publication:||SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia|
|Article Type:||Case study|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2011|
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