Collected by Nopporn Suwanpanich[To see the catalog of the newspaper collection with an introduction “A Eulogy for My 2010 Memories” by Chertalay Suwanpanich, click here]
In this final part of selections from century-old newspapers, we present three pieces of writing that reflect the circumstances of women in Thai society in the early 1920s, both in the home and on public transport, both in Bangkok and in the provinces, and also in the code of laws.
The first selection is a letter to the editor of Kammakorn, a weekly news magazine that was, according to the publisher’s statement, “a truly audacious team effort that aims to attend to the suffering of those facing real trouble and oppression.” Written by a woman, the letter to the editor was given pride of place right after the table of contents under the dignified heading “The Rights of Siamese Women.” Even though the oppression-sensitive editor (whose name is “Mr. Musar,” as listed on the cover) did “sympathize to an extent” with the plights of Siamese women, he couldn’t quite bring himself to endorse the letter writer’s implicit suggestion of sweeping social and legal reforms for equality and fairness for women.
The second selection, also from Kammakorn, is a letter from “Mr. Kaew Jaidee” who wrote in to argue with a certain “P.K.” whose opinion piece, published earlier on the Thai newspaper, advocated for a new law “prohibiting men from intercourse with illegal female prostitutes,” a proposal which Mr. Kaew Jaidee “would prefer not to join hands with.” Among his reservations, he cites the fact that a man in this country can still obtain multiple wives and do so by a mulitiplicity of means, “including by marriage, by royal offer, by consensual relations,” and that it is not illegal for a man to have secret wives, “nor is it against the law or social norms or a panic-inducing public scandal for a woman who is not a man’s wife to forgo some of her rights to allow a man to take advantage of her” (!) In light of this, he argues, a man has many excuses at his disposal to avoid admitting that the woman he is caught with is a prostitute. Introducing a law penalizing men for soliciting prostitution is, he concludes, “tantamount to using a basket to scoop up water.”
The third selection is an insider news column, somewhat akin to a gossip column, considering one of the objectives of the news magazine Khao Kap Dam (which translates to “White and Black”–a strange name) is, as stated on the first page, “to be a moral reminder to government officials.” Indeed, part of the selected column functions as a moral reminder through its criticisms of and recommendations for the police, the Education Ministry, and even the high-ranking bureaucrats who solicit money from junior civil servants. What sticks out to us is the objection to the practice of government officials bringing home girls “to keep” from field visits to the provinces, such as Monthon Phuket in the South and Monthon Phayap in the North, as the practice will likely lead the “karma-stricken pubescent girls” on a path to ruin. Interestingly, the columnist cites–as a supporting argument–“the royal opinion” of King Chulalongkorn who “strictly prohibited his officials who visited Lao provinces from taking Lao women as wives” (!)
But the most striking detail in Khao Kap Dam is the fact that its cover prominently features a photograph of the owner–who turns out to be a woman! Her name is “Mrs. Thom Susakha.” Still, the editor, whose name is “Kee Hong,” is in all likelihood a man, judging from the pointed tone demanding fairness from women (at least on public transport) with the opening line, “When a man is friendly, a woman ought to be friendly in return!”
“By saying this I do not mean men in general, as there are many good ones out there, but for most, I say, if the shoe fits, wear it. Even worse are the well-bred and the high-ranked who like to use or degrade their wives in place of slaves.”
“Speaking of love: even if it has no material body nor quantity to be measured or used up, no woman will be happy to let her husband share his love with other women. And this is realistic, as it is hard for a man with multiple wives to divide his love equally. In other words, it is hard to imagine that the love among them can be as strong as the love of a monogamous couple. Just as men are not happy to let others touch their wife/wives, women, who also have inner lives, naturally think the same way.”
from Kammakorn, Year 2 Volume 33, Saturday, 13 October BE 2466 (pdf)
under the heading “Siamese Women’s Rights,” pages 513-515
Charoen Krung Road
25 September BE 2466
Greetings to you, honorable Editor of Kammakorn:
For a long time I’ve heard people say that you are frank and hold no prejudice against anyone. So I am submitting this opinion to you. If you don’t mind, please print it on your paper.
The subject I am talking about today is the rights of Siamese women. The rights of Siamese women at this time are in a lesser position both outside and inside the home, and in terms of the country’s legal rights as well. The majority of men tend to hold belittling views of women. For example, they don’t see, or don’t try to see, women as ordinary people like them; they look down on women as if the latter were mechanical dolls, that is, objects which are only good for entertainment or the like. This is a majorly mistaken idea, because us women are ordinary people, and are different only in terms of weakness. Honorable men, you can probably figure that out unless you actively forget where you come from or excessively prioritize your needs.
Most women who have gotten married and left their parents’ roof do not find independence; instead, for the most part, they tend to become subjugated by the man who is their husband. By saying this I do not mean men in general, as there are many good ones out there, but for most, I say, if the shoe fits, wear it. Even worse are the well-bred and the high-ranked who like to use or degrade their wives in place of slaves.
In terms of the country’s laws or traditions, many articles still grant women lesser rights than men. In the Law on Husbands and Wives, for instance, if a woman and a man cohabitate and neither has prior individual assets, when joint assets are divided, the man gets two-thirds while the woman only gets one-third. In another article: if only the man has prior assets, the woman doesn’t get a share, but if only the woman has prior assets, the man gets a share of the marital property in case the man acts as custodian. These are some examples. Let that sink in, all of you.
Another very important right, one which I view to be relevant also to the country’s advances, is the legal right for men to have multiple wives. This, as far as I know, is prohibited by law in civilized countries like Europe and America, and is punishable, possibly by imprisonment, if a man violates it. Our country of Siam nowadays is actually no less advanced than other countries. If we have this law like they do, our country will thrive more.
Of the pros and cons of allowing men to have only one wife or an unlimited number of wives, one aspect has to do with the advancements of the country. A country will prosper or, as people call it, “civilize” only if peace prevails. Peace in the family is one part of the country’s peace. If there is no peace in the family, then peace in the country will undoubtedly be out of reach. How can the family find peace? One can see that it is none other than the master and the mistress of the house who make peace happen. The master and the mistress, or in other words husband and wife, will govern the house in peace and happiness only by love, unity, and mutual care and consideration. If either party thinks of emotionally distancing themselves, then peace will be hard to find in the family. Speaking of love: even if it has no material body nor quantity to be measured or used up, no woman will be happy to let her husband share his love with other women. And this is realistic, as it is hard for a man with multiple wives to divide his love equally. In other words, it is hard to imagine that the love among them can be as strong as the love of a monogamous couple. Just as men are not happy to let others touch their wife/wives, women, who also have inner lives, naturally think the same way. When family affairs turn out this way, fighting ensues. And familial discord is a major destroyer of domestic peace and happiness.
I’ve stated my case, though only some key points have been covered. If I say more, I’m afraid it will take up too much room. To reiterate, my aim is simply to let this be a reminder for men to be kind and compassionate to women who are the weaker sex, and to refrain from focusing only on your own needs, from trying not to see women as people who have inner lives just like you. When I have free time, I’ll write and say greetings to you again.
Finally, my respects to you.
(Reading this letter and giving thought to it, I sympathize to an extent. But to transform the state of women’s rights in short order is of course impossible, because it derives from our country’s customs and traditions. We believe that our government probably has this in mind as well; maybe there is some sort of obstacle to bringing the idea promptly to practice. –Editor K.)
“Especially if the law in question will revoke old laws or traditions of the country, the government will have to tread more carefully, lest they offend the people which may result in disaster. This is a principle behind issuing laws that Siam as well as civilized countries like England adhere to nowadays. A Siamese example is the Law on Husbands and Wives … which the government dares not make strident changes to, even if, as it currently stands, the law is not fair to women.”
from Kammakorn, Year 2 Vol 11, Saturday, 5 May BE 2466 (pdf)
under the heading “New Way to Curb Female Prostitution,” pages 162-165
By Mr. Kaew Jaidee
P.K. wrote an opinion piece in the Thai newspaper on Wednesday, the 25th of last month, titled “A New Approach to Curb Female Prostitution”; in summary, it proposes that the government introduce a law prohibiting men from intercourse with illegal female prostitutes, which will be an offense punishable by 2-day or 3-day imprisonment, in order to make them afraid of doing it again as well as to prevent the commerce or the work of this category of women. I would prefer not to join hands with this opinion. P.K.’s rhetoric seems to take for granted that issuing a law will be easy business, that if only one liked a certain thing, or sought to protect a certain someone’s interest, or was angered by a certain party’s actions, then one would draft a law and present it to the king for authorization, end of story. Actually, to introduce a law, no matter the subject, is not easy business the way P.K. assumes; the government, or in other words the cabinet, has to deliberate very thoroughly, taking into consideration the pros and cons, surveying the currently existing laws of the country, the capabilities of the officials to be entrusted with enforcing the law in question as well as the capabilities of the citizens who will have to comply, the equality among the populace, especially if the law in question will revoke old laws or traditions of the country, in which case the government will have to tread more carefully, lest they offend the people which may result in disaster. This is a principle behind issuing laws that Siam as well as civilized countries like England adhere to nowadays. A Siamese example is the Law on Husbands and Wives (see Husbands and Wives, Article 68 on Inheritance, Article 5) which the government dares not make strident changes to, even if, as it currently stands, the law is not fair to women. As for England, the Laws on Inheritance hold in one region that the eldest son shall inherit all the family land; in another region, they hold that the youngest son shall inherit all the family land. This is highly [un]fair to other sons [and daughters?]; nevertheless, the English government dares not change any of its aspects out of the fear of offending the people, also the desire to preserve ancient traditions.
For the government to introduce a law punishing men who go to illegal prostitutes, the principle mentioned previously needs to be taken into consideration as well.
I did not want to make comments that could be an affront to P.K., whoever they are, but I think that P.K.’s opinion suggesting that the government introduce the above-mentioned law, is tantamount to suggesting an introduction of a law prohibiting purchase when exchange is still permissible so long as there is no purchase; it is tantamount to allowing a steamboat to operate in the water while prohibiting the making of waves. How come? Legal experts including P.K. (if they didn’t neglect to think) will likely reply in unison that our Law on Husbands and Wives continues to follow tradition to the letter. That is to say, a man can still have multiple wives; there are still multiple ways to become husband and wife, including by marriage, by royal offer, by consensual relations, (see Husbands and Wives above, also Articles 74, 85, 86, 115, 141, etc.); also, it is not illegal for a man to have secret wives, nor is it against the law or social norms or a panic-inducing public scandal for a woman who is not a man’s wife to forgo some of her rights to allow a man to take advantage of her. Thus, I think that the law proposed by P.K. will not have the desired effect, because there are hundreds of escape routes for a man to resort to by claiming, for example, that the woman [he is caught with] is a wife of his or a concubine of his. This is therefore tantamount to using a basket to scoop up water, or to the analogies previously stated.
Another issue I find, taking into account lawmaking principles, is a host of legal difficulties; for example, prior to introducing this law, the Law on Husbands and Wives must first be amended, but as is known already that it will not be easy to do so, because our husband and wife law arose from tradition and custom from primordial times. And considering the capabilities of the authorities responsible for preserving the law, it is not believable that enforcement can be successful. The only effect of introducing the law will be mockery from the citizens including resident aliens, who will be given the impression that our government is overly strict about petty matters.
Don’t forget that the Female Prostitution Prevention Act punishes a woman on the basis of her not having permission to conduct herself as a prostitute. The law does not punish her personal actions of that kind; a person’s actions simply are the circumstantial evidence pointing to that person’s conduct as a prostitute.
A good and sufficiently feasible solution by the special police, in my opinion, does not at all have to involve bothering the government to issue a law on petty issues the way P.K. proposed. Just carry out surveillance in every corner, actually follow through with arrests and prosecutions, and forward each case to the newspapers to announce in print the name of the defendant, i.e., the hired woman, and the name of the witness, i.e., the hiring man—that should be enough. I believe that this will more or less instill fear in young—and old—men, including high-ranking bureaucrats, who have a penchant for the practice.
Mr. Kaew Jaidee
(Considering that this is a debate about issues rather than a personal quarrel with Phra Sakthat [probably referring to Phra Santhat Aksornsarn (Hok Aksaranugraha), editor of Thai newspaper], I’ve made the decision to publish it –Editor K.)
“Bringing pubescent girls from the provinces to keep personally is a scary practice that will likely lead those karma-stricken pubescent girls on a path to ruin rather than to growth in due course as good citizens. If the stars align and the gods protect them, they’ll be lucky enough to be legally wedded wives.”
“When a man is friendly, a woman ought to be friendly in return!”
from Khao Kap Dam, Year 1 Vol 4 Monday 22 October BE 2466 (pdf)
unknown title, pages 62-64 (beginning missing)
…for example, returning from field visits in Monthon Phuket and Monthon Phayap, they are rumored to bring girls back with them. Bringing pubescent girls from the provinces to keep personally is a scary practice that will likely lead those karma-stricken pubescent girls on a path to ruin rather than to growth in due course as good citizens. If the stars align and the gods protect them, they’ll be lucky enough to be legally wedded wives. But if or when boredom sets in and they’re discarded, there is no doubt that inevitably these girls will be forced to turn to immorality as you will observe. This is because those girls aren’t familiar with the area and have no acquaintances. With nowhere to go, they’ll run to immorality as the only recourse, as has happened in numerous cases. As the royal opinion of Somdet Phra Buddha Jao Luang Piya Maharaja [King Rama V] strictly prohibited his officials who visited Lao provinces from taking Lao women as wives, the matter is already spelled out: it is unbecoming for government officials to contravene that royal opinion. Besides, the Education Tribute money has regularly and frequently made the news whenever the collected fees vanish, and it has only been a short time [of the policy of the Education Tribute money] for so many scandals to happen. Therefore, it is highly unbecoming for the Education Ministry, whose duty it is to be the people’s teacher, to allow such unbecoming incidents to take place. Watch out, or your credibility will be ruined. Think long and hard about your endeavors going forward.
When a man is friendly, a woman ought to be friendly in return! Those who take the train regularly probably witness the following almost daily, or have already had an internal monologue about it: when a man who is seated on board sees a woman get on the train and there are no open seats, the man must get up and leave his seat for the woman as a courtesy towards the weaker sex, following the good manners of polite society. But the lady never responds with any well-mannered courtesy, not even a little nod or a smile or a simple thank you. If she is a young woman student, she puts on even more airs of unfriendliness. Why is that, ladies? Why have you abandoned ladylike manners so? Woman teachers should teach them so they know some good manners. Showing appreciation for acts of generosity is important; it is the normal conduct of polite society the world over. Exchanging gentle gestures is auspicious, and conveys one’s deep-set nature like the adage “accent tells language, demeanor tells lineage.” In the Mangala Sutta, “vandako pativandanam” means when a person bows to you, you must bow to them in return. When a gentleman shows courtesy to a lady, then the lady must show courtesy to the gentleman in return—now that’s the way.
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This series is part of the project Dissident Dreams, sponsored by Democracy Discourse Series, De La Salle University, the Philippines