WARNING: This passage contains real material about prostitution
We talk about hierarchies and binaries and oppression, and I see where the ideas are applicable. Feminism seems to be in a constant struggle against these institutions and the powers that be to create an entirely new strategy of thinking. I’ve also seen places where these words make no sense.
I don’t usually like to talk about my travels as I’m young and others have had plenty more experience than me, but I feel that this is an appropriate place to share them. I want to talk specifically about Thailand. Now, I’ve seen far worse than I am going to describe here, but I’m not sure this is the place for some of those discussions.
Every day when I got up my friend and I would walk down the main road of the small, dusty old border town in the province of Chang Rai. We always passed the same sights and got used to them every morning. The first massage parlor on the right, an actual massage parlor, not a front. Next was the gigantic, by our standards, Buddhist temple also on our right with men either performing their required two week to a month ordaining or men who have been monks their entire lives. Next was an intersection that smelled like bad fish, followed by the red building.
As early as nine a.m. we would see women wearing tight clothes and looking somewhere between underfed and healthy. In the evenings whenever we passed it an adjacent building would be opened and even more red lighting and women would be standing inside and outside with men on their arms laughing their empty laughs. I never saw one of them not trying. They all laughed. It hurt to hear it. Men would beckon us as we passed, obviously the pimps of the establishment and we would shake our heads and move on back to the house we stayed in.
I spent almost the entirety of my time in Thailand wondering what I could do. What can I do? I mean, there are certainly things I can do to help, but what are you supposed to do when you’re standing right there. To this day I struggle to ascertain a physical and real action I could perform to liberate and set free these women, but I just can’t. What are we supposed to do in the face of something so disgusting? Whether it is there because of binaries, hierarchies, or just plain corruption it doesn’t matter. In this we can see the heart of feminism and what it stands for and also the part I hold most dear: to bring about the understanding that women are not defined by their sexual appeal and men are not defined by their ability to dominate that appeal. It breaks my heart.
So every morning on our routine walk as we passed those two girls, usually different ones every day, we would greet them with a traditional Thai bow and greeting in a terrible American accent. They would giggle sometimes wave. I may not be able to do a lot, but I sure as hell can treat them as human beings. Somebody has to.