Updated: May 20, 2021
Confronted with online sexual harassment, feminist activist Sirin Mungchareon has stepped away from the limelight to heal and care for her mental health. The 22-year old college senior says she’s unsure if she’ll put herself on the front line of a movement again.
As part of our Rebellious X series, we sat down with Sirin to discuss her unique perspectives on self-love: experience of sexual harassment and online bullying, the nuanced relationship between feminist activism and democratic activism, and on choosing self-care over life in the public eye.
Sirin got involved with activism in her freshman year and helped organise the “CU Assemble” student protest at Chulalongkorn University in February 2020. She says she started being bullied and sexually harassed after speaking out about gender equality on her social media accounts. Negative comments about her, including that she deserves to be gang raped, are still online.
“The comments against me definitely made my mental health worse,” says Sirin, who has been seeing a psychiatrist since she was a teenager. “I’ve been trying to be strong in a society where a feminist, a woman, has to be fierce, strong and independent. I try to be that person, to be someone that others look up to. I didn't want to disappoint them, but it didn’t feel ok to face all that alone.”
I’ve been trying to be strong in a society where a feminist, a woman, has to be fierce, strong and independent.
Sirin was fresh out of high school when she read a book by outspoken student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal and realised there were alternative ways to live and question authority. She went on to work with Netiwit at Chulalongkorn University and was elected to the Student Council of the university's Faculty of Arts in her freshman year, later getting involved in activism beyond the university walls.
As she participated in democratic activism, Sirin noticed that women’s issues like discrimination and victim blaming were not being addressed. She recalls male activists commenting on the way she looked and questioning why she was bringing up feminism at a protest for democracy.
“From what I can see, most Thai activists are concerned with democracy, which is definitely important, but there’s not enough women’s representation,” Sirin says. “I think most people ignore problems and issues about women in this country. They would say: ‘men and women are equal and there’s already equality - what more do you want?’ There are things that we achieved, but there are many issues that we haven't solved… like rape culture in Thai society, which is a big problem. Some people just can't seem to grasp the basic concept of feminism.”
Most Thai activists are concerned with democracy, which is definitely important, but there’s not enough women’s representation.
On Putting Mental Health First
After stepping away from the limelight, Sirin is now focusing on her studies and work writing and translating books on social issues, gender equality and gender-based violence. She says it was an adjustment returning to student life and has at times felt alone, because her university friends haven’t experienced life in the public eye.
Sirin has rejected a lot of political interview requests, saying she wouldn’t “feel comfortable pretending to be someone that I don’t want to be anymore.” She’s a believer in self-care, accepting “who we are with all of our flaws and is ambivalent about returning to life as a public-facing activist.
“I’m not sure, but there’s a possibility that one day, if I feel comfortable again, I could be in that position,” she says. “Some people might say that [stepping back] is what those who attacked me wanted. But, I kind of think that I know how to love myself more because I know how much I can take. I’m still organising stuff. I’m not that quiet but I don’t participate as a movement leader or in the front row anymore.”
By Kankanit (Gun) Wiriyasajja
Kankanit is a third-culture kid, journalist, Rebellious X writer, firm believer in freedom of speech, passionate about telling other people's stories and empowering others, and currently saying yes to new adventures.
Photography by Adelina Colucci
Adelina Colucci is a documentary photographer and founder of The Love Lab (@the_lovelab on Instagram). As a feminist activist, she uses boudoir photography as a way to empower women and encourage self-love.