Representations of Women in Media: Lakorn says one thing, Twitter says another



A woman takes a full swing, slapping her husband’s mistress, and causing her to roll down the stairs and collapse on the floor face first. She pulls the mistress's hair, lifting her face off the floor, continuing to humiliate her in front of the crowd for sleeping with her unfaithful husband.


This exaggerated catfight scene comes from a remake of RangNgao (2012), which became an overnight phenomenon. Women being hostile towards one another and gender discrimination is nothing new to Thai soap opera.


One of the most common themes in Thai soap opera, or more commonly known as Lakorn, is two women, either best friends or total strangers, destroying each other over a man with these three distinctive qualities: rich, well-educated and good-looking. This theme always follows two main storyline options - the woman intentionally seduces the man, or the man instigates the affair and the woman falls victim. Samee Teetra (2014), Plerng Prang Thian (2019) and Wanthong (2021), a story that is based on a Thai folklore, are just three recent examples of this. The ultimatum is mostly always that the women ended up resenting each other.


But who perpetuates these stereotypes?


Although one of the three Lakorns mentioned above was directed by a woman, directors and screenwriters typically are male-dominated roles. However, it is unfair to generalise and claim that male directors are the sole reason that the characteristics of women are inadequately represented on screen, particularly as there are a lot of similarities in the story plots. Instead it displays an issue in society.


The story plot serves as a reflection of the Thai patriarchal social setting where women are oppressed and are the ones to blame.


It’s important to understand that the storylines are created to entertain specific audiences. For example, Mia Jum Pen, a soap opera that sparked outrage on Twitter in February with the hashtag #ข่มขืนผ่านจอพอกันที translates to enough of rape on screen, surprisingly scored the highest viewer rating among Lakorns from the same TV channel in March.


The story plot serves as a reflection of the Thai patriarchal social setting where women are oppressed and are the ones to blame.

From the second episode onwards, the number of viewers kept climbing right until the finale, and the show was ranked fourth out of the top six highest rating primetime dramas for the first week of February. From this alone, it is clear that there are people who do not mind watching, and even enjoy, this kind of deprecating drama.


The actress, Waratthaya Wongchayaporn, who starred as one of the antagonists in this particular Lakorn, said in an interview with Manager Online: “my job is only to perform and express the emotions of the characters and its roles…however, it’s good to see that the viewers care and help criticise to improve the matter.” Warit Sirisantana, the main actor, also tweeted about how much he had despised his character when he first read the script, and welcomed all comments.


Why it’s a Problem: The Science Behind the Storylines


Given that the media is one of the main channels that Thai people consume information, the misrepresentation of women can severely threaten strong and supportive relationships, and distort the perception of how they should be.


Many researchers discerned that what we consume through media can impact our perceptions of the world. Not only through direct messages, but also through individuals’ interpretations, in this case of women’s characteristics in these storylines.


Many researchers discerned that what we consume through media can impact our perceptions of the world.

Our brains contain mirror neurons, which are brain cells that allow us to mimic others' actions. Simply put, we are able to observe an action, understand the intention behind it, and then reproduce the same action to achieve similar results. Therefore, it is believed that mirror neurons are strongly linked to one’s ability to express empathy.


In 2008, neuroscientist Marco Lacoboni pointed out a link between media violence with imitative violence in an interview on his research published in Scientific American. He stated, “mirror neurons provide a plausible neurobiological mechanism that explains why being exposed to media violence leads to imitative violence.”


Similar arguments can be used to shed light on how the mediocre representation of women in the media has led to women being devalued, and why many women project internalised misogyny.


Although competitiveness and jealousy do exist, the Thai media does not accurately depict relationships within the female community.

Intentionally or unintentionally, people absorb and internalise these portrayals of women, creating and establishing similar woman to woman relationships, and perpetuating this stereotype against women. This demonstrates the significant impact media has on the attitudes, values and thoughts on women in Thai society.


That being said, film theory discusses media as a mirror, where mass media reflects the four pillars of the society and culture which created it. This includes technology, economics, sociology and aesthetics. This could mean that all the Lakorns are just the reflections of our society, thus prompting a bigger discussion on whether it should really be this way.


Fighting Back: Is Fiction Representing Reality?


Although competitiveness and jealousy do exist, the Thai media does not accurately depict relationships within the female community. And stories from Twitter can testify on this behalf.


On the occasion of International Women’s Day, a Twitter user @Notandnam shared a tweet asking people to share stories about women supporting one another. It received an overwhelming response. People noticed the little things that women do for each other, from giving away a sanitary pad when asked, offering napkins to a total stranger in a movie theatre, and informing someone that her fly is open. One of the most popular responses, retweeted over 28,200 times, was a tweet by @shakramz.



The tweet was about an experience that took place in a women’s restroom inside a nightclub. A drunk woman stood in front of a mirror, her face smudged with make-up from crying. She was heart broken. @shakramz explained in the tweet that the woman had been manipulated by her then partner, who said that she was no good and ugly. @shakramz who was tipsy at the time, expressed her disagreement. She told the woman that it was not true and that she was very beautiful. Five to six other women in the restroom proceeded to gather around the crying woman, helping to clean her up and fix her make-up. Everybody left feeling bubbly.


This small incident is just one of the many ways women show support for one another.


Another story from @badassdown is about how a woman who sat next to her on her solo trip to Bangkok accompanied her all the way to see her father at a department store. She also shared and example of how she was assisted by a group of women around her when she almost passed out at a concert.



We see and hear of these stories all around us, regardless of the setting. We experience this supportive female relationships in clubs, workplaces and even just on the street. @MiNiMiNiMiNi tells of a time when she took it upon herself to support another woman who was new to her company, who confided in her that the male team leader kept touching her hands inappropriately. From that point on, every time the team leader called for the other woman, @MiNiMiNiMiNi would present herself, look into his eyes to let him know that she knew of his intentions.



So, instead of using infidelity, violence, and depiction of women tearing down other women to boost ratings, Thai media should portray female relationships as they truly are - supportive. Why instigate conflict when there is such an opportunity to showcase the most interesting aspects of womanhood and the intricate dynamics of female friendships. The media should take responsibility and help lift up the perception of women, sisterhoods and our stance in society. By doing so, it could only be beneficial and lead to societal improvements and equality!



 

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.

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