Feb- 2014 – Here are a few thoughts on the Muay Thai meme that grew out of a photo a follower made of me from my last fight on Yokkao 7, about the meaning of the meme, the nature of the Thai exclusion of women at certain rings like Lumpinee, and what it meant to me. Let me also say that this from my limited perspective as having lived and fought here in Thailand for nearly 2 years now. Farang notoriously don’t get the whole picture. But more of the picture is better than less, and this is what I see. [My thoughts on this complex topic are still evolving, for a later expression read my Navigating Western Feminism, Traditional Thailand and Muay Thai written a year and a half later.]
below are the various threads, as the meme spread in first 24 hrs.
Female Muay Thai Facebook Group (4K members) – posted by meme creator k thats notmyname
Warriors of the Mongkon Facebook Page (31K) – posted by World Champion Caley Reece
Muay Thai Guy Facebook Page (153K Likes) – posted by page owner Sean Fagan
Muay Thai in America Facebook Page (155K Likes) – with a different text
This is the meme made by K Thats Notmyname:
My shorts coincidentally read “Lumpinee” in Thai. The Lumpinee stadium name is on countless shorts in Thailand (and probably those purchased abroad) and is a quasi-brand name that Yokkao decided I should wear in the ring. The Yokkao name is on the waist band of the shorts, as well as a patch on the lower right leg.
Why Lumpinee? The Mecca of Muay Thai
The meme mentions that women can’t fight in Lumpinee. I’ll cover some of why that is the case below, but for those that don’t know Lumpinee stadium is the most famous Muay Thai ring in the world. It has been seen as the seat of Muay Thai in Thailand for 5 decades and Thai fighters dream of achieving the coveted and prestigious rank of “Lumpinee Champion,” a title that only recently became possible for westerners with the first non-Thai fighter (Frenchman Damien Alamos) winning a 140 lbs title in 2012. But a lot of internet commenters on the meme don’t realize that “old” Lumpinee (founded in 1959), the great dusty, dirty, classic Muay Thai stadium of Bangkok does not exist any more. It was closed this month (and sadly will be demolished), and it was reopened as a new, modern-design building on another side of Bangkok. The stadium was closed in part because it was seen as old and dilapidated by some Thais. As Falang we all loved it – I loved it – but the new stadium is clearly designed with an attempt to move out of the past and into a modern Thai future. New Lumpinee is bright and sleek, electronics, high-powered air conditioning and digital screens, sponsored ads everywhere, and a fairly extensive “mall-like” array of food stalls, shopping, spa and massage shops, etc. It is not trying to preserve Old Lumpinee; it is a strong departure, perhaps reaching more toward a football (soccer) stadium than the dark, dingy, stifling (and for all those reasons intensely romantic) historic building. If anything, the new Lumpinee appears to be trying to “lift” Muay Thai out of its low-class reputation and into a more middle-class and modern appeal. Yet Lumpinee is one of the few remaining rings which don’t allow women to fight there. [Note: it a largely unknown fact that woman have fought in Lumpinee stadium in the late 1960s when the promoter set up a separate ring for them, for more on that read Women in Lumpinee, Thai Female Fighters in the 1990s, Rangsit History]
The Old Lumpinee
The New Lumpinee
This is the old sign at Old Lumpinee Stadium:
These are the new signs at New Lumpinee Stadium:
photo: Niamh Griffin
photo from mumsetheword.com
What it Means to Bleed – Superstition and Place
Aside from the irony that my shorts in the memed photo read “Lumpinee”, K Thats Notmyname’s meme brings up a really interesting point about the image: I’m bleeding. I “bleed like a man” from cuts to my face caused by elbows in Muay Thai fight against another woman. But what really keeps women out of Lumpinee (and those few other stadia) is that women also bleed like women, something men don’t do. Women’s menstrual blood, and quite frankly it is largely the social position of having reached menarche (first period) rather than if you are bleeding at the moment, is perceived as being a “polluting” force. A woman, as defined by having reached menses is an anathema to the magic. Prepubescent girls are children and remain neutral prior to a first period in most circumstances – though I have seen an infant held to some ring restrictions. This magic is a mix of the beliefs and practices of Theravada Buddhism, as protective blessings are imbued by monks in ceremony, and partially an older belief system that predates Buddhism in Thailand, a magical animism. This is the magic that blesses a ring, amulets, statues, objects, locations, and even persons.
This magic is why even at rings where women are permitted to fight, most rings in Thailand, women are told to enter under the bottom rope. Men always go over the top rope with the mongkol (an amulet, essentially) worn on the head; these beliefs dictate that the head is the highest and most sacred part of the body and the feet are the lowest, most profane, so nothing must go over the head, including the ropes of the ring. Men with amulets on their person or with Sak Yant tattoos can be seen not passing underneath branches, strings, ropes, clothes lines, etc. in everyday life. This is exactly why women go under the bottom rope – our heads cannot go above amulets or protected/blessed objects, statues, images, persons, etc. because by going over them with our heads we negate or destroy the magic. We pollute it. We produce dire consequences or events. So our heads do the opposite, they go nearly to the ground which is the lowest place, down to below where the feet of male fighters land when they climb over the ropes. With universal high/low esteem of the body and space it is unmistakeably a degradation to have to crawl under the ropes as a woman – even though we as western women don’t necessarily feel it. We have the bottom rope pass over our most sacred part, our heads. I’ve heard a female Thai boxer in interview exclaim, “At least give us the second rope” [to go over]. There literally is zero reason why a woman should not be able to go over the bottom rope and under the other three, preserving some piece of symbolic dignity other than that it’s “just the way it is done”. It is worth noting that this custom of the bottom rope is not known by all; when entering or existing the ring I’ve had Thai men urge me not to go under the bottom rope because it is so lowering, not understanding this is something I have to do.
For the full report visit On Location: Thai Women Boxers
Perhaps many people in the west do not realize this cultural belief that women are “polluting” is a long-held with roots in Theravada Buddhism, Brahman influence, and animism. They look at customs and see them as exotic mysteries that “the Thais” practice, mysteries that are somehow disrespected by giving them too much thought. But these are not just exotic mysteries, they are beliefs that strongly condition the position of women (and men) in a society, determining what is possible for women. They have ramifications that reach into the epidemic of sex work and in shaping lives at a broad scale. But it is important to see that these beliefs are anchored in a superstition about the body. about female blood. The blood of a women is powerful. It could be argued that because of its superseding powers of corruption the vaginal blood of women is perhaps one of the most anti-sacred and powerful substances on Earth. (A quick reference on cultural sampling of menstrual taboos by religion.)
To those who perhaps feel that institutional Buddhism itself strongly sees women in this Thai “traditional,” polluting way, and that questioning these ways is disrespectfully questioning “Thai people” or “Thai culture” or Buddhism in general, think to your own culture and its religions. There are of course conservative and liberal expressions of Buddhism in Thailand – there is no monolithic custom prescription. It may be like a foreigner coming across extreme Biblical literalists beliefs about women, if such conservative groups were much more influential in America, and simply calling this “American Culture.” Thai culture, behaviors and beliefs are varied, and are not defined solely by the most conservative or superstitious expression of them. Thais are not some exotic tribe that was found deep in the untouched Amazon and needs to be preserved, ironically both from and by western influence. Thailand is an amazing confluence of beliefs, traditions and possibilities. And equality is neither a “western” concept nor privilege.
This being said, the associations of this powerful menses blood image do run through almost all of the Thai constructions of female gender in one way or another. Even many Thais who do not “believe” in these religio-superstitions, if you asked them, believe in them in an unconscious manor just like many in the west might believe that walking under ladders or breaking mirrors is bad luck. An audience will indeed rumble quietly if a western woman mistakenly hops over the top rope. This happened to me even when my trainer Den absent-mindedly once pulled down the top rope for me to jump over, rather than pull up the bottom. I was caught in a strange dilemma of either causing my trainer to lose face by correcting him in front of a large audience or following through as an obedient student. Silvia La Notte, having never fought in Thailand before, had a similar experience in her last Yokkao fight in November. You can feel that “something” just happened and the audience kind of collectively holds their breath. Women, if put to it in their essence, are plain and simple essentially “bad luck” to an assumed male and sacred space. We are, under Theravada conception lower forms of spiritual beings. Women, perhaps like the snake-spirit naga that adorn Thai temples, can only aspire to serve the higher, male establishment and one day be reborn as a man. What it means to “bleed” as a women and not like a man is to be anchored in this poisonous and essentially un-sacred expression of what (not who) you are.
-for an interesting take on the pervasiveness of Theravada Buddhism, sexism and a religious feminist response instead of “mainstream western feminism discourse” see The Thai bhikkhini Movement and Women’s Empowerment (2006).
-a second note: a few commenters on the meme threads antagonistically asked, “what’s next, women will want to be able to touch monks too?” The prohibition of women touching monks and monks touching women (it goes both ways) is specific to Theravada Buddhism and actually more specific to Thailand – but as far as any of the explanations I’ve ever read go, it’s not due to a risk of “contamination” or an issue of purity per se. Rather, the ban on contact between monks and women is to avoid lust in monks – the offense is not the contact, the offense is if (and only if) the monk is sent into an altered mind by lust. Since this happens quickly and without warning, the best precaution is to avoid contact all together. According to the etiological myth told to a woman in Cambodia to explain why women cannot be ordained as monks the reason was also that women may incite lust, as opposed to that women cannot achieve enlightenment or spiritually incapable.
As pervasive as these traditional concepts of women are – and they are perhaps most publicly exemplified for the west by the famous Lumpinee exclusion – there are also a lot of forward thinking Thai people who actively fight to change these preconceptions, and many of these are in the fight game. To mention one anecdotal example, the very powerful and successful Bangkok promoter Pinsinchai, who puts on the televised Aswindam fights, has been a long supporter of women fighting in top rings. He owns the Aswindum ring and has had women fighting there prominently. In fact recently he had to bow down to Muay Thai authorities, with whom he apparently was in a struggle, and disallow his own fighter, the 12 year old female phenom Phetjee Jaa, from fighting boys on his shows. This was something that was proving an important opportunity for her and family, as well as inspiring women around the world (at least those who were aware of her), yet she was inexplicably stopped from fighting these much-watched boy/girl fights with Pinsinchai’s televised announcement that girls should not fight with boys. Pinsinchai – and anyone promoting female fighters – is not anti Thai culture, they are part of it. It is enough to say that there are counter-forces to traditional Thai conceptions of what women should be allowed to do.
The superstition about female menstruation and essence indeed does not keep women from fighting all over Thailand as you can find female (and even child) fights in every town or village, wherever there is gambling, but the positioning of women is being re-enacted ad infinitum ring after ring, fight after fight in the aforementioned proscription that women and girls are forced to pass under the bottom rope for fear that their non-male bodies will pollute the magic that protects these rings. While Lumpinee is the most famous ring in Thailand that bars women from fighting there – Rajadamnern is another very prestigious ring but its name is not as recognized by westerners, and Kawilla stadium in Chiang Mai yet another [update: 8/23/15 military owned Kawilla, also called the Lumpinee of the North, which has been rebuilt after a fire is now allowing women to infrequently fight in their ring] – the vision of women that underpins this exclusion is performed everywhere. I pass under the bottom rope in every fight, but we are not only talking about fights alone. I am allowed in the “women’s ring” (mixed; men aren’t excluded) at Lanna where I train in Chiang Mai – and Lanna is a fairly westernized Muay Thai gym but with traditional roots – and I am barred from entering its “men’s ring” (a 2nd ring in the gym where men frequently go to spar and clinch). I would also be absolutely viewed with disapproval and perhaps contempt if I crossed over the “women’s ring” top rope. This is despite the fact that I enter and work in this ring daily with more commitment and focus than any man does, Thai or western, and have done so for two years. This is tradition. But it also is a very high degree of sexism that is institutionalized, practiced and repeated in such a way that it appears that “it has always been this way,” fooling some into believing it will always, or should always be this way. There is a long history of things like this in the world and things like this change.
Remarkably, as with many things that are just “the way they are”, there isn’t a pure logic to why something is done. I thought that perhaps there is a feeling that it is female sexuality that must be kept out of the ring, in a broader sense. Men are fighters and this is sacred, women are sensual, they must be kept out or contained. In this extraordinary footage (below) we filmed two dancers who performed at length at a Thai festival fight (fights held in a field like a country fair would be) before and even between fights. These dancers, like me when I fought, also passed under the bottom rope. You can see the curious reaction to these women in the ring from the exclusively Thai, almost entirely male, audience. I was pretty shocked to see this after being in Thailand for some time. The dancing in the ring before the first fight in a very obviously sexual manner was just fine, perhaps a little humorous to the onlookers, but only as long as they entered it in a way not to pollute the magic. Something like this would never occur at a major ring, of course, not even ring girls enter rings in Thailand, but it does show that the logic between the sacred and the profane is somewhat more fluid than we may assume.
What Traditions Are Unsustainable
Let me say this: I am a traditionalist. I am drawn to many of the masculine Thai traditions in my sport. I seriously respect and even love Thai culture. I consider the Thais I’ve come to know, male and female, really part of my extended family and I feel very loyal to them. I want Thai Muay Thai traditions preserved. I’m very serious about my Wai Kru and Ram Muay. Even before I came to Thailand I was upset when the New York amateur Muay Thai shows banned the Ram Muay due to time constraints and prevented me from paying homage through my teacher’s Ram Muay. My founding teacher in America is Master K a 74 year old man who loves Muay Thai more than anyone I know. He is quite conservative in many of his beliefs, but liberal in others. Additionally I’ve not only studied to speak the language, but unlike many Falang it has also been very important to me to learn to read and write as well. It is meaningful to me to be a part of this culture in all its variety and this meaningfulness has only grown with the more time I’ve been here. I love and respect Thailand more than ever. The more close you come to it though the more you shed your western projections of what is blanket “Thai” and realize that there is not just “Thainess” or “the Thais” as people like to refer to. There are complex, internal realities that bind the Thai people together, but they are also are forcefully pushing them towards a modern vision of what Thailand could be. As a Falang, female fighter fighting very frequently here I am simply a very tiny part of it, and blessedly so.
On the other hand it needs to be said: any “tradition” which is based on a class of people being corrupting, polluting, or untouchable in their very being cannot be sustained. I say this to the large collective voice in the western online Muay Thai community that is almost unanimously male and claims that the traditions of Thailand and “the Thais” should be left alone, “It’s their sport,” it cries. We have seen in the world that just being a tradition or a practice does not make something immune to critique. Some traditions and cultural practices shouldn’t be protected – for instance women being treated as second-class citizens, being forced to serve their husbands or kept out of schools, being prohibited from driving vehicles or leaving their homes without their husband, father, brother or other male “guardian’s” permission is not “culture.” It’s sexism and it’s oppression. The racism in America that demanded separate schools, restaurants, entertainment venues, sports teams and leagues, hospital wards, neighborhoods, bathrooms and drinking fountains for black citizens cannot be defended as “tradition” or “culture” or the “way it has always been”. It’s simply wrong; it’s bullshit. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that women in Thailand are facing anything as extreme or systematically severe as racism toward blacks in American history, but rather using this rhetorical example to illustrate the rationale of exclusion – implementing separate dinnerware for what purpose? What happens if whites and non-whites drink from the same water fountain? Additionally, to the western male internet voice mansplaining to us women who want to fight at Lumpinee that we’re not understanding or respecting the traditions and culture of Muay Thai or “the Thais,” let me point out that there are Thai women who feel disrespected by going under the bottom rope; there are Thai women who want to fight at Lumpinee or Rajadamnern or Channel 7, if they are deemed capable and exciting enough as fighters – Thai women are Thai, it’s their sport, country and culture, too. The opening up of this question is not just western women wanting “special” privileges from a culture that is different from theirs; it’s women wanting equal access within the global communities of which we are part. All of us.
No tradition is fixed. As mentioned above, Chiang Mai’s military-own Kawilla stadium modeled itself after Lumpinee. It, like Lumpinee, barred women from fighting in its ring which featured the top fighters of the North. But Kawilla burned down a few years ago, and when it was rebuilt the question of whether women should be able to fight there was a significant one. In the beginning it was said they would not be able to, just like old Kawilla. But there have been some female inclusive shows, and new investors in Kawilla are going to open it up much more to female fighters. Westerners – not a single one of us, male or female – is a “traditional” Muay Thai student at camps. The influx of westerners paying for training, creating the “tourist” business of Muay Thai has had both helped and hindered the traditional pedagogy of non-commercial, purely Thai Muay Thai camps. But there is no question that by allowing western women to train, even if through commercial motivation that we are paying customers, has to a large degree aided the growth of female Muay Thai for Thai women as well. The “western influence” is tricky, but it’s not a definite negative, corrupting Muay Thai tradition. And as much as these western men online seek to be the protectors of sexism in Muay Thai tradition, keep in mind that allowing western men to train, fight, and achieve Thai titles is also new, it’s also non-traditional, and it also requires changes to Muay Thai traditions and culture.
Reading Comments on the Meme
The Internet is not a friendly place for women. It is a place that is no place, and yet it’s a very male space. The hostility and bullying against women on the internet is mind-blowing, not because it doesn’t exist in every pocket of the world already, but because when given a tool that can connect billions of voices across time and space with the promise of some anonymity – where you can literally be anybody – that big empty chamber is filled with voices that largely choose to be assholes to women.
The Life of the Meme
This is perfectly illustrated in the still-short life of the Lumpinee Meme. It started as a photograph on my Facebook page, shared only hours after it was taken at my 70th fight for Yokkao 7 here in Pattaya a few days ago. The fight was stopped by the doctor in the second round due to elbow cuts that were bleeding into my eye. I was disappointed to not get to finish the fight, but I’d had fun and it was a great fight for me. People in the west, at the opposite side of the world and on the opposite side of the day, saw the picture on my page and were inspired – inspired by the beauty and toughness of a blood-soaked fighter, smiling. A female fighter in Florida was so inspired that she created the meme, posted it on Female Muay Thai on Facebook, where its first batch of comments appeared.
Female Muay Thai on Facebook is a female directed group – it’s not entirely female, but the comments were mostly women discussing fighting – the content of the image, or something associated with it. From there the image was shared by Muay Thai Champion Caley Reece to Warriors of the Mongkon, with the added question on the posting: “should or shouldn’t females be allowed to fight at Lumpinee?” This audience, at least those responding, was mostly male and some of them even misunderstood the question to be whether women should be allowed to fight at all. This reinterpretation is especially disturbing to me because it means these men assume they have the right to opine over allowing women to participate in sport, not even about locking them out of prestigious venues. But this is par for the course for the internet, right? At any rate, a lot of the comments were to the negative, giving the reasons I mentioned above with a significant block of non-Thai male voice claiming what Thai traditions and culture are and that women are attempting to corrupt, pollute and destroy “Thai tradition” by asking to be given access to Lumpinee. A shocking number of these men seemed to believe they were relaying uncommon knowledge (a lot of which was inaccurate) about Thai culture and traditions, ascribing it to Muay Thai particularly (also inaccurate), and just generally very hostile as they seem to see themselves as the defenders of Thai Mauy Thai tradition. There were women’s voices as well, 99% supporting equality, and a number of men calling for a meritocracy, citing how hard women train, how good female fighters are, and that it’s time to open doors.
It was an emotionally strange experience to be pulled by this image in various directions. At first I was excited and delighted by the meme as it appeared very shortly after I’d posted the pictures from my fight – the feeling was still among me and a few female fighters getting worked up about the fight and the image and the message it might portray. And on Female Muay Thai on Facebook it was similar, talking with more female fighters, more women and when it was shared to WOTM it felt like it had just spread over to a different table at the same large banquet. As it kept moving, even as it was shared by people I know, to pages I know but don’t spend much time reading comments on, the life of the meme kept evolving. It went from the women’s room to the men’s room without moving an inch, and the more voices adding to the din the less I felt connected to an image that is of me and of an event that is still literally only a few dozen hours behind me. Meanings should evolve and meanings should be reinterpreted, but I suddenly felt like I’d been thrown back into the small fishbowl of western Muay Thai that I purposefully left when I decided to risk all our finances and move to Thailand, specifically the intensely negative and puffed-up ego version of it. I’ve removed myself from that and I love my tiny world of just training and fighting and writing and filming in order to connect to the other souls in the world who share my passion – with those who see a bloody fighter and see themselves in it. That is my culture.
The Meme Goes Far and Near
And from there the image was shared and shared and kept moving, gaining similarly opposing responses everywhere it went. People started posting it back to my page, tweeting it to me, posting it on my personal page, “did you see this?!” It’s one thing to have the meme fly around the internet and keep landing back to me through people who recognize me and know me, to bring it back to me, but strangely enough last night I had a more remarkable experience of it. I drove back out to the venue where I had fought and had gotten cut in order to be checked up by the doctor who stitched me. I was to meet him outside the front doors where Thais and non-Thais loiter before the fights. As I was waiting outside a total stranger (Farang) walked up to me and told me he’d see me in a meme. The image had gone out from Thailand, bounced around the world a bunch, and then bounced back to my neighborhood. Thais were walking up to me remembering my fight and making observations about my very prominent stitches on my forehead, while he was asking me about how long I’ve been in Pattaya and where I train. I told him that I’m actually at two gyms currently and began to explain that one is because of training under Sakmongkol. “Sakmongkol” he said, he recognized the name and told me that there’s a blog he reads that has someone training with Sakmongkol, at a place that he struggle to remember… “WKO?” I laughed, “that’s my blog; that’s me.” This guy had been reading my blog already and then separately saw this meme, and did not realize the two were connected. Much more amazing, he didn’t see (at first) that the woman standing in front of him with a face full of stitches is that very connection. The internet disconnects, and it connects.
The meme has a life of its own. It re-characterizes the events of my fight as they echo out. Suddenly I’m badass. I do happen to be badass, fighting like a demon over here, but not badass quite in the way the meme pictures it. Interestingly we saw something similar happen in the case of American Muay Thai fighter Kevin Ross in his fight on Lion Fight against Tetsuya Yamoto. Pictures emerged from that fight that showed how blooded Ross’ face was after he too was cut with elbows. Those photos powerfully became the beacon of identification for him in this fight, how “hardcore” he is: the warrior who even when bloodied does not relent. But I’d seen that fight and the image didn’t mean the same thing to me because the resonating image from that fight for me came from how he’d turned his back on his opponent, and the elbows, in a moment of instinctive retreat and ended up running into (and partly out of) the ropes, which is a pretty jaw-dropping move in the context of the kind of Muay Thai performance I watch pretty consistently here in Thailand – “Thai culture” Muay Thai. From the commentators’ responses (which were non-responses) and the online comments after the fight, it seemed like none of those viewers had even registered this action – the thing that stood out the most from the context in which I viewed the fight. The lasting image, the still of the fight, told the “truth” that the internet grasped onto: Kevin Ross has no fear.
For me too my bloody image does not completely tell the story. I was losing that fight and indeed I lost that fight. The other half of the image is Lommanee’s hand being raised as the doctor tends to me. I was struggling with her height and was just starting to get my clinch game going, which was to be my one real advantage against this world champion, if I had one. I didn’t keep my guard high or firm, and she did exactly what she should: rip elbows into my exposed head. First round, then second round, just a few pinpoint shots. Thai fighters also think to use elbows on Falang fighters because they know that we can have an unwarrented fear of them and lose heart. Most Falang also don’t train and fight with them often. It is a good tactic, and I’ve seen western fighters wilt from elbows in Thailand. Female fighters have tried to intimidate me with early elbows. They don’t particularly scare me, it’s just another blow, but they are something to be dealt with because they can end a fight and I’ve had a doctor stop a fight (albeit unwarranted) once before. If I was going to win this fight it was going to be in the 3rd and final round, on the upswing in Thai fashion, with my knees. I deprived myself of the opportunity. So this image in the context of the fight shows my mistakes, but as a still image, as a lasting frame, shows something more about the fighter and not the fight.
But in the larger picture, the false truths of both Kevin Ross and myself, the blood dripping down our faces, and the unrelenting forward progress that immediately touches a nerve in those that love Muay Thai, do tell the truth. They are the symbols of the cliche “blood, sweat and tears” made real and literal. People see the dedication in an immediate and simplified way. The images ask and show what is possible. And that I think is what the meme is about. I’m fighting like mad here. I’ve fought 58 fights in 22 months, and I hope to have 100 Thailand fights by May of 2015, fighting about every 10 days. I’m climbing this personal Everest in part so others can climb theirs. I talk to people every day from around the world who are inspired, and they, truthfully, inspire me. Nobody has ever been inspired by someone saying, “you can’t.”
See: Celebrating the Female Bloody Face
I’m not surprised by how many western men are hurrying to defend “Thai tradition” as they see it by telling me, and all women, that we’re disrespecting Thai culture (and Muay Thai culture) by asking to be allowed to fight at Lumpinee. Not surprised, but certainly disappointed. I’m very respectful, perhaps more so than any of these men because I make an effort to be respectful in a culture, tradition, practice that is not respectful to me. That requires more than writing “let the Thais decide” on an internet comment thread.
So let me ask these men this question: if it is of top importance to unquestioningly adhere to Muay Thai custom and tradition: should women in the west be forced to crawl into the ring under the bottom rope? Seriously, I’m asking. Because if you’re taking some of the traditions, why not this one? Do you believe that women are polluting to the ring or dangerous to the male fighters? Because women are allowed in most rings, so how deep is your understanding of why not the top rings. If you don’t believe this, why do you protect or defend this belief for others?
I do understand that men have a hard time appreciating how the “other” might feel when they’ve never experienced this kind of discrimination for themselves. Women are just being “sensitive.” I have repeatedly witnessed men who have zero interest in fighting to be dismissive of my objection to being left out of sparring or clinching in the men’s ring at Lanna – “why don’t you just join in?” Because I don’t have access – these men didn’t even realize that there is a segregated ring, simply because there is no place that they are denied access to. When women see a sign on a ring that says “No Women Are Allowed on Stage” or “Ladies please don’t touch the ring,” it looks like this:
Because it is this:
What are you saving? Honestly.
As mentioned above, this post was written in February of 2014, and my thoughts and feelings on Thai traditions are in constant evolution. My latest perspective is found here Navigating Western Feminism Traditional Thailand and Muay Thai
You can read all my Gendered Experience posts here.