Tag Archives: nation: Thailand

Stick Figures And Stick Figures Who Parent

A new submission from Amanda C. inspired me to re-post this set of images from 2009.

Following up on our recent posts on representations of “person”, I discovered a set of stick figures from around the world, collected by Steve Portigal.  He has some observations on variations.  From a gender perspective, however, they all look more or less like this one from Bali, Indonesia:


What is interesting for our purposes, though, is this Chinese language example from Bangkok, Thailand:


Do you see it?  In case you doubted it, the fact that the fourth panel includes a stick figure in a skirt (1) proves that the non-skirted stick figures are implicitly men and, on an entirely different note, (2) reminds us that men do not take care of children.

Similarly, these two pictures of warning signs for moving sidewalks (snapped in the Dublin airport) feature “neutral” stick figures, unless a child is involved:



We see the same phenomenon in commercial airplanes, where “flight attendants” still tend to be pictured in skirts.

Amanda C. sent in another example from a hotel in Sydney. When the stick figures are housekeepers, suddenly they sprout skirts!


Sophie pointed out that in Holland, bike traffic lights only include images of what most people would recognize as a “men’s” bike, with the bar across the top, thereby managing to gender the traffic signals without including any figures of people at all (images found here and here):

For what it’s worth, here’s a counter-example from Malmö, Sweden:


Emanuelle, who took the photo and submitted it, says it’s the only time she can remember that she’s seen a silhouette figure like this with a kid where the figure isn’t clearly marked as female.  We’ve a fun collection of traffic lights featuring female stick figures.

We’d love to collect more examples!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

International Data on Cosmetic Surgery

The  International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons has released new data on the incidence of invasive and non-invasive cosmetic procedures.  The U.S. leads in sheer numbers of procedures but, accounting for population, we fall into 4th place.  South Korea leads for the number of procedures per person, followed by Greece and Italy.


By far the most common kinds of surgical cosmetic procedures are lipoplasty and breast augmentation.  Along with fat, breasts seem to be a particular concern: breast lifts and breast reductions for both men and women are also in the top ten.  Abdominoplasty, nose jobs, eyelid surgeries, and facelifts are as well.


The incidence of these surgeries is strongly related to everything from the gender binary to global power dynamics.  In 2008 we reported that male breast reductions were the most common cosmetic surgery for 13-19 year olds (boys and girls combined). You would be shocked at what counts as excess breast tissue and how little the before and after photos look.  Boys and men getting breast reductions, alongside women getting augmentations, is obviously about our desire for men and women to be different, not naturally-occurring difference.  See The Story of My Man-Boobs for more.

Likewise, we’ve posted about surgeries that create an epithelial fold, a fold of skin in the eyelid more common in people with White than Asian ethnic backgrounds.  This surgery is a trend among Asians and Asian-Americans, as colonization has left us with an association between Whiteness, attractiveness, and power.

The Economist summarizes some other trends:

Breast augmentation, the second biggest surgical procedure, is most commonly performed in America and Brazil. Buttock implants are also a Brazilian specialty, as is vaginal rejuvenation. Asia is keen on nose jobs: China, Japan and South Korea are among the top five nations for rhinoplasty.

More on where and how many procedures are being performed, but nothing on why, at the ISAPS report.

Image at The Economist; via Global Sociology.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Explaining Reduced Beef Consumption in the U.S.

As a member of a cattle-raising family, I hear a pretty steady stream of complaints about people eating less beef, which is variously attributed to a conspiracy against the American rancher (possibly by terrorists), the result of stupid city people who get all terrified over every little health concern (Mad Cow Disease is a myth! Unless it’s a terrorist plot to ruin ranching), environmentalists, animal rights activists, and me (I’ve been a vegetarian since 1996 and thus single-handedly nearly destroyed the beef industry).

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is similarly concerned about reduced beef consumption. And given that we frequently hear about the connections between red meat consumption and health concerns such as heart disease, and are advised to substitute white meat for red meat (to the point that the pork industry began branding pork as “the other white meat”), you’d probably expect to see a dramatic decline in consumption of beef.

And we do see a decline, but not as much as you might expect, as this graph from the Freakonomics blog, sent in by Dmitriy T.M. and Bryce M. (a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), illustrates:

Clearly beef consumption has declined since its peak in the late 1970s, when people in the U.S. ate nearly 90 pounds of beef each per year, to closer to 60 lbs. each today. On the other hand, all those health warnings, disease scares, and environmentalist-vegetarian terrorist plots haven’t yet knocked beef out of its position as the most-eaten meat in the U.S. Clearly, chicken seems poised to take over that position, but beef doesn’t exactly appear to be falling off the charts.

So how do we compare to other countries in terms of overall meat consumption? In a 2003 article in the Journal of Nutrition, Andrew Speedy provided data on global meat consumption (defined as “beef and buffalo, sheep and goat, pig meat and poultry”) — note it’s in kilograms, not pounds, and the legend should be read across, not down (so the first bar is for the U.S., the second is for France, and so on):

So insofar as there has been a decrease in beef consumption in the U.S., and more dramatic increase in chicken consumption: what’s going on? The Freakonomics article presents an explanation:

A study by the agricultural economists James Mintert, Glynn Tonsor, and Ted Schroeder found that for every 1 percent increase in female employment, beef consumption sank by .6 percent while chicken consumption rose by .6 percent. Why? Probably because beef takes longer than chicken to prepare, and because poultry producers did a good job marketing cheap and ready-to-cook chicken products. Furthermore, all those working women meant more household income, which meant more families eating in restaurants — where meals are less likely to contain beef than meals at home.

Health concerns do play a part; the authors found that negative media coverage of beef (either recalls due to contamination or general links to heart disease, etc.) reduced consumption, while positive coverage that linked eating meat to getting iron, zinc, and other minerals increased it. But they found that health effects were small compared to the effects of changing family dynamics — that is, women working outside the home and families eating fewer meals at home.

It’s a nice example of how the factors driving social changes are often much more complex than we’d expect. Common sense explanations of changes in beef consumption would, I think, a) overestimate how much less beef Americans eat than in the past and b) assume the major driving factors to be health-related concerns, whether about chronic disease or recalls. Yet it turns out a major aspect of the story is a structural change that doesn’t seem clearly connected at all.

I guess if I were a health advocate hoping people in the U.S. were starting to listen to messages about healthy eating, that might depress me. But I guess I can tell my grandma that the terrorists’ evil plans to infect U.S. cattle herds with Mad Cow or some other disease might not be as catastrophic as they might imagine.

UPDATE: As a couple of readers point out, the increase in chicken consumption can’t be explained just as a result of people eating chicken when they otherwise would have eaten beef; the drop in beef consumption is way overshadowed by the increase in how much chicken people eat. The total amount of all meat eaten each year has increased dramatically.

I don’t know what is driving all of that change, but I suspect a lot of it is marketing campaigns — not just directly to consumers, but efforts by industry groups and the USDA to get more meat into a wide variety of items at grocery stores and on restaurant menus, as they have done with cheese.

Ethnic Curiosities: The Trouble With Tourism

Reading Resist Racism, I found a link to an article in this Sunday’s Washington Post by a journalist by the name of Amit Paley who chronicled her exploration of “tribes” in Thailand.  The article is a study in class privilege, with a global twist.  It begins with the sentence: “You can see almost anything in the world if you pay enough.”

She wanted to see women of the Padaung (or Kayan), who are from Burma but now live in Thailand as refugees.  The Kayan women are famous for wearing brass rings around their necks, leading to the illusion of an elongated neck created by the depression of their collarbone.


Paley writes:

Ever since I glimpsed the Padaung as a child in my grandfather’s National Geographics, I had wanted to see these curious women, who suffer painful disfigurement to emerge as graceful beauties.

Her description of human beings, indirectly, as curiosities, combined with the comment that you can see “anything… if you pay enough” (my emphasis) is an excellent example of the objectification of ethnic others.

Paley’s desire to see these women is almost thwarted by the majority of tourist companies in Thailand who describe her effort as exploitative and immoral.  They even suggest that the women are “prisoners held captive in the villages by businessmen” making money off of tourism.  This is confirmed by Wikipedia, for what it’s worth.

This doesn’t stop Paley, who keeps asking until she finds a company that will take her to one of the remote villages in which Kayan women live.

The women she meets confirm that they wear traditional garb, continue traditional practices (such as the brass rings), and are even forced to remain in the villages, in order to attract tourists.  Men, largely, appear to be exempted from earning their keep in this way.

Paley says that one powerful male village member said that the women “must wear the dress because of tradition” and “spoke excitedly about its appeal to tourists and noted that half of the village’s income of $30,000 a year comes from tourism.”

A woman in brass rings told her “We do it to put on a show for the foreigners and tourists!”

Tourists enjoying the show:


Paley finishes with this lackluster reflection:

So is it unethical to visit the long-necked women? It is clearly true that money spent to visit them supports an artificial village from which they essentially cannot leave. On the other hand, many of them appeared to prefer living in virtual confinement as long as they are paid and safe. According to what they told me, their situation beats the alternative of living in a repressive country plagued by abject poverty and hunger.

I don’t feel guilty about visiting the Padaung, but my feelings might be different if I had traveled solely as a tourist rather than as a journalist. And I certainly don’t like their lot in life:  Shouldn’t everyone have the freedom to live and travel wherever they want?

Well, Paley has shown that she certainly does have that freedom.  And she is apparently willing to use her “journalist” identity to justify just about any advantage that her privilege affords her.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

“Looks Can be Deceiving”: Black Men are Scary

Sabrina W. sent in this ad for an herbal toothpaste (from Thailand?), found at Sinosplice (originally found here):

I don’t quite know what to make of it. I mean, in theory it would be a nice message that stereotypes are often extremely misleading. But “looks can be deceiving” applying to Black people? It’s not actually undermining the idea that Black men look scary (just like herbal toothpaste might look disgusting), it’s just that it turns out that in some cases, they’re actually nice, kind people! And presumably the toothpaste tastes better than it looks.

I will say, it’s interesting that the woman is afraid the Black man is going to hurt or maybe kidnap her child. In the U.S., I don’t think that’s usually the major concern–there’s the stereotype of Blacks as muggers, and women (particularly White women) often fear that they might be sexually aggressive, but I don’t think Black men are usually depicted as child molesters or kidnappers here–the stereotype of those groups is usually of middle-aged White men.

Thanks, Sabrina!

Burger King’s “Whopper Virgin” Campaign

MissCegenation (see her take over at Reciprocal Crap Exchange), Miguel E. (of El Forastero), Breck C. (also of Reciprocal Crap Exchange), Rachel N., Laura M.D., and Z. (of It’s the Thought that Counts) all sent in links to Burger King’s “Whopper Virgins” viral video campaign (we’ve never had so many people send in the same thing; clearly it touched a nerve):

There are several interesting things going on here. One is the exoticization of the “whopper virgins.” The taste tests were conducted in Thailand, Romania, and Greenland. We’re clearly supposed to find it charmingly cute that they’re unfamiliar with hamburgers. They don’t even know how to eat them! We get to see people taking their “first bite of a hamburger,” and wonder at their unfamiliarity with how to pick one up and eat it. This short video about the Thailand taste tests illustrates this with the dramatic voiceover about people who have “never even seen a burger. Who don’t even have a word for burger.”

There’s also a certain level of ethnocentrism here; note the comment that these are people who “really live outside of things.” That all depends on what you mean by “things,” which here seems to be defined by exposure to TV and hamburgers. The implicit understanding, of course, is that these are people who live in a backward, “traditional” culture, which is fascinating to outsiders but, ultimately, very bizarre. However, I am sure that if asked these people would feel they live “inside of” many things, just not the things considered important to this marketing team.

You might also use this to talk about the pervasiveness of advertising. As the video makes clear, they went to Thailand, Romania, and Greenland in hopes of finding people who hadn’t been exposed to Burger King or McDonald’s advertising, since it would be “impossible” to find such people in the U.S.

I also think the documentary element to the video is fascinating. I’m assuming the teams did travel to these areas, and the video claims they are all “real people,” not actors (who are, apparently, imaginary). But I have a suspicion that some elements were staged. Of course the taste-tests were staged, but I notice that almost everyone in the videos is wearing “traditional” clothing. I might be wrong, but it doesn’t strike me as the type of clothing people would wear every day–they seem like pretty fancy clothes that you’d wear for special occasions, but maybe I’m wrong. If anybody knows more about how people in these areas usually dress, let me know. Of course, it’s entirely possible that people dressed up in their fancier clothes entirely on their own because they wanted to look nice when being filmed. But I wonder if they were encouraged to dress in clothing that would make them seem more exotic, rather than showing up in a t-shirt (which is, by now, fairly universal, though I’m certain there are still groups who have not adopted t-shirts).

The second half of the video, where the Burger Team goes to villages in each country and makes them Whoppers, is also interesting in the way it portrays the team as philanthropists giving these communities a unique cultural experience. I mean, I guess they are, and I don’t want to fall into the trap of romanticizing “traditional” groups and implying that they should be shielded from “modern” innovations because it would ruin their culture. And it doesn’t seem like the marketing team is really trying to build brand loyalty, since it’s unlikely they’re going to be opening stores in any of these areas (although they do make sure to wrap the burgers in Burger King wrappers). It does, on the other hand, make the video seem more like a documentary and less obviously like a commercial, which adds to its effectiveness as a viral ad. I dunno. Maybe this is just an example of a corporation doing something nice, and I can’t get over my general distrust of marketers.

Another interesting angle you might bring up in discussion is the spread of fast-food culture and standardized, relatively cheap production processes in general, often referred to as “McDonaldization.” There’s also an entire book on the subject of McDonald’s in Asia, called Golden Arches East: McDonald’s in East Asia (edited by James L. Watson). I sometimes assign the chapter “McDonald’s in Hong Kong: Consumerism, Dietary Change, and the Rise of a Children’s Culture” in my intro classes to talk about cultural change; it’s fascinating how McDonald’s is to some degree undermining parental authority by appealing directly to children and empowering them to demand their favorite meals.

Laura sent us a link to a story about criticism of the campaign, found here.

And just an aside here: What’s the difference between a “village” and a “small town”? The word village seems to bring up certain assumptions about both quaintness and backwardness (and cultural isolation). I grew up in a town of slightly less than 300 people. Nobody ever called it a village. Is it a village if you don’t have paved roads, and a small town if you do? I’m just askin’.

Thanks to everybody who sent the video in!

Questioning the Benefits of “Rescue” from Prostitution

Many believe that all women involved in prostitution are desperate for rescue and that being rescued always and inevitably leads to a better life for women and their families.  Myra M. F. sent us a link to this poster, made by brothel workers in Thailand, begs for an end to attempts to rescue them. Laura Agustin, who took this picture (and blogged about it here), writes:

This poster comes from the EMPOWER centre in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where brothel workers gathered to discuss recent raids and rescue operations. On the left they have written a list of reasons why they do not wish to be rescued by police, ngo or charity workers.

The text (as transcribed by Agustin):

• We lose our savings and our belongings.
• We are locked up.
• We are interrogated by many people.
• They force us to be witnesses.
• We are held until the court case.
• We are held till deportation.
• We are forced re-training.
• We are not given compensation by anybody.
• Our family must borrow money to survive while we wait.
• Our family is in a panic.
• We are anxious for our family.
• Strangers visit our village telling people about us.
• The village and the soldiers cause our family problems.
• Our family has to pay ‘fines’ or bribes to the soldiers.
• We are sent home.
• Military abuses and no work continues at home.
• My family has a debt.
• We must find a way back to Thailand to start again.

Many activists in the U.S. similarly argue that the policing of prostitution, ostensibly to “protect” women,” serves to criminalize them (and not so much their johns) and ultimately makes their lives more difficult and dangerous than they would be otherwise. (See, for example, Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics or COYOTE.)

See also posters against the criminalization of prostitution.

Thai Lightbulb Commercial

What do you think of this?

Found at blogofstench.