ELIZABETH NAAI WRITES – Do uniforms foster a collectivist culture, or a class system? Thammasat University’s second year student, nicknamed Aum Neko, believes forcing students to wear uniforms violates the individual’s freedom of expression. A relic of sexual objectification, and domination, Neko released a provocative campaign of posters exploring Thailand’s fascination with school uniforms.
Thailand’s students are required to wear uniforms from kindergarden through high school, a full fifteen years. Tradition carries into the universities; Thammasat requires ‘appropriate dress,’ but some professors require uniforms for class attendance and test taking. Neko responded by posing in four sexually risque posters plastered around the school campus. It goes beyond fashion for this transgender woman – she believes forcing students to wear uniforms violates their freedom of choice. The wearer must submit to culturally specified gender roles, subjecting the individual to socially acceptable norms. Neko believes students should have the choice to wear uniforms, but their university involvement should not hinder on participation in the tradition. Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, Thammasat’s Vice Rector of Student Affairs, concedes on Neko’s point, citing that Thailand’s entire population would be disciplined if it correlated with wearing uniforms. The issue is not Neko’s campaign; rather, Prinya condemns the vehicle of protest.
The sexually charged images offended the university, and were removed effective immediately. Intended to incite discussion, the highly contested images beg the question, does one right end where another one begins? And how do we draw the ‘right’ line? Uniform traditionalists claim Thai culture is more collectivist than the West, and criticize Neko’s gross focus on the individual over the group. The images offended some, and they believe their rights were violated. But Neko contends her right of expression is violated, and sometimes, a little civil disobedience doesn’t hurt.
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