AN ENGLISH LESSON ON WOMANISING
By Andrew Biggs
I am at the end of my little English lesson. Are there any questions?
“What does ‘womaniser’ mean in English?” tweets one young lady.
Well that certainly came out of the blue. On this overcast Tuesday afternoon I was expecting something a little easier to answer such as the difference between “house” and “home”, or how to translate kreng jai into English.
(The kreng jai question is actually not easy at all to answer succinctly. However I am at an advantage because I once wrote a 16-page essay on it, and keep that essay close by so when asked, I just click on a link, saving me time and making me look as though I know what I’m talking about.)
The “womanizer” question is the fault of the Bangkok Post recently published a page-one story revealing that Thai men are nothing but wanton philanderers.
It needs to be explained, before delving into that sexual can of worms, that my “little English lesson” took place on Twitter, the social media platform that allows you to say anything providing it doesn’t exceed 140 letters.
I am proud to say that while size may not be everything when it comes to womanising, it certainly is in the world of Twitter.
I have a Twitter following of 2.4 million. That puts me right up there at the top of Thailand’s Highest-Ranking Twits — is that what you call them? — in terms of followers. I am wedged between stick-thin Thai soapie actresses tweeting about their appearances at trendy Thonglor nightclubs, and Korean-looking male actors extolling the virtues of some whitening face cream. In any other country it’d be the other way around.
And yet there I am, right up there amongst the stars. I have more followers than Aerosmith and KC & The Sunshine Band combined. I am even more stellar in Australia; while researching my Twitter fame last week it turns out I rub shoulders with Hugh Jackman and Miranda Kerr in terms of “Fastest Growing Australian Celebrities”. Did you ever think, dear reader, that your favorite Sunday columnist would have anything in common with a Victoria’s Secret model?
Donald Trump seems to have resurrected Twitter’s relevance, and he may have invented a new colloquial phrase — “twitter rant” — to describe unbridled fury unleashed through this social platform. Recently it concerned his vice-president Mike Pence, a conservative who finds electro-conversion gay therapy more of a turn-on than gay marriage (don’t you just know he has shares in a cattle-prod company?). Pence went to see a Broadway musical performed by some very talented gays, after which those performers asked him to help unify the country. Trump hated that, demanding the cast of Hamilton offer Pence an apology. One hopes Trump doesn’t jump up and down and stamp his feet in the same way when he gets his tiny hands on the nuclear codes.
Trump uses Twitter to rant. I use it to teach.
The reason I am on the Twitter A-list is not for my private life. It is because I teach English on it. It is one of my daily tasks I look forward to, just for the connection with so many Thai people of all ages. None of my followers cares which trendy nightclub I went to, or whitening facial cream I use. You won’t find me ever tweeting my whereabouts. Those tweets wouldn’t befit a fast-growing Australian celebrity anyway: “All alone on my fourth vodka tonic watching internet porn #pathetic #alcoholnumbsthepain”, etc.
Thus my “little English lesson” I referred to in the first paragraph is actually Thailand’s largest English class as I sit down and, for 30 minutes, explain the vocabulary of the day based on news stories. After which I ask: “Any questions?” and the queries flow in.
Trust the Bangkok Post to throw a spanner into the works.
“70% of Thai men womanise” it blasted across a page-one column last Tuesday. The Thai Health Promotion Foundation revealed findings from a survey of Thai men aged 20 to 35 years, the prime target market of aforesaid whitening face cream.
It appears 72 per cent of Thai men have cheated on their partners. Be careful of taking statistical research on face value: Does this really reveal that 72 per cent of men are womanisers, or does it simply reveal that Thai men are honest? Another survey claimed Thai men cheated on women more than any other country in the world, but I would argue the sample populations of those other countries were just better at lying on survey questionnaires. Perhaps we shouldn’t be admonishing the 72 per cent for being womanisers; we should be reprimanding the remaining 28 per cent for not telling the truth.
Even if it is true, doesn’t it take two to tango? One can assume they are philandering with other women, who have husbands and boyfriends too. Why single out just the men?
But let us return to the question of English, since it is English that has propelled me into the Twitter stratosphere, remember?
It wasn’t difficult to explain “womaniser”; I skirted (to excuse the pun) around more colloquial translations and went for formal words like “philanderer” and “having multiple sexual partners”.
But I didn’t get to the top of the Twitter heap on formalities. Soon I was having to explain “snake in the grass” and “skirt-chaser,” which is why I briefly joined the ranks of Hugh and Amanda in terms of new followers. Second-language learners love vocabulary about sex. It sticks in our brains long after grammar and syntax have faded into neuron oblivion.
“Can we use this word ‘womaniser’ with women?” another follower asked.
What an interesting question. Even in these modern times we refer to men as womanisers but the word can be used both negatively and positively. In fact it is almost neutral with a racy element.
But it does raise the “bachelor-spinster” issue of lexical inequality — no, we cannot use the word with a heterosexual woman, but why is it that the only vocab I can think of for a woman who has multiple sexual partners has but negative connotations?
“Flirt” may be okay but it doesn’t have the same raciness as a “womaniser”. A “cougar” brings age into the equation. A “seductress” sounds like something out of Nana Plaza wearing a black mask and clutching a whip. I suggested “man-eater” but this is still a little too slangy when up against “womaniser”.
The answer may be the same as the one for the question about kreng jai — we don’t have one, but we should.
Actually the Bangkok Post committed one of the fundamental no-no’s of journalism with this story; it buried the lead.
Technically it gets let off with just a warning, since it did select the raciest part of the story to put at the top, but there is a more sinister statistic lurking towards the end of the news story. That is, that one-third of Thai men believe married women are “owned” by their husbands.
This is the single most dangerous way of thinking that leads to violence and murder, especially among the less-educated, and needs to be addressed and prioritized way ahead of the frequency of spousal cheating, or the search for a neutral definition of a female womaniser. Even more outrageous: Where do they get off “owning” someone they’re cheating on?
But we are wading into serious waters here.
My “little English lesson” got spiced up thanks to the Bangkok Post and a curious female follower of mine on Twitter. It pushed me into the realms of Hugh Jackman and Miranda Kerr. For that, I have a lot to thank the Bangkok Post, not to mention Thailand’s burgeoning mass of philandering males.