Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sex, gender and social change: One Cambodian blogger tackles taboos




Sex, gender and social change: One Cambodian blogger tackles taboos

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A Cambodian blogger, using the pseudonym Catherine Harry, records a video for her blog in her Phnom Penh apartment. tang chhin sothy/afp

Sex, gender and social change: One Cambodian blogger tackles taboos

by Joe Freeman and Suy Se

Sex toys, infidelity and penis size are generally hush hush topics in conservative Cambodia, but not on a taboo-busting video blog called “A Dose of Cath” that unabashedly wrestles with the risqué, drawing both applause and abuse in the patriarchal country.

Hosted on Facebook, the show by a 23-year-old Cambodian woman tackles the finer points of sex education, women’s health and gender imbalances in a country where the #MeToo movement has barely registered.

A recent episode on a well-known 19th-century Cambodian poem that used to be taught in schools and advises women not to laugh too loudly gained nearly 350,000 views.

The videos feature Catherine Harry, the pseudonym of the self-described feminist who was featured in Forbes’s 2018 “30 under 30” list of outstanding leaders and entrepreneurs in Asia.

Having ditched her birth name more than 10 years ago, Cath is following in the footsteps of other Cambodian writers and media personalities turning to blogs and social media to make a name for themselves.

But few have waded so deeply into the sensitive social issues that Cath confronts in short no-frills monologues filmed in her Phnom Penh apartment.

“What I expect to get from what I’m doing, from my videos, is to start a conversation, because the topics that I talk about, people don’t really talk about,” she said.

Those include premarital sex, whether to watch porn in a relationship, cervical cancer and sexual assault.

Statistics point to an urgent need for such conversations in the Kingdom where one in five Cambodian men surveyed as part of a 2014 UN study admitted to having committed rape.

Cath has shared her own #MeToo experiences to help spur debate but said those who speak out in Cambodia face victim-blaming or even violence.

“If a woman talks about her experiences of sexual assault or sexual harassment, she will be rejected by society, by her family, her friends,” she said.

And while 65 percent of all businesses in Cambodia are run by women, the country’s major political and financial institutions are still male-dominated.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has tried to court the youth through his own Facebook page and graduation speeches.

He also dispenses advice to women on how to live, telling female garment workers on May 23 that it was better to have only one partner so “there is no worry about AIDS”.

“This is a message to youth to do good things,” he said in his remarks, which were broadcast live on his Facebook page. The premier is set for a landslide victory in general elections next month.

Cath, who studies mass media at Pannasastra University in Phnom Penh, started the “vlog” in early 2016 and it is now a full-time job, monetised through product placements for skin care companies and a brand of condoms.

“I don’t want everyone to agree with me, but I want people to start questioning society,” she says.

Raymond Leos, one of her professors, brings up Cath when discussing a wider trend of students moving beyond traditional career paths and family expectations.

“They’re very technologically savvy, they’re very sophisticated, and they’re very independent in their thinking,” he said.

“A Dose of Cath” has found a ready audience in a country where one-third of the 15 million population is under 30 and smartphone usage has more than doubled over the past five years, helping her amass more than 200,000 followers on Facebook.

One video posted last year dealt with female virginity, an issue in a country where many women are expected to wait to wed before having sex.

“Women are not a walking vagina, an object that’s only valuable when they haven’t been touched, or a white cloth that once stained, can’t be washed away,” she said in a post viewed more than two million times.

The comments section below was typical of the polarisation of her content.

One viewer praised Cath for being “brave enough to speak up” on the issue, but other posts were crude, with one saying that “used and new products” are not the same.

Cath says men have harassed her by sending pornographic images to the account, while she is frequently accused of denigrating Khmer culture and being indecent.

“I’ve been called a sex demon,” she said. “But then again also many young people are inspired by what I’m doing.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Body of woman killed in Bangkok returns

    The Cambodian embassy in Thailand is working to repatriate the body of a casino dealer who was shot dead in Bangkok on Monday night. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Kuy Kuong told The Post on Wednesday that officials are preparing paperwork to

  • Chikungunya hits 15 provinces, says gov’t

    Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said on Thursday that the chikungunya outbreak in the Kingdom has spread to 15 provinces. Some 1,700 people are now suspected to have the disease. Vandine urged people to prevent its further spread by eliminating shelters for the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes

  • Gov’t exempts visa A and B holders from Covid fees

    Airline passengers who are diplomats and officials of international organisations holding Type A and B visas for travel to Cambodia are exempted from paying Covid-19 testing fees, said the Ministry of Health in its latest adjustment of rules on Wednesday. Health Minister Mam Bun Heng

  • Bill covering dress code draws ire

    Ministry of Interior secretary of state Ouk Kim Lek responded on Tuesday to criticism concerning a draft law that would ban women from wearing overly revealing clothing, saying that input from all parties will be considered as the law moves through the promulgation process. Several

  • Passing the test: Is Cambodia’s education system failing its people?

    The Kingdom’s education system needs to grow its people but some flaws might stifle​ this growth Coming from the Khmer Rouge occupation, with the loss of many scholars and academicians and a collapsed government, the education system had to be reconstructed from scratch – one

  • What’s the deal with Cambodia and China’s FTA?

    Cambodia’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China kicks off a series of FTAs in future but for now, critics wonder what else the parties could bring to the table apart from what it already has to date By the end of this year, Cambodia