Thai Culture 101: proper woman VS improper woman

There’s a mismatch between traditional Thai culture and democratic values, a reason why democracy struggles to take hold in the mindset of many Thais.

Democracy requires citizen participation, not just to vote every four years (or in Thailand, whenever the military allows us), but also to participate politically in everyday life. Why? Because politics operate in everyday life.

Citizens are the most potent checks and balances to the government. A healthy democracy needs passionate citizens willing to stand up for their rights and never stop demanding the government do better. Hence, the popular phrase, “ไทยไม่ทน” ( Thai-mai-ton or Thais will no longer endure).

Contrarily, the traditional Thai culture demands us to endure. To bow our heads and accept our lot in life, even in the face of injustice and/or incompetence. Hence, the belief, “ชะตากรรม” (cha-taa-gam), which has a religious undertone. It’s a matter of fate or karma.

In short, democracy is confrontational; traditional culture is passive-aggressive.

Regarding COVID-19 management, on 23 June, Doctor Yuwares Sittichanbuncha posted that she has never been disappointed in the government because she never had expectations that “fish could climb a tree” or “chicken could swim underwater.”

Doctor Yuwares is a respected medical expert and Head of Emergency at Ramathibodi Hospital. She concluded that people shouldn’t waste time on things “they can’t control” (such as criticizing the government). Instead, people should take care of themselves, don’t “drop the guard.”

Add bitting sarcasm to hopelessness. It’s deliciously passive-aggressive.

The following day, Lakkana “Kam Paka” Punwichai went on an expletive-filled tirade against such an attitude. Kam Paka is a talk show host at Voice TV, extremely popular among the younger generation. She’s an accomplished wordsmith and a historian who backup her passionate commentaries with analysis, evidence, and juicy expletives.

Kam Paka believes in hitting back against injustice and never let up on condemning incompetence. She doesn’t shy away from confrontation, and General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s lawyer is suing her for her past criticism.

Hence, the difference between two women, both at the top of their professions:

The traditionally appropriate Thai woman, “เรียบร้อยเหมือนผ้าพับไว้” (proper as a neatly folded cloth) and the “new woman” who isn’t afraid to go head-to-head with even the most powerful men.

On the other hand, whether democracy requires expletives, that’s a matter of taste and preference. But democracy also has options, such as turn to a different channel.

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