This article is from my personal experience and view. It is not intended to generalize people with similar circumstances.
Not all traditions are good, and not all are bad, but some are outdated. Not everyone in Thai society is traditional, some are progressive and some are not, but some outdated traditions persist.
I’ve lost count of how many times someone told me I was aggressive and intimidating. But I don’t believe I am. I use my voice to address issues. I give my perspectives and do what I love.
I’ve been living in this world for 16 years and experience a cultural tradition that tells me how I conduct myself is not how a “poo-dee” should behave.
“Poo” is a person. “Dee” is good.
A poo-dee means a good person. But in common usage, it describes someone of the upper class.
A poo-dee (someone who is good) is of the upper-class; this is Thailand’s social hierarchy.
In the 21st century, as a young Thai girl, I’m still expected to behave as a poo-dee.
A girl should be submissive
Whenever I have conversations with adults, many of them somehow expect me to agree with them because they’re the adults. They expect me to nod my head, smile, giggle and say “toog ka” (“you’re correct, sir/ma’am”), even though at times I believe they are wrong, not just in their mindset, but also ethically wrong.
It’s not just about being “poo-dee” either; traditionally Thai girls of any social or economic backgrounds are expected only to nod head, smile, giggle and agree to everything.
A girl is more valued for her looks, not her brain
The image takes priority over everything. The entertainment and commercial industries tell us this. It’s not just about looking good aesthetically but also looking wealthy. This problem isn’t only in traditional society, but also in modern society.
With this mindset, I’m told that what I wear should be expensive. Many parents who call themselves poo-dee expect their children to look as expensive as everyone else in the class.
It’s about the family image. Wearing outfits that don’t look expensive brings shame to the family.
Wealth will get you far; looks are a must; connections are a plus.
First, look rich, which means look good.
Second, get a fancy degree.
Third, get an education.
A girl should only say what other people want to hear
Confrontation is not in the dictionary of poo-dee. The voice that takes priority over our own are those of the adults, and I assume later in life, the voice of our husbands.
As Thai girls, the expectation is to make sacrifices, to take the back seat and to say the right thing, which is either agreeing or complimenting, usually agreeing and then complimenting.
No wonder women are abused and exploited.
If we are expected to be less, then obviously we will be treated as the lesser.
A girl should be an actress
Many of us are taught that to get love and attention, or simply to get what we want, instead of standing up and speaking out, we should “ngon,” which is to sulk and run away.
The boys are then expected to “ngor,” which is to give in and ask for forgiveness. So that in the end, we girls would get love and attention, and whatever we want.
I think this means that Thai girls are never supposed to grow up. We are supposed to always be a child.
A girl’s ambition isn’t supposed to be bigger than a boy’s
I don’t have to go to a better university. I don’t have to work as hard as the boys. I should be nonchalant and just listen to male’s problems.
All this means is, I should spend my life getting ready to become what society considers a good wife and mother.
These problems are not uniquely Thai, but I can only talk about my own experiences.
I’m not writing this because I’m a feminist. I’m writing this to say that for us to move forward, we need to start having new conversations. We need to start pushing kids to break out of their bubble and do what they love, teaching them to prioritize themselves and to know what self-worth and self-love are.
If we continue to mold girls to specific criteria to be validated by outdated norms, there can be no change or progress.
It’s time to have new conversations.
Not on what a Thai girl should be, but on what a Thai girl can be.