Have you ever heard someone say “I am a man so I don’t have to do that”? The idea of having different gender roles allows us to have different social expectations when it comes to gender. This has confused me ever since I was a child. I have wondered where these ideas come from every single time, since gender differences just seem to be excuses for not doing chores and being lazy, sitting on the couch and letting women do everything, which I consider to be an unacceptable excuse. I was raised in Vietnam, and most of my ideas are from my experiences living there.
“She must know how to cook in order to be valued by her husband’s family”
I think I have heard this a thousand times ever since I was a kid; I was taught that if I don’t know how to cook, I cannot get married or be able to find my true one. I recall questioning, why me? Why women but not men? My grandma told me that since men work so hard earning money to provide for their households, it is reasonable for us (women) to do chores so that we can help them out. In other words, it is our responsibility to do everything that is called “women’s work”, like taking care of children, cleaning the house, cooking, etc.
“You are a girl, it is not necessary to know much or be able to earn a lot of money”
As a child raised in the age of technology, I have been influenced by the idea of equality, especially equal access to education for women, unlike in the 18th century. Women are not supposed to learn. I remember being told to get married just because I didn’t get high scores in one of my classes. This advice may have been well-intentioned, based on hopes for me to have a better future; however, it is still repressive to women like me. I was hoping to have encouragement to do better, to be more; but that has rarely been the case. Ever since I turned 18, I cannot count how many times people have suggested that I just get married and start a family (I just turned 19 a few weeks ago). This is not only a story about me, but about many other girls from similar backgrounds who share the same thoughts and experiences. Regardless of the unlimited love we receive from our families, their expectations of us -their daughters- are still unfair.
“Why are there thousands of book teaching women how to bring back the “spark” in their relationships but very few books teaching men how to have a lifelong marriage?”
This is from one of my married friends. In Vietnamese society, when a marriage ends, people will criticize the woman first before having a look at her story: they assume she didn’t spend enough time taking care of her family, she is unable to cook a decent meal, she neglected her responsibility to get promoted at work, etc. There are thousands of rumors and critiques directed at the wife and few of them actually mention the responsibility of the husband in the marriage. When a marriage ends, the man gets to step into another marriage with “a better person”- our society says; but how about the woman? She won’t be able to have another family since she is divorced. In the rare scenario that she can find someone who accepts her past, that doesn’t mean she won’t be ridiculed by his family. There will be rumors, words of attack, judgment and condemnation from all directions. This is why there is so much domestic violence in Asian families. Husbands know that their wives would never dare to leave them, fearing that they can never find another man.
“You are a girl, so you must practice piano, not karate.”
This is a common generalized assumption toward every girl. People find stories of a girl winning first prize in a karate competition interesting or unusual in Asian culture. I believe that most girls were taught to be feminine in the way we talk or dress and expect to be criticized by others if they act less “ladylike”. I remember when I was a kid, I heard a girl say that she wanted to be an engineer when she grew up and our teacher asked her if she was able to do it since it is a man’s job. I was confused, because there weren’t any jobs that were gender-restrictive in my mind back then. When I grew older, I realized that in spite of her inappropriate words, she was somewhat right, since we have all been witness to this kind of gender discrimination.
If you found everything above unrelated to your personal experience, you should consider the pink tax, which is happening right here in our city. The Pink Tax is an extra amount that women pay for every product they buy that is meant for women. In other words, anything marketed to and for women has a higher price than identical items marketed to men, which means that women have paid more for their products than men ever since they were born. The next time you go shopping, look at the tag of a woman’s hoodie and compare it with a man’s hoodie, you will realize that gender is really a big deal in this society.
As far as I am concerned, gender discrimination is still a global issue, with many layers and in many different forms, even in developed countries like the U.S. Having your whole life determined by gender is highly unpleasant and restrictive, regardless of who you are or where you come from. We are greater than that, we should all have the opportunity to be recognized as anything we want, instead of “feminine” or “masculine”.