Social Issues

I’m not a bitch, I’m a feminist!

I discovered a word that describes who I am and what I stand for just recently this year. “Feminist.” I’ll write it again, FEMINIST.

Thanks to my mom, I grew up to be a person with a strong sense of morals, values, and ethics. I know what’s right and what’s wrong for me. And I always stand up for what I believe in, more so in the last couple of years.

I never knew what to call this “thing” or “feeling” I had. When someone comments on how a woman deserves her husband beating the shit out of her, or when they blame the wife for her husband cheating on her, I always stood up and said, “NO!”

I think it has a lot to do with the Hmong culture that I grew up in. The Hmong culture centers around collectivism and male dominance. A woman is always second-class. If you join any “jingle-bell” parties (Jingle-bell parties are religious ceremonies that call upon the ancestral spirits for help and/or protection. Without an actual word for it, today’s youngsters call it jingle-bell because the Shaman jingles his/her bells during the ceremony), you’ll find that the women cook the food, yet eat after the men. What does this mean? It means we women eat the leftovers. We’re not good enough to sit at the table and eat with the men.

Many families and clans are changing this situation, but the change is very slow. There are some jingle-bell parties that men and women will eat at the same time, but again, women are not allowed to sit at the main table with the men until they are done eating and has left the table. Women will set their own table outside and eat while the men are dining inside.

Another aspect of Hmong culture that gives a very pronounce message that women are second-class is the structure of a marriage.

Many Hmong still hold onto the belief that a man’s wife is his property. He did pay the bride’s parents for her hand in marriage didn’t he? So, of course it is only right if she obeyed his every word. I find it funny (not ha-ha funny, but the sad kind of funny) that on my wedding day, the man in charge of the wedding told me as my spouse and I stood together in front of everyone:

You are now married. You should cherish your husband like he is your god. His words are gold. He is the man of the house and whatever he says you listen. You cannot question his decisions. Your husband’s head is like his throne. You cannot touch his forehead, because when you do, you have disrespected him. And when you have disrespected your husband, you have also disrespected his family. You as a wife, have to be patient. If your husband cheats on you, you must endure it, even if it causes you pain. If your husband wants to remarry, and if we allow him to, you, as the first wife, should be patient and welcome the second wife. You are now your husband’s property. You cannot look at another man, for when you do, you will have ruined your family’s reputation….

And then my ears seem to have closed up on me because I did not hear the rest. It just became gurgles and gibberish… blah, blah, blah….

This just goes to show that the Hmong culture is all about male dominance and women will and always be second-class. Now, if you’re wondering, my spouse is nothing like the “traditional” man of the house. Thank goodness, because if he is, I wouldn’t have married him in the first place.

And because I have witnessed all this and more my whole life, I have grown to hate it and turn away from it.  I don’t conform to Hmong traditional norms that I feel oppresses women.

People have always called me a bitch. And I have always just accepted it. “Why do you always have to question?” “Why can’t you just accept things as they are?” “Why are you always a bitch?” Because I have to question when it doesn’t make any sense to me. I cannot accept something that seems ridiculous. And call me a bitch however you like. It doesn’t bother me just as long as I know that I stood up for my beliefs and values.

That was what I thought. And then I took a 72-hour intensive training for a volunteer position at a non-profit organization that serves as a catalyst to empower women and children of domestic violence and sexual assault. It was there that I learned what a feminist really is. And boy, did I just fit right in with the women there. We were all individuals who were bound by this strong sense of self. We all had one common thread, and that was we were feminists and believed in feminist ideals.

At first, I thought, “I’m not a feminist. I wear a bra and I don’t think we’re better than any men. I just want to stand up for women who have always been second-class.” But I am a feminist, a modern day feminist. If only I had known that, I wouldn’t have just willingly accepted it each time someone called me a bitch for standing up for my and other women’s rights.

9 thoughts on “I’m not a bitch, I’m a feminist!

  1. Very inspiring! I think that we all feel her pain and her agony about the Hmong culture. As with every society that is patriarchal and male dominated, there will be a constrant struggle for equity – but I hope we won’t be discouraged to stand up for our rights as “human beings”. It’s hot even a gender issue anymore, it’s the fact that you should treat the next person as how you would like to be treated and I know we have a long way to go with our Hmong community. I am hopeful though, and I will continue to advocate for change as well, it may be in tiny, mini steps, but a continuing effort in my own personal way nonetheless….

  2. Sister, your post tells me you are frustrated. I can’t blame you. I do want to let you know that your parents is to blame. They didn’t teach you the virtues of Hmong. You seem to strayed away too far from common culture. You don’t seem to understand the why’s and how’s but your very own self and perceptions. Perhaps taking a course in Hmong culture or talking to a couple senior elders/men/women can help your understanding.

    I want to point out to your comment about “eating last”. The truth is, no one at that table says you, a woman, can’t sit at the table. You are just making your own excuses to hate rich Hmong culture having you no clue what it is about. I think it was you, WHO CHOOSE NOT TO sit at the table because you are afraid of being different from other Hmong women. I challenge you the next Shaman healing rituals (and please stop saying “jingle bell” – this is all you know) ceremony to sit with the men, drink with the men, and talk with the men — just be sure you husband is ok with it everytime you do it. I challenge you to learn Hmoob Traditional Marriage practices – Learn the life stanzas song, learn the Meej Koob process, learn the funeral process, learn to drink cultural based drinking/toasts, and learn to do the spiritual callings at minimum yearly new year calls. Learn to stand up and motivate other Hmong women to do the same thing as men so that you all can handle the table seating.

    Let me give you one last fact my sister: the ONLY THING in the HMONG System you, a fat-ass Feminist can’t do is “laig dab”. Everything else you are absolutely can do. The choice yours. And as far as I know Hmong women prefer not to…because it is too much work for them. They rather laid down and realize that one can’t do everything that a family duties has to be divided among the husband and wife. Hence, your husband is your head and your wife if your body. Love it like yourself would. Take it or leave it but it will come back to you once your reach 35+.

    Good luck…and go motivate those Hmong women…and don’t forget to separate your boundary thinking between PUBLIC and PRIVATE.

    Peace,
    -Shawn

    1. You talk to me as if I know nothing about my culture. I know enough to realize that certain aspects of our culture is detrimental for Hmong women. I am also educating myself as much as I can because you cannot express an opinion on something you know nothing about.

      Please enlighten me on the hows and whys of the women serving the men at these healing ritual gatherings—which is the cause as to why women do not eat at the main table with the men. (Who will serve if everyone wants to eat at the main table at the same time? Of course, not the men). Is it really because we “choose” not to? Maybe you’re right. It’s been the tradition for so long that we don’t question it and we just simply accept it as it is. We should stand to make a change. But how do you think the men would feel if one day, the women were to choose to sit at the main table, eat, and converse with them?

      Today, many, if not all, are criticized, threatened, ostracized by the community for daring to defy against the traditional norms of the Hmong culture. Take a look at a daughter-in-law who does not conform to traditional gender roles. She makes a stance to change the ways, but others may not take it well. I have seen people talk about and shun single Hmong mothers for doing ua neeb rituals, hu plig rituals, weddings themselves without the help of a male head. From what I’ve seen, general Hmong people don’t like and are resistant to changes in their traditions, no matter how small. What you suggest is very ideal, however it doesn’t work as easily as you make it out to be.

    2. I respect your thoughts however, I don’t think anyone is to be blamed here. Culture and customs have been put in place for decades and tho we (Hmong women) can definitely initiate change, it takes the support of Hmong men as well. Yes, no one says we cannot eat at the table but it has been systematically and culturally engrained in ALL HMONG WOMEN not to. And yes, the choice is ours to learn the rituals and perform them but that is not the point here. Learning the rituals wont make us equals- it’s the respect and acknowledgement that matters.

      This is no excuse but rather the truth from a HMONG WOMAN, a feminist.

  3. I love your blogs I, too feel that I am a modern day feminist and will be interning at a domestic/sexual assualt shelter in the fall. It seems like we have similarities, so I look forward to reading more about what you have on your mind because all of it has been so intriguing thus far! 😀

    1. Thank you for reading. Interning at a DV/SA shelter is such a wonderful opportunity. You will learn a lot from this experience. Good luck!

  4. Great post! I can definitely relate- glad to find more Hmong Feminist. It took me a while, even after learning about Feminism, to come out and call myself one. Partly, I didn’t know any Hmong Feminist at the time and it took a lot of courage to take that first step to be different.

    I also wanted to add, after many years of research and studies on gender issues and feminism- be aware of where you get your feminist views. I realize feminism can be different when you wear your cultural lens. Be aware when you wear the Western lens. Dr. Mai Na Lee, Historian Professor at UofM, TC, does a great job of acknowledging and pulling apart different lens regarding gender issues. Take a look at her work.

    Again, thank you for the wonderful post!

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