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.