Social Issues

“Why are you asking me? You should’ve cooked.”

Yesterday, my brother asked me if I was going to cook.  I told him no, not at the moment.  He went out to buy Panda Express.  When he got back, I told him if he was hungry, he could’ve just cooked.  His reply was what prompted me to write today’s blog.  He said, “Why are you asking me?  You should’ve cooked.”

In order to understand what he meant by “you,” you—my readers— need to get to know my brother just a tiny bit.  He is the youngest son (out of 2) and second to the last in our family of 7 children.  He has barely lifted a finger in his 20 years of life because my mom has always given him what he wanted and needed (Please refer to “The value of a son“).  Although he was born and raised in the United States, the patriarchal Hmong culture has a bigger influence on him than American feminist ideals of equality.  In other words, he believes a woman should serve a man.

Now to the point of my blog: a woman’s role in the home—more specifically, a Hmong woman’s role.  My brother said, “You should’ve cooked.”  You—being a wife, a mother, a daughter, a woman—should’ve cooked.  Why?  Because a woman’s place is in the kitchen.

I can cook and I do cook.  I dislike it when people tell me I should cook because it’s my duty as female.  I should cook because I’m hungry.  I should cook because I want to.  I should cook because it’s part of my duty as a family member to help around the house.  It’s everyone’s responsibility to help in the home, isn’t it?

I don’t cook because I’m a woman.  And most definitely, I won’t cook when someone says or implies that it is my duty as a woman to do so.

The 1950’s housewife is a great example of the ideal image of a Hmong housewife.  Read The Good Wife’s Guide and How to be a 1950’s Housewife if you’re not sure what a 1950’s housewife is or was.  (Don’t take the latter link seriously.  I believe it’s only purpose is humor).  Do we still have 1950’s households in America today?  I wouldn’t doubt it.  What about modern Hmong households like the 1950’s?  Yes and no.

Yes, because a Hmong wife and mother is expected to care for her family, just like a 1950’s housewife.  And no, because in today’s world, she can work in addition to being the perfect housewife.

Here in the United States, more and more Hmong women are getting educated and working.  Many refuse to marry Hmong men because of the strict gender roles.  Even if a Hmong woman marries a Hmong man who doesn’t expect her to cook and clean, his family (parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles) may expect her to do so, so why bother?  For those who do marry into a family who expect the woman to cook and clean, she’ll have to juggle work/school and family.  Just imagine a woman working an 8-hour shift, coming home and being expected to cook, clean, and take care of everyone in the home, all by herself.  There is no rest.  She can’t complain because if she does, she’s a bitch.  (And we all know how much in-laws don’t like bitches).

Family life should be the number 1 priority for a Hmong housewife.  Not her family (as in parents, siblings, and extended family members), but her husband’s family.  Although my mom is feminist in some ways, she still believes in certain traditions, especially that of a married woman’s role.  She’s slowly changing her ways, but not altogether.  She refused to remarry after my parents’ divorce.  My mom encouraged me to attend college.  She encouraged me to stay single for as long as possible.  She encouraged me to work and be independent.  However, because I’m am married, my mom also believes I should be silent, passive, and obedient towards my spouse and in-laws, even if they are wrong.  I have children, so I need to spend my waking hours caring for them if I’m not doing anything important, such as school or work.  What about when I’m overwhelmed and need to get away for a few hours?  Nope, don’t even think about it.  What about going on short trips away from home and leaving the children behind?  Nope, take them along.  No MB-alone-time.  No self-care.  No going out with friends.  Because I’m a woman, a wife, a mother.

Many tell me that I’m not Hmong enough.  Many scold me for being too “Amercanized.”  I beg to differ.  I’m neither not Hmong nor am I too “Americanized.”  I hold onto cultural traditions that I deem important and beneficial in my standards.  I trash traditions that will prevent me and my family (especially my children) from growing to their full potential.  How does that make me not Hmong enough and too “Americanized?”

Times have changed and still is changing (even though it’s a very slow process).  We no longer live in an era where it’s only socially acceptable when a woman stays at home.  We see women pursuing higher education.  We see women engineers, politicians, doctors, and scientists.  We see stay-at-home mothers.  We see stay-at-home fathers.  We see families where there are two mothers or two fathers.  Today, it’s nothing out of the norm.  Family dynamics in the United States are evolving.  A woman’s role is no longer in the kitchen.  She can become anything she wants to without social or cultural restrictions.

16 thoughts on ““Why are you asking me? You should’ve cooked.”

  1. Excellent post. In my part of the country women are expected to be a 50s housewife and hold down a job. Strangely, the men do very little. It remains as my great grandfather used to say “A man’s work is from sunup to sundown. A woman’s work is never done.”

    1. I have heard the first part of that quote, but this is the first time I’ve heard the second part. Great quote. I love it. And where are you from?

  2. Shame on your brother for trying to trap you in an outdated restrictive gender role. Both men and women should cook or learn how to cook. Neither should be expected to cook.

    On the other hand, even though he should learn to cook for himself (instead of relying on the women in his life to serve him), there’s nothing wrong with him getting some Panda Express if he’s hungry.

    1. I agree. Both genders should learn to cook and neither should be expected to cook.

      And, of course there’s nothing wrong with him going to Panda Express. It’s just he complains about being broke all the time and cooking at home would save him money.

  3. Sadly, this reminds me of my own younger brother.
    When he was visiting me for a week a while ago, I had to cook for him every day, despite him knowing full well how much I dislike cooking, and not even just that, I had to cook by his standards too, that means lots of meat. I really don’t like such food at all.
    Now my brother is 20 and he is living on his own. He is used to taking care of himself now. The only reason why he didn’t when he was here, was because I was there, and as his sister, a woman, he thinks that I must take care of him. And as a German atheist family, we don’t even have a strong believe system or traditions binding us. It’s just that society here is not exactly helping that much in getting rid of this old patriachic view on women and lots of German man see it as something good, even the members of my own family.

  4. I cannot believe how your brother behaves. Shame on him! By the way excellent post and I agree that times have change and women are progressing in this day and age, Therefore, whoever says the kitchen is a woman’s place must be so ignorant.

  5. Well, there are various degrees of expectations on assumptions that a woman should cook instead of her male family member.

    Yes, this was somewhat expected in our family. But now my brother cooks somewhat on his own since he has his own place.

    My parents have a traditional marriage where mother was a full-time housewife the whole time. Father was a restaurant cook but after he retired nearly 15 years ago, he does help my mother in the kitchen.

    So yes, he is traditional but also has a good helpful temperment that comes to him naturally that he simply helps out where he can …it is according to what my mother wants.

    Amazing, since that they are the older generation.

  6. Yes! Kudos to you for cooking because you want to, not because you should. I understand that culture and mentality, though, unfortunately. It’s really sad because it doesn’t do justice to the male species. I feel sorry for them for being raised under that mentality. I wish they can see the alternative mindset.

    Thank you for sharing this story. You are brave. I can’t imagine how conflicted and frustrating you must have often felt living in that culture. Keep going, though, keep making the difference. Keep writing.

  7. I’m grateful my brothers aren’t like this because they can cook. But at the same time, if I want them to cook for me, I have to ask them. If I cook, there’s that expectation that I cook for everyone. It can be pretty frustrating.

    Have you ever run across this before as a Hmong woman? My parents would often expect me to cook, yet if I make something, they don’t like what I cook and end up cooking for themselves. It frustrates me when they do this. Don’t ask me to cook if you don’t like what I made.

    1. Diana, my family and I are living with my mom temporarily right now. I cook all the time, but she never eats what I cook. Then she complains about me not cooking because she has yet to eat one of my meals. I really don’t understand it.

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  8. You should not cook for your brother. That is the job of your mother, as long as he is living at home. But when you are married it is your duty to cook for your husband and children. Women have to stay at home to take care of the household and kids. There is simply no 8-hour shift after which a wife is too exhausted to cook and to do the household. No man wants such a wife and God has not planned marriage like this. This modern feminist wives no man needs and can deal with. No wonder about high divorce rates and multiple re-marriages. Women don’t know any more where their place is, and men cannot handle this unnatural situation. As a man I would never marry a modern woman, since this will fail. Men want and like traditional girls, which are not any more found in America. Some find them abroad in still more traditional societies where the women are still teached good behaviour, household skills and knowing their place in marriage. Well, maybe you will find such a woman in a conservative church still in America. But the chances are very low. This new Facebook generation is completely useless and a pure mess.

    1. Truth is, most men don’t like bitches nor bad girls. They want traditional good girls. And yes, every man, including Hmong ones, complain about their women going clubbing and chatting with other men. And women in conservative churches here in America are usually married to American men from conservative churches, which leaves a lot of conservative, religious men single. Another thing, is that domestic violence is high because women are straying from their place. A woman should be silent, mistake free, and obedient. In addition to that, it’s also every man’s right to check his wife’s computer history when he comes home to see if she’s joining adult dating sites, chatting with other men, downloading scantily clad pictures or men or anything dangerous, or looking at men in pornography. Men have the right to discipline women since they are the head of the household.

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