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.