Social Issues

The Hmong patriarchy and values

The Hmong culture is very patriarchal.  The men make the rules and the women follow them.  The men are the clan leaders.  The men are the head of the families.  The men make all the “big” decisions.  Sons are valuable assets to a family because they are the ones who will carry on the clan name and are expected to take care of the parents in old age.

Women are viewed as second class.  Our role is to simply take care of the men and bare their children.  Daughters are not desirable because once we’re married, we belong to our husband and take on his clan name.  Women are considered properties of their husbands.  Thus, there is a general lack of respect for women and our opinions.  (Too many times have I heard the commonly used phrase, “You’re just a woman; you don’t know anything”).

The Hmong society has very rigid gender roles.  A man should be strong and never show emotions.  A man should have a job to support his family.  He is the “man of the house.”  He should put his wife “in check.”  A man is in control, he is never at fault, and he is always right.  A man’s needs are above that of a woman.

A Hmong woman should be submissive, listen to her husband, and know her place.  She is not encouraged to have an education or a job, although this is changing in America.  And because of this change, it has caused a lot of conflicts in marriages where the husband still holds on to traditional norms or is slow to assimilate.  And in order to control his wife from being educated and/or independent, a Hmong man may resort to domestic violence.

The Hmong put great emphasis on their families, clans, and the good of the group as a whole.  Every major decision made by an individual should be based on how it will benefit the family, not how it would benefit the individual.

Reputation and “saving face” are valued above all.  You should not do anything that will taint your name or the name of your family.  Until you are married and make a name for yourself, you hold your father’s reputation.  If he is a bad person, people will attach his image to yours.  If he is a good person, you will be viewed as a good person and/or people will have high expectations of you to uphold your father’s honor.

Disclaimer:  Women can and do abuse, but statistics have shown that men abuse more than women.  That is the reason why the language in this post is gender-specific to men as the abusers.  Additionally, domestic violence can happen in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages.  Although homosexuality exists in the Hmong, it is still very taboo.  Hmong marriage dynamics are set up for only heterosexuality with very specific gender roles—the wife serves the husband.  And because traditional Hmong culture revolves around heterosexuality and procreation, I will only be focusing on heterosexual Hmong couples.

Discussion question:
How do you think a patriarchal society and high values of family and reputation affect victims of domestic violence?

15 thoughts on “The Hmong patriarchy and values

  1. Hi, my name is La I am doing an independent study on social change in the Hmong community. I’m not yet sure what direction my research will take, but I’m currently conducting interviews. Many issues in the Hmong community relate to common pool resources, and my interviews are touching on questions of resource distribution and allocation in tightly-knit immigrant and refugee communities. I came across your blog and I was wondering if you would like to share with me your thoughts about these things. I’ve read some of your articles and they are very insightful. I thought you would be a the perfect person to ask. I look forward to your reply. Thanks.

  2. Omg! I love you! You say things just like it is! I read through a few of your blogs and your views are so fresh and real. I read some parts of the “baby gender based on male” aloud to my co-worker and laughed so hard, because that’s the kind of things I’ve been saying to my husband, friends and families all these years! We have so much in common. I love a strong-minded hmong woman who is not afraid of what others will think or say about the way she things she THINKS or SAYS! I haven’t read all ur blogs yet (but I will) but I would think ur husband is pretty supportative of your opinions/views too. Mine is pretty cool-with just an occasional “snap” me back to reality (yes, I can get a little ahead of myself at times. LOL). But Kuddos to you and Keep it up! :0)

    1. Thank you. I am very happy, and it feels very validating to know that there is another Hmong woman whom I share beliefs with. And yes, my spouse is supportive. And we respect each other when our views clash, which happens, but not that often.

  3. May I ask your references/resources for the statements you make regarding the Hmong people? Or is it assumptions based off of your own subjective views?

    1. The statements above are written from my experiences and those of other Hmong women I know. They are not assumptions because I (we) live it. You observe, experience, and take note of your culture. Of course, not all Hmong families conform to the patriarchal traditions, so they may not see it in the way that I and many other women see it. I will not deny that some of my opinions may be bias because of the experiences I have experienced as a Hmong woman.

      1. Thank you. 🙂 I understand your point of view. I just wanted to clarify. 🙂 I want to thank you for show casing the domestic violence issues our Hmong society faces, though. It takes guts to point to point it out. 🙂

        I hope some day though, we could have substantial evidence to support what I am sure several Hmong women have faced… or maybe it’s out there and I have not yet have the chance to come across them. If you know any sources, please do tell. 🙂

        1. I know what you mean because we are all hesitant to believe what another write or say if it’s not documented as a study or from a professor, doctor, sociologist, anthropologist, etc. But what’s interesting is that in order to get the information for these studies, the researchers seek out their study population and either interview them, observe them, or ask them to participate in surveys. Of course, I know I’m not right on everything and I don’t ask people to take in everything that I write. These blogs were to generate conversation and thoughts.

          You may want to look up your local domestic violence/sexual assault agencies, especially if you live in a city where the concentration of Hmong is very high (St. Paul, MN; Wausau, Milwaukee, WI; Fresno, Sacramento, CA—to name a few). They may have the info you’re looking for. And speak with a local Hmong DV advocate. They may be able to point you in the right direction.

          1. It is very hard to provide statistics on domestic violence, especially in the Hmong community, because they are reluctant on trusting outsiders. Researchers who are unaware of the cultural norms may seek male perspectives who may give skewed results. They may not outwardly express they are a patriarchal culture, and if they do, often say they are improving by providing womens’ rights group.

            Research in the Hmong community, in general, is limited because they do not allow the outside world to access them.

  4. It’s common in every culture. A woman must shut up and not make moves on men or she’ll get beaten in the face. A man must have a job, education, and money.

  5. Even if women abuse, they get abused back. Also, women are never allowed to express any emotions and interests at all.

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