I came across a blog post by chelseyx asking why Hmong men are not up to par with Hmong women in terms of education and career. Her observations are that we do not push the males as much as the females. Because of the oppression females go through in our culture, they have more support—either from family, friends, or organizations—whereas the males have been neglected and pushed to the sideline. I agree, but I also have to add to this thought. (I started to leave a comment, but it ended up being an essay, so that’s why it’s a blog post instead).
If you have read my previous blog posts (here, here, and here), you have learned that in the patriarchal Hmong culture, the males are valued over the females. And when gender bias happens, many may not be aware that they’re enabling those they’re favoring. In Hmong families, the behavior of caring so much for the sons enables them to be unmotivated or be satisfied with life as it is and not strive for better. Why? Well, because every time they need something (money, food, a car), someone hands it to them. Who wants to work (or have a better-paying job) when your family provides everything for you already? Honestly, I wouldn’t. This may be the cause as to why more and more Hmong men do not have college degrees, are not working, and spending their days on COD or DotA.
Hmong society expect Hmong men to be breadwinners. Once married, Hmong males—regardless of age—are expected to grow up and take responsibility of their parents and the home that their parents have built—this includes bills and unmarried siblings. It is a huge responsibility for one person to tackle. I have seen this expected obligation lead to bitter resentment, but that’s besides the point of this blog. Maybe another time.
Unmarried Hmong men, however, do not have many responsibilities within the family. I believe this is due to the belief that a man does not become a “man” until he is married. A 13-year-old married boy is considered a man. A 30-year-old man is not considered a man if he has never been married. How do Hmong society expect Hmong men whom they have enabled to uphold the responsibility of a patriarch? Responsibility shouldn’t just be thrown onto a person the day after marriage, but should be taught gradually since birth.
Additionally, the more education a man has and the better the pay of his job, the more responsibility he will be given by his family. I have heard one to many comments from parents to their children, “You’re the one with a better-paying job (or education), so why do you expect your brother (who is a high school drop-out and plays video games all day) to get a job and help you with the bills?” This goes back to enabling. Why would Hmong men want to better themselves when they’re getting the golden treatment? Of course, we know that this is detrimental to one’s growth as a person, but the caring parent does not see it.
Hmong females, on the other hand, may see how oppressive the Hmong culture is and strive for better. Some girls do not have family support and have achieved (or are achieving) their life goals solely by themselves. Others are surrounded by family during their struggle to break through the cultural barrier that prevents a female from attaining a college degree and becoming a professional. And we would think that in today’s time, we all should encourage our boys and girls to strive for higher education and successful careers. However, there are mixed feelings about females in academia and professional careers in the Hmong culture. Some see it as uber important, while others view females as merely wives and mothers, nothing more.
When you hear over and over again that you’ll never amount to anything but a uterus that will be married off to another clan and bear a household full of children, what would your response be? Most likely, it’ll be “Hell-to-the-effin-NO!” And you will do whatever it is to prevent yourself from becoming the “typical” Hmong woman. And because many Hmong females have walked the life that others have paved for them (their husbands, in-laws, parents), they encourage and try to empower others to be free from the constraints of traditional norms and live their lives how they want to.
Education, in my mind, has always been the key to a better life. Education opens up so many opportunities that would have never been possible—away from the cultural restraints that I grew up with. And maybe this is the reason for many women as well. Maybe this is the reason why Hmong women are doing better than Hmong men?
(3/28/12) Note: Not all Hmong parents/families give sons the golden treatment.