On September 7th, 2013, a Hmong domestic violence (DV) forum was held in Sacramento. This forum was 1 of 4 held simultaneously across the US on the same day as a memorial service for Pa Nhia Vue, a domestic violence murder victim, and to bring awareness about DV in the Hmong community. I was unable to attend the Sacramento event due to work, but I did read about it in an article in the Sacramento Bee and heard about it from some of the attendees.
I have to admit that the only source I have of this forum is from this particular article and from conversations with some who attended. I understand that words can be taken out of context and manipulated to suit the objective of the writer or speaker. This blog entry is not to stand against this movement. It is constructive criticism.
First, I would like to say that I am impressed that Hmong men have joined in on the conversation of DV. This event is a historic landmark in the CA Hmong community, as it is the first big forum to discuss DV. I don’t know how I feel about that. Happy that we’re finally talking about it, but somewhat sad that in the 30+ years the Hmong have been in the US, this is the first time we have addressed Hmong DV issues in California as a group.
I am going to concentrate on one particular quote in the article mentioned above. I believe it is imperative that we discuss about the issue of male privilege, particularly Hmong male privilege, when we talk about taking action to stop domestic violence.
What is male privilege? This article on finallyfeminism101 discusses it well.
Before discussing “male privilege” it is first important to define what privilege means in an anti-oppression setting. Privilege, at its core, is the advantages that people benefit from based solely on their social status. It is a status that is conferred by society to certain groups, not seized by individuals, which is why it can be difficult sometimes to see one’s own privilege.
In a nutshell:
Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf.
[Betty, A primer on privilege.]
Male privilege is a set of privileges that are given to men as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class. While every man experiences privilege differently due to his own individual position in the social hierarchy, every man, by virtue of being read as male by society, benefits from male privilege.
Mr. Neng Chu Vang was quoted to say, “As of today, Hmong women have the same rights as Hmong men; we have to respect them! We have lived in the US for 30 years, and this is the day we must stand up together and solve the problem of domestic abuse… If there is a problem, call me and I’ll step in—don’t be afraid of the men. If I were you, I would have stood up to them long ago.”
Mr. Vang is probably not aware of the privileges he holds as a Hmong man in our community. He most likely does not realize that life for Hmong women and the struggles that we go through are so very different from his. And for someone to proclaim that “as of today” men and women are equal and for us to have stood up to men long ago just doesn’t sit right with me.
Hmong women have been standing up to Hmong men. Hmong women have been fighting domestic violence. We have advocates all over the US who have been working (in Hmong and mainstream communities) to combat violence against women and children. We have grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, and friends who have stood up against the Hmong patriarchy in public or in the privacy of their homes. Most of these attempts to solve domestic violence have been unheard because we do not have the privileges of Hmong men. Mr. Vang makes it sound so easy and yet here we are, still doing our part to fight domestic violence. This quote, whether or not taken out of context, undermines all our struggles as Hmong women and the hard work we have done and are still doing. The fight against violence against women is not as simple as not being scared of men or standing up to them.
I am not picking on Mr. Vang as I know that many of our Hmong men who are standing up against domestic violence may also not be aware of their male privileges. I am using his quote from the Sacramento Bee article as an example to start this conversation, and hopefully we can be better informed and more mindful of how our privileges can either benefit or deter this movement to end domestic violence.
Another issue: Do the male leaders truly understand violence against women?
Previously to this, many elders and community leaders (all men) have spoken up on domestic violence in various Hmong communities around the US. And that was all that they did. Actions taken to prevent violence against women is minimal to non. The focus is always on female victims in preventing abuse or seeking help from the clan leaders. Very rarely are abusers punished for their acts. And in my opinion, clan council meetings to try to mediate domestic violence does not work.
The problem lies with these leaders not understanding the dynamics of domestic violence. That abuse is not the victim’s fault. That it is not caused by mental illness or alcohol or drugs. That it is not caused by the influence of Western American culture wherein women are gaining more freedom and men are scared of losing women to freedom. The root cause of this pervasive problem within our community is our patriarchal culture. We put emphasis and value on our fathers, husbands, and sons. Women are often viewed as second class beings. The bride price plays a huge role in perpetuating abuse on Hmong women. The denial that our culture causes domestic violence. The list goes on.
I am not saying we don’t need men in our fight against domestic violence. Of course, we need men. We need allies. But these allies need to be educated on the dynamics of violence against women and be aware of the privileges they hold as men in our community. When they are mindful of their male status, they can readily help us instead of telling us, “You can do it because it’s so easy!”