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How often is spousal abuse tolerated in the United States? How many women in America do you see completely submissive to their husbands? How many women in Vietnam have an opinion? How many women in Vietnam have the luxury to get manicures and pedicures and facials? How many Vietnamese women have the luxury of time to do anything but work and provide for their family? The differences that women in both cultures live are what make each person who they are. A culture is defined by the ways of its people, different cultures have different ways of life for their citizens.
Through family life, social pressures, and childcare, women in Vietnam play a much different role than women in the United States. The most obvious is in their views of men's roles versus women's. Throughout all of their efforts and work, women are not seen as equal to men in Vietnam. In their culture women are viewed as inferior to men, despite the fact that they do an equal, and sometime more, amount of work. "Because boys had to support a family and fight wars, they were forgiven many mistakes. Because girls received the benefit of their menfolk's labor and sacrifice in battle, they were expected to do nothing wrong." (Hayslip 1990: 22) There was an expectation of perfection for women because they supposedly did not help support the family or fight in wars. There are examples of this in Le Ly Hayslip's autobiography, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, which shows how women not only helped to support their family and fought in wars, but also had to raise the fami
ly, cook meals, and clean the house during the middle of the twentieth century.
At this time Vietnamese women worked almost twenty-four hours a day. From dusk until dawn, and sometimes longer than that, a Vietnamese woman was at work, whatever that might be. If she was not seen working in the fields, she was most likely cooking or cleaning or bringing food to a neighbor. The most important job for a Vietnamese woman was to care for her children. She must provide for their future as best she can, given any circumstances.
She not only had to teach her daughters how to respect men and authority, but to farm "womanly crops" and sew and clean and provide for a family. Mothers were also supposed to buy "gold and jewelry for their children at a tender age so that girls could have a small dowry and boys could buy the tools and livestock they needed to support a family" (Hayslip 1990: 21). The mother of a Vietnamese family was responsible for the lives and futures of her children. She earned this money by tending her "womanly" crops. She would then bury this money for safety, and only dig it up when it became necessary.
Today, women in the United States also work. Not many women work in fields and tend crops, but they have work to do. However, in America there is a larger variation of work for women. More women are taking corporate jobs in cities, while some women stay home to raise their children. Some women are able to do both. In some rare cases men stay home and care for the children, while their wife goes out and works. In the United States more and more women are becoming independent and it is possible for an unmarried woman to "make it." It also works the other way. Men are able to raise a family on their own. However, a lot of people might remarry if something were to happen to their spouse, or in the ever-present case of divorce.
In Vietnam, during Le Ly's life, if a woman was widowed or her husband left for war or a military camp, she was expected to provide for her children on her own. In the case of the husband dying, the wife was expected to handle her family and work without ever remarrying. However, if a man were widowed he "was believed [in]capable of earning a living and raising children at the same time" (Hayslip 1990: 20). Men who tried to do this were scoffed at with the saying "'Ga trong nuoi con!' (There goes a rooster who thinks he can hatch chicks)" (Hayslip 1990: 20). Men were not viewed as being able to raise a family while taking care of his land and worshiping his ancestors. However, it was expected of women. The fact that women were not supposed to remarry could partly be due to the fact that they were supposed to be obedient to their husbands, never betraying them.
From infancy, little girls were taught how to be good wives and daughters-in-law. Le Ly's mother taught Le Ly while pulling weeds one day "how to be a virtuous wife and dutiful daughter-in-law: how to bring [herself] to [her] husband as a virgin and how to take care of the family [she] would have one day." (Hayslip 1990: 10) To be a "virtuous wife" a woman had to be subservient to her husband, not contradicting him in any way at any time. The woman would never stand up for herself or give her own opinion, even if she was right.
Because of this obedience many women were abused without ever leaving their husbands. It was considered absurd for a woman to leave her husband on her own terms. In their culture it was very difficult for a woman to live without a man in her life, even though they are expected to at times. "If a married woman felt abused, she had only to look at an unmarried cousin or widowed sister to learn what life without a man was like" (Hayslip 1990: 21). Women did not have political rights or rights to land without a husband or brother to help her out. It was almost impossible for a woman to survive without a husband. For a woman to actually leave her husband was "unthinkable-a betrayal not only of [her] duty to [her] husband, but to [her] parents as well" (Hayslip 1990: 22).
These beliefs were not abnormal in Vietnam. It was a custom that had been around for generations and not only men enforced it. If a woman were to contradict her husband, she would feel ashamed at doing so. Once Le Ly's mother contradicted her husband in front of many people, and he slapped her. When Le Ly found her mother crying in the kitchen and asked if it hurt "[s]he said she was crying because her action had caused [her husband] to lose face in front of strangers. She promised that if [Le Ly] ever did what she had done to a husband, [Le Ly] would have both cheeks glowing one from his blow and one from hers" (Hayslip 1990: 28). Le Ly's mother was enforcing this strong oppression inflicted upon women, believing that is was the only way things were supposed to be.
In the United States women do not easily succumb to the pressures of men. In the past there has been much discrimination against women in the United States, but now women are fighting back. The Feminist movement brought a lot of women to the realization that they were equal to men. This movement spread across the nation and now women are seen in occupations that used to be predominately male occupations. More women are becoming mechanics, sales people, and doctors, while others are exploring many other professions. There is still some subtle oppression, but women do not accept it as a way of life.
There are many differences between women in Vietnam, during Le LY Hayslip's childhood, and women in modern day United States. There are different views of their role in society, childcare, and of relationships with men. However, there is the bond of womanhood. There will be common struggles and joys among woman of every race. Women in Vietnam will get to watch their children grow up and start a family of their own, as will women in America. Both Vietnamese and American women will at some point watch their country struggle with war or economic crisis. All women will experience a loved one dying, and all women will encounter someone who will change their lives forever. These are the ties that bind women of all nations together.