Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Together, We Can Achieve More
Why it is that others think it is contradictory to be in a strong marriage with a Hmong man and to be a feminist? Perhaps it is because we are limited in our thinking as a community.
The act of Hmong women across different clans giving each other support and friendship can be seen as threatening by some. I talk regularly to Hmong women are discouraged from joining in the work to improve the lives of Hmong women. I’ve been a part of Hnub Tshiab for 15 years, and ultimately, there is a woman who can’t join us even for a simple event or activity because her husband won’t allow it. Without even knowing about us, there is already prejudice. The sentiment is usually as follows: if it is an organization founded by Hmong women, we must be up to no good. There must be something shady or awful that happens there. I have been told by others that an educated Hmong wife will cheat on her husband or run away, and that a Hmong woman who is not busy and pregnant is not a good woman. It saddens me that these beliefs will still be alive when my daughters grow up, chipping away at their personhood and sense of identity. Let’s look at the reality of the world we live in and truly see and understand that in societies where woman and girls are supported and uplifted, the entire community improves economically and socially.
As a family, we’ve worked hard to eliminate differences in how we treat our children according to gender and in how we treat each other. As partners in life, it can be hard to go against the cultural grain. For example, it is not easy for my husband to support me because of what others see as his lack of “manly behavior” by supporting his feminist wife. He’s been asked how it’s like to be married to me; more in sympathy than in support. Every now and then, a relative will insult me because of my work with Hnub Tshiab’s right there and in front of others. I know that I am not helpless. I have a mouth. I can speak up on my own behalf. However, it still matters culturally that my husband speaks up for me when I’m being put down by his relatives or mine. And to my delight, he does speak up. There’s nothing unmanly about that. And I know that each time he does, he commits an act of social change – going against the grain just a little bit so that I can become more of who I want to be as a human being and less of who others think I should be. My life is improved. I feel powerful. And, I wonder how I can help others get here in their marriages.
I guess, if I really think hard about it, we simply hold different beliefs from those stated above: that educated and successful Hmong women will lift us all up, that they will not run away or cheat on their husbands, and that just because we are working to improve the lives of our Hmong daughters doesn’t mean that we love our Hmong sons any less. It’s simple. See? No contradictions.
MayKao Y. Hang, President/CEO Amherst H. Wilder Foundation