Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the blog posts are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together.

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


  1. I think it is very hard to try to be a good Hmong wife, a nyab, while keeping your identity and your independence. I struggled with this for the first year of my marriage to my awesome Hmong husband - and I still struggle with it occasionally. I really believe we can be good nyabs and also have our own identity, although a definition of a good nyab is different to everyone. I value my independent work as much as my in-laws' opinion of me. I would like to hear more tips on how we feminists can balance being a good nyab while we work towards Hnub Tshiab's mission.

  2. I do believe that we are very limited in our thinking as a community. In my first year as a nyab, I was told once or twice by relatives that I should not be seeking a higher education than my husband as it would make him lose face and it's not right. Also, if I spend time with friends, it is assumed that I am up to no good.

    It is all too common, I am sure most who read this can relate.

    What can we do, as a community, to help fill these gaps? Is it a generation gap?

  3. To L. Vang - I would like to blame it on the generation gap but I don't think that's the issue. I've heard married Hmong women in their 20's say they can't go out with their friends because they're afraid it's bad for their reputation. I think we hear it so much from our relatives and other Hmong women that we put these stereotypes on ourselves. As far as pursuing a higher education, we need to make people understand that when a Hmong woman is successful, her family and her community also thrives. Let's get rid of the Hmong Women Glass Ceiling and support our Hmong girls and women in pursuing bigger dreams. Don't forget to use your husband as an ally!

  4. Love this post. When a husband or male relative stands for strong/and or educated Hmong women, it speaks volumes. I remember one time when my brother did an intership with HND. He was asked by Hmong male relatives what it felt like to work with such "witchy" Hmong women(but they used the "b" word that rhymes with witchy). My brother was so offended that he responded in really strong tone, one that I've never heard him use with adult males and elders, and said, "Do you know any of these women personally? If not, I suggest you not judge them." Silence filled the room. Everyone realized that my brother meant business and no one challenged him. My brother was only a junior in college then but his defense of Hmong women mattered. It mattered more than the voice of many women saying the same thing. We need to pass Maykao's message on to the men of our community so that they too can speak up with us. There is no contradiction. We are all working to better Hmong people as a whole. For male and females.

  5. Until we recognize that supporting and caring about each other, regardless of gender will lift us all up, we will not improve as a Hmong community. Bravo to all the strong Hmong men and boys out there who can add to the chorus with the message of Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together. For all the mothers out there who have sons like me, I hope you ensure that your sons and your daughters are equally educated and gain the confidence to speak out when things like this happen to them in the future.