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.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Selling Out?

I was asked recently by a young Hmong woman who wondered if agreeing to serve drinks, greet guests, and not wear shorts in public so that Hmong elders would be comfortable was “selling out” on my values of being a liberated Hmong woman who believes in gender equity. 

Let me set the record straight. How I chose to work on gender equity and social change means that I get to decide how much of a feminist I truly am and feel empowered to make choices. I actually do not object to serving drinks. What I object to is when there is a lack of choice and when woman are treated disrespectfully and demeaned for these contributions to society. In my own life, I have decided to meet our Hmong community where it is at so that social change can be made respectfully, consistently, and without apology. Intentionally causing discomfort at times so social and cultural change can happen is a strategy that could be used more frequently, but this is just not me. Agitation is just fine, but it has never been my cup of tea. I’ve learned over the 15 years of working with cultural, social and institutional change to improve the lives of Hmong women, that in order to make social change happen in a way that is constructive and helpful in the Hmong community, it is actually better to be steadfast, consistent, and stick to my values day in and day out.  

I seek to first understand any arguments before making counterarguments. So often, I hear the arguments from others about why the mission of Hnub Tshiab just won’t be successful, even before any of our arguments are heard or even understood. People are already sure that they understand our mission. How could they understand it when they have refused to engage and listen? It is no secret that the first person to be employed in our organization on substantial basis is actually a Hmong man. 

Just as I have decided never to defend whether I am “Hmong enough” for others in the Hmong community, I have decided never to defend whether or not I am “feminist” enough for those more radical than myself. No one can define us but ourselves. I know what my values are and who I am. The question is whether others understand this for themselves. As former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt expressed, “No one can make you feel inferior but yourself.”  

Indeed, the belief that no one can make me feel inferior but myself has freed me of resentment toward others who would seek to put me down.


  1. Great post. I am all for feminism and equality among each other but I find that serving "guests" drinks is so stupid. I mean as a Hmong daughter, my parents always told me to bring the guest drinks and I did so obediently but now, I just hate that people say we have to serve the guest to appear lady-like and because the old, perverted men want to see us young women serve them. I'm like what in the world! I think that's why I don't want to serve some "guest" in particular because they'll be looking at my breasts and checking me out. I know they will because they already do that at the New Year's. So disappointing in this culture. So misygonist.

  2. To last post: I'm sorry you've had bad experiences with serving drinks. I can see where that comes from because I have friends who have had similar experiences. Since owning my own home now, I pride myself in the fact that I am thoughtful and hospitable and always try to offer my guests drinks (whether they are male or female). I only have one child (a daughter) and also try to teach her to be hospitable to guests in our home. I don't think of it as putting her on display but more as showing her how to be a good hostess. It's just a different way of looking at things. I get really thirsty and always appreciate it when others offer me a drink in their home (whether it comes from the husband, the wife, or the child).

  3. Interesting and though provoking.

    I don't think that the question is truly about selling out or not selling out, feminist or not, are you Hmong enough but rather, how do we live successfully as bicultural individuals (both Hmong and American)?

    This requires that we negotiate who we are and how we want live our lives. I think there is no one right way. In fact there are many strategies in living as bicultural individuals and only we can determine the best strategy for us given our situation. Some time this requires us to be more radical (refusing to serve drinks) and other times it requires us to work within the system (serving drinks). We shouldn't tear each other a part. Rather, we should be learning from each other about how to be successful Hmong women.