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.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I've been struggling with this for a while and I'm not sure how to address it anymore. I feel like I'm constantly "beating the dead horse," and I hope to gain a different perspective by sharing. I know that the definition of being a feminist and Hmong woman is different for everyone. I also know that with every new generation perspectives and the definition will change again.

What I am struggling with is living with a strong young Hmong woman who is very different from me, my nyab. My youngest brother and nyab married two years ago when he was 16 and she was 14. They were very young- everyone opposed their marriage but the men in both families agreed and proceeded with the wedding anyways. They started out like any young couple, very loving and attached to each other but eventually faced the reality of a marriage life. I immediately saw the changes in both their personality and marriage. Through their struggles, I gave emotional and mental support to my nyab. I did not have a relationship with her prior to their marriage so I'm getting to know her through all this. My brother, on the other hand, was an introvert and he distant himself from the family every time they come across a dip in their marriage therefore we just gave him his space.

My first impression of my nyab, she was very mature for her age. For a while I thought she was my brother's age when they married and found out later that she was much younger. Her looks and the persona she carried was very pleasing to my parents because she came from a modern yet traditional family. It all quickly changed, literally overnight, after a huge argument they had that almost led to a divorce. After my brother stormed off, my nyab said she wants a divorce and started packing her belongings. My dad and grandpa (both who agreed to the marriage and carried it out) told her she was too impatient and that a girl who wants to divorce her husband is shameful- she is a bad daughter for not thinking about her father's face. For the first time, she cried out and talked back asking them what they want her to do, she is tire of this marriage already. My grandpa continued with his lecture in front of the whole family as everyone stayed silent.

Seeing her in pain, I walked up to her and calmed her down. For the first time ever, I hugged her and told her not to leave yet and wait for my brother to return and they can talk this out. She cried even harder when I put my hand over her head and comfort her. After this incident, my dad and grandpa suddenly changed their attitude towards my brother and nyab. In addition, the dynamic in their relationship has changed. My nyab "wear the pants" in their marriage now and stays in their room more. She talks back to the elders and I've heard her complain about the family more. I realized they both bought a mini fridge for their room and rarely join the family for dinner. It has gotten to the point where I feel like they have distant themselves from our family.

My mom is a very strong supporter for them. She is not always around when these incidents happens but she always give advices and offer her support to my nyab. My mother and I realize early on that she is very young, indeed, and may not know how to navigate through the different identities she has. Though I was raised in a traditional Hmong household, my mother is a strong Hmong woman and through her love and guidance I've learned to be the woman I am today. I'm outspoken and independent, however, at the same time I know the cultural structure enough to compromise myself with it. We've given so much support for my nyab so she can feel empowered and have autonomy but it all seems to backfire.

As a feminist and Hmong woman, I understand that we all don't have the same views but we should support one another. My nyab is a high achiever, strong-minded, smart and bright young woman. However, the other day she commented that she is "sick and tire of my mom" with no particular reason. It hurts me because (1) it's my mom (2) my mom is one of the few smart and strong Hmong woman I know out there and (3) my mom is the sole supporter for their marriage. It breaks me that my nyab doesn't see it and does not appreciate all that my mother does for them.

I started to take note of these changes, I'm not simply picking on her but these small things have made a big impact on my family that I cannot ignore. I tried to understand and address this as best as I could. First, I thought about what we can do as a family- we don't have the best family dynamic but we all do make an effort to check-in with each other everyday. Secondly, I know she is young and is currently in high school- her friends and environment can influence her personality and character but that does not mean that she can behave as such towards her family (us). Third, we're all not perfect, I can understand when she's mad or agitated by someone for something but constant "smack talking" about someone is something I cannot and will not tolerate. I do not wish to change her, turn her into a feminist or anything, I just want her to understand that she is apart of the family now and you don't treat family members that way. I don't know if she realizes that it hurts me when she talks to me about my brother, dad or mom.

I've been thinking a lot and now I'm starting to ask, am I being too harsh for holding her against the standards of being a Hmong daughter-in-law while being a feminist myself? Is there a bigger picture I'm missing out on? Am I too emotionally invested?

By Anonymous


  1. I'm not sure if her behavior is reflective of her feminist views and/or if it has anything to do directly with feminism. It sounds to me like this is more of an internal family conflict as opposed to a conflict involving a difference in feminist perspectives. I understand the two are not mutually exclusive of each other, but it might do you more good to talk to her about her behavior instead of trying to hold her to your feminist standards.

  2. I don't think she is the problem. I think your brother is the problem by your omission thus far of him. I think your nyah is smarter and more mature than your brother, but he doesn't want to accept that. He's already made one major mistake and that was to marry at 16. Everyone I knew that married at that age with the exception of about 20% has gotten a divorce by the time they are in their 20s. So your brother's marriage already is facing grim statistics (no real stats just my observation). There is really just two options that your brother can do. a) give into your nyab and accept not being the dominant person in the marriage b) Learn to communicate and be better at persuation. You do not need to flex your feminist values, that will only add fuel to the fire. There is always a win-win situation, that's what saving face is all about. But you don't have to take my word for it.

  3. From the sound of it you should talk to your brother, father, and grandfather about their sexist ways. If you think that your nyab is doing anything wrong then you obviously have little understanding of what gender inequality really is. Is it fair for your father and grandfather to tell your nyab that her behavior is shameful when your brother refused to own up to his responsibilities? I think that if your brother made the decision to walk out on a disagreement then your nyab has every right to state she wants a divorce. What did your father and grandfather say to your brother about walking away from his responsibilities? Probably nothing right? Because they went ahead and reprimanded your nyab when they should be reprimanding their son/grandson! Regardless of our understanding of the Hmong culture/ values we are still only WOMEN! You can compromise all you want but when the tables turn on you, you are still only another "Hmong woman." As Hmong women, we should support one another instead of judging each other. We should not point fingers and assume that just because we can compromise, every other woman should also. I don't think it is your place to "talk" to your nyab about her behavior. If you don't like to hear the things she says about your brother or family then you should tell her that she should reach out to someone else. You are bias, of course, because this is your family she is talking "smack" about. If you think you are offering her genuine support by listening to her then you are wrong. Every nyab will have something to say about their in-laws, for her, she is too young to know that she should not be discussing her issues with her SIL. If you truly are a feminist, as you want everyone to believe, then do the right thing and point her in the right direction. In the direction that can provide her with genuine support so that she may learn to be a better nyab/wife.

  4. Throughout your post you criticize your nyab's behavior while not mentioning how your family acts or reacts towards her? Obviously you are holding her up to higher standards just because she is a woman. You expect her to be more tolerant and compromising because she is a woman as compared to your brother, father, and grandfather? Sounds like you respect your mother very much because you can see how much she sacrificed and struggled all throughout her life as a Hmong woman and you expect your Nyab to be the same. The problem is not your Nyab but how your feminism is at conflict with the patriarchal society you were raised in. It's one thing to read about feminism and women's rights in class. It's another thing in how to implement what you have learned in real life and create change in yourself and others. Of course her actions upset you because that is your family. However, it is also normal for people to complain about their family. Ask yourself, if she was your sister and not your nyab, how would you have responded when she complained about family members? Would you have just laughed it off instead or joined in? She just needs to learn that she needs to complain to her own family or friends instead of her in-laws. The truth is that in-laws can never be as close or loving towards you as your own family.

    1. I totally agree with you that in-laws can never be as close and loving towards you as your own family; not only that but they are always going to be the ones who truly understand you and where you stand. Your in-laws never will and sometimes some of them never event want to make the time to try to understand you. Not only did this girl marry so young but made a huge life changing decision. She left her family that loves, cherish, and understand her for a family who doesn't want to try to care for her and even try to resemble acting like a family to her. From the sound of it, it only sounded like she got scolded in front of the family like everything is her fault. Cut her a break, she is still in high school and her priority is her education if you care so much about femininity. Femininity is treasuring your independence and education is key to that. I have to say I agree that maybe you are holding very high expectations when you should cut her a break for being so young to begin with. I am of a different culture married into a Hmong family and I feel like the expectations and standards held on us daughter-in-laws are unrealistic and frustrating to the point that I can see many Hmong women turning their backs on the culture leaving many Hmong men single and with no brides. I am not saying that Hmong are bad husbands because I assure you I love my Hmong husband so much but it may be the family the man comes with that can leave him single with no brides.

  5. Young immature relationships like this usually end up bad. That's why I would say, 1/2 of the generation who grew up in the US firsthand and got forced into marriage ended up in divorce. This is why we should never impose marriage on our youth anymore. These elders need to realize we are in a different society with different expectations/laws. Also importantly, your brother and nyab are obviously not mature enough for marriage. We need to gear away from this cultural practice.
    Thanks for sharing. Your experience with your nyab is all too common in Hmong households.

  6. No, you are not being too harsh, dear sisterJ.ust remember that there are people who won't fully understand things after repetitive- on going actions (& probably won't ever will). Their awakening process is in a delay & this will have for you to just wait for it.

    However, stand strong, keep it up with being who you are, and hey, probably when the family is having dinner, put on some music to cheer up the souls!

    Thanks for the post.

  7. I don't have sister-in-laws, but I have brothers who date different girls, who some of them, for some reason come to me for advice or for complaining about my own brothers. When they do that, I just don't get it. Why would you talk to your boyfriend's sister about your relationship issues? I personally would never do that. That's what blood sisters and/ or friends are for.

    I agree that the young daughter-in-law in this story here, needs to find another resource to confide in. I agree with what others are saying about holding the son accountable as well.

    It might be better if they got a divorce, since I don't think they should've married that young in the first place. They're both too young and immature, plus they live with other family members, which can make things worse.

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