I’ve always wanted to write about this in a serious way but it is such a big topic and I never can just focus on one point. I don’t know where to start and where to end and what and which and who should the post covers. Well, that’s why I have this rambling session.
*little notes: I know gender matters everywhere and there’s a lot of different aspects but I write this in the context of an assumingly-binary-world in Vietnam.
So, let’s start with a little story. For some reasons, beauty pageant contest is a thing that people care about in Vietnam. There is nothing wrong with such contests, people love beauty and so do I. I normally only watch the top 5 girls answering questions. And I remembered vaguely that one of the contestants, given the question “What makes Vietnamese women different from women all over the world?”, answered that it is “sacrifice”, and she meant that since the time of wars Vietnamese women have given all what they have to take care of their family and so on. I don’t remember her exact answer, but I do remember how confused I was. On one hand, I was like “okay, well, not bad, quick answer, I am too really proud of Vietnamese moms in the history”; and on the other hand I hated that answer. I mean, we are not at wars anymore. I don’t know if sacrifice is even a positive trait. Of course, it is a choice and can bring happiness and joy, but also, there are much more of a woman than just about family life.
I find many little things in our daily life disturbing. I hate big family gatherings when all male adults sit together, drink alcohol and have the food served, while their wives sit with the kids. Who clean up afterwards? You know the answer. I notice how that also effects kids’ mindsets. After dinner, all the girls will help clean up, wash the dishes, and the boys, most of the time, will just sit there with their phones, like it’s not their business. I hate when adults tell me that I have to know how to cook to be a good-wife-material later on. People don’t tell their sons that. But cooking is a life skill that everyone, regardless of sex and gender, should know to feed themselves, isn’t it?
It all starts at a young age. That’s why how we teach our next generations is extremely important. In my generation, most of the girls are expected to make their life choices with marriage put on their 1stpriority. Boys are not. In Vietnam, when a woman is not married at the age of 27, she will be silently judged by this cruel society, as if it is a failure. That’s why I’m already preparing my family by saying that I’m not going to get married until I’m 30, although they probably think I was joking.
We’ve been taught as if it’s our fault to be girls. “Close your legs!”, “Sit like a girl!”, “No short shorts!”, “No spaghetti straps!”, and even “Cut the banana in half!” – sounds ridiculous, but that were what I’ve heard all the time growing up, as if I’m guilty just by being born as a girl. There are news pieces everywhere and everyday about girls being raped, being harassed on the streets, on taxi, busses… and yet when I scroll down the comment section, both men and women, blame the girl for being “too sexy”, for wearing “inappropriate”, or she might be a slut. A rapist said that the girl was too pretty he couldn’t control himself. What kind of argument is that? These people have been raised thinking that women are inherently guilty, and the idea of men being unable to control themselves is more acceptable than women being sexy. I’ve never heard a man being criticized for not having his T-shirt on.
Yes, many of my male friends tell me all the time that it is also really tiring to be a man in this society. You have to pay bills, to work your ass off to feed the family, to get lots of money to get married, so on and so forth. See how most of the struggles with being a man are all related to money? It is again because of our stereotypes and mindset that men have to be strong, tough, masculine, and we tie power and masculinity also with money. On dates, men are expected to pay to prove his manliness. On a book called “We Should All Be Feminist” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, she said:
“What if both boys and girls were raised not to link masculinity and money? What if their attitude was not “the boy has to pay,” but rather, “whoever has more should pay.” Of course, because of their historical advantage, it is mostly men who will have more today. But if we start raising children differently, then in fifty years, in a hundred years, boys will no longer have the pressure of proving their masculinity by material means.”
Another thing I hate about these stupid stereotypes is that it oppresses people’s feelings. Boys are taught to not show their vulnerability, fear, tears and weaknesses… and that sucks. I hate feelings and emotions because I feel too much sometimes it’s overwhelming. And I think we all do. I don’t express my feelings often but then that’s why I know how confined and restricted it can be. After all, we are just human beings, aren’t we?
Sex is biologically determined, but gender (stereotype) is a social construction. And as it is constructed and also constantly reproduced, it can always be changed. And we need to change it, for the better.