by Trung Hieu-Anh Thu
Some Vietnamese men say they are "jealous" that Vietnamese women have two days to be honoured, Mar 8 and October 20, while there are no holidays devoted to men.
This is just said in fun, but in fact, many men do feel pressure to be strong and successful.
Nguyen Van Thai, a businessman in Cau Giay District, says he had always struggled to measure up to what people said a man should be.
Growing up, his parents taught him that a man must be strong, independent and successful so he could act as a "pillar" to support his parents, wife and children.
"A man must not cry or be weak. If he does so, he's considered helpless, incompetent and useless. Everybody says so. If I didn't obey these rules, I would be a bad child, a useless husband and a terrible father," he says.
On the surface, the businessman fulfills the "strong and successful" masculine ideal. He owns a private trading company and has a lot of money.
But underneath, he wonders what he will get out of maintaining this façade.
When he married a young woman who was intelligent and independent, they had many conflicts. Her assertiveness and independence made Thai feel like he was "not manly enough".
His parents were also displeased, as they thought his wife did not behave as a wife should.
After those conflicts, the couple separated.
He quickly married a new woman who was gentler and more naive. But his new wife's knowledge is so limited that the couple do not have much in common.
"All my life, I have tried to be a man," Thai says. "I have to constantly prove that I am successful, strong and tough. I can't ever be weak or tired. The result is that I have a wife so naive she does not know how to talk with me. She can hardly understand when I talk about social matters. She absolutely relies on me. I feel lonely in my own family."
Most people who took part in a recent survey said the ideal man had qualities such as assertiveness, independence, generousity and ability to help others, says Vu Pham Nguyen Thanh, a researcher at Canada Path.
One participant said that "a successful career makes a man different from other people."
According to psychologist Trinh Trung Hoa, while women have made many achievements in recent years with regards to career advancement, men have a heavier burden.
"During wartime, women viewed soldiers as ideal men. Seeing a man in uniform, a woman would become instantly convinced of his worth," Hoa says.
"During the State-subsidised economy, the ideal man finished eight 'golden hours' in his office and then came home to do work around the house like raising pigs and repairing bicycles for extra incomes. But today, a man must be far more than a bread winner. Wives often wish their husband not only to share in their family worries, but also to be sociable, successful, make good money and understand their thoughts and feelings."
Many new standards
Many men feel trapped by societal pressures - which are often contradictory.
A man who cares for his wife and children, does housework, goes shopping or cooks for the family is often dismissed for "clinging to his wife's skirts".
But a man who does not share household chores is called "selfish and lazy".
Many wives compare their husbands to other successful men who earn more money.
But at the same time, a man who spends the whole day working to develop his career is often said to be "irresponsible to the family". And if he does not spend enough time at home, his wife may suspect him of being unfaithful or being involved in social vices such as gambling, even if he is just talking with friends.
These expectations can pressure men into feeling depressed and useless. Those who fail to achieve what their families expect of them sometimes succumb to alcoholism, or try to find other women who give them the respect they believe they deserve. But this can result in a family crisis - or even breakdown. — VNS