|Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By An Vũ
Three months ago, former French ambassador to Việt Nam Jean Noel Poirier made a one-hour documentary and posted it on YouTube. It relates his experiences in Hà Nội and with its people, which, he says, have become part of his soul.
In the documentary, he referred to Hanoian women as a way for him to think of Hà Nội. Charmingly, he praised them for their contributions and dedications in all kinds of social activities, from morning exercises to trading activities. “They are the main pioneering force in everything. They are not only full of energy and well organised, but also elegant and so deadly attractive in everything they do. Not to mention their kindness as well as natural sense of humour,” the former ambassador said in his perfect Vietnamese.
Then he said, “Sometimes, I joke that in Việt Nam, women do all things and men do nothing but the rest.”
For some, what he said could stir up a storm on gender equality in Việt Nam.
If misunderstood, some may translate his words into: Women in Việt Nam have no gender equality at all. They have to be in charge of everything, from big to small, while men literally just sit still, indulge and touch nothing.
As a diplomatic official, his joke could be a figurative sarcastic comment on how men of all generations usually abandon their grandmothers, mothers, wives, and sisters struggling in endless fights at the office for intellectual women and at the markets, trading activities for rural women.
Ironically, most activities in Việt Nam, from small to big things, when put in the hands of women, they will somehow manage to find a way to finish them properly and in peace.
I’m not trying to praise or think highly of the previous generations, like my grandmother, mother and aunt, but I often feel like the old good values of Vietnamese women have been passed on from grandma to mom and aunt.
While me, a modern 21st century girl, looking at them like traditional elegant women who have dedicated their lives to bring up children and working full time to successfully complete their homely duties, they are all good examples for me to look up to.
However, it is not the fact my father and younger brother think women are designed for chores, and women are born to do petty little unknown things that they neglect doing them and put all the burdens on our shoulders.
Normally, I will see my father, in his days off or spare time, gladly and eagerly assisting my mother while she is in the kitchen or he himself would do all chores my mother frequently does in her routine. Like him, my younger brother has started practising doing chores as he entered college as a freshman. My brother also cooks for me when he knows I am at work and am not able to do it.
Clearly, not every man will see chores are made for women and in Việt Nam, many men are still ready to give a helping hand. Therefore, what the former ambassador said is not really true.
Gender equality in Việt Nam has offered women the freedom and opportunities to do many things, including the right to educate themselves, to study and to take high positions in big companies. Still, many have managed to do well at being a successful entrepreneur and an outstanding mom.
According to a male friend, who works for a bank, the concept of “gender equality” is not completely implemented and is still misunderstood here.
“Previously, when I was younger, I did support the idea of ’men and women are equal’. But the more I grow older and experience life, the more I have realised that I, a man, and other women who are shouting for equality, have taken the idea wrong," he said.
"It is true women are free to take part in all activities like men, and we encourage and create an environment for them to develop their skills and contributions. But there are things we need to make clear here: men and women are born different and they are shaped in different ways, with different duties, which this gender is able to carry out better than the other. Now, if all women rush to do men’s jobs, including heavy and dangerous things, then who stays home and takes care of the kids? Surely women do it better, as they are bestowed with meticulousness, intelligence, soft characters and a rich and affectionate sentiment."
Therefore, women should only focus on things they do best, while not trying to do everything.
Actually, women have become a part in the history of building the nation, while there is an idea of “men are made for time of war, and women are made for time of peace”. We all know the war has been over for many decades, so is it true it is the time of women, who are becoming better and better everyday, and men are threatened by that?
Still, in this peaceful time, even women can do everything by themselves, I think they need men in their lives, not only to be better halves, shoulders to cry on, true fathers to their daughters, but to help them balance their lives. But they also need courage and boldness to let go and walk away when they are mistakenly married to alcoholic and violent husbands.
And finally, remember it was just a harmless joke from the former diplomat! VNS