Let strong women be strong

March 10, 2019 - 09:00

Strong women are being told not to be strong in order to fit into a social category that defines what it means to be ‘a woman’.

Illustration by Trịnh Lập
Viet Nam News

Bảo Hoa

My father and I get along well and rarely disagree, but a month ago he said something that puzzled me.

It was after dinner during the Lunar New Year holiday and I had just finished washing the dishes. I don’t remember if it was something I said, but when I went to clear some glasses in front of him, he pinched my cheek and said in a joking tone: "You should act a little dumber. Don’t be perfect at everything like that, it scares people off."

Given that I was a few months short of turning 26 and had never brought a boyfriend home, and it was not the first time we had joked about me being too smart, I knew by "people" he meant "boys".

And to be honest I was as much flattered as I was annoyed, because it felt like my dad was telling me not to be myself so that I could get a husband.

In my eyes I am pretty much like any other girl, except that I can play the piano to a classical level that makes everyone clap when I finish, graduated from an international university with a 3.7 GPA, speak English that natives say is "excellent" and perform well at my job which involves writing news stories and shooting and editing videos.

But I’m also an unrefined girl who doesn’t really know how to cook, can’t sew a button onto a shirt without my mother’s help, can’t tell what type of meat she wants when a butcher asks her, and whose idea of flower arranging is to put the bouquet in a vase and fill it with water, period!

I embrace my strengths and I am working on my weaknesses. And when I do get married I’d want to be with someone that accepts me as I am.

The same goes for the person I’d want to marry. I don’t need him to be an alpha male or take on all the financial burdens for the family.

Marriage is a voluntary decision of two human beings who inevitably have flaws. In order for it to work it’s important for both parties to contribute what they are good at and work on their imperfections together.

A million-dollar divorce recently caught headlines in Việt Nam. It was between a couple that co-founded one of the leading high-end coffee franchises in the country.

Much of the trial focused on the division of assets worth VNĐ8,400 billion (US$362 million) between the husband (let’s call him Mr A) and the wife (Mrs A).

On February 22, the judge advised Mrs A to withdraw her divorce application, saying: "Let your husband take over the company, resign from the management board and stay at home to take care of your four children," Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) newspaper reported.

His advice probably stemmed from good intentions of healing a broken family, but to me it was as much influenced by a patriarchal mentality shaped in a country whose social values have been grounded in Confucianism for thousands of years.

What if the judge did it the other way around, telling Mr A to let his wife take over the company and become a stay-at-home dad?

His face would have been all over the newspapers the next morning, I suppose. I can imagine the headline: “Judge told millionaire to resign: was he out of his mind?”

Double standards never cease to amaze me.

International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8. It’s a day to cherish women and what they aspire to be.

Yet I believe thousands of women are still being told what they should not be, and strong women are being told not to be strong in order to fit into a social category that defines what it means to be ‘a woman’.

With the same train of thought, thousands of men are being told they can’t be vulnerable or emotional in order to be a ‘a real man’.

We are only human, and I think imposing gender-specific expectations hurts everyone.

This is not to say I will resent my dad for the rest of my life. I love him dearly and I know he only wants the best for me.

But I will never stop being me and I hope it won’t bother anyone.

I am the eldest daughter of a supermum who is the breadwinner in our family. She runs a business that involves hundreds of people, has raised two daughters, and treats my grandparents in such a way that our neighbours praise her for being the best daughter ever.

My mum is the only daughter of a supermum who raised her alone until she reached her teenage years while my grandfather lived abroad on his diplomatic missions. On the day of her funeral when the morgue staff pulled her corpse out, he burst into tears remembering all the years he left her by herself.

There is no easy way to say this, but to strong women: be yourself. To the men who get intimidated by strong women: there is no reason to be so, and instead of being scared, spend time working on your own insecurities.

And to the twenty-somethings who will be having their own children soon: raise strong girls; and boys who respect and appreciate strong girls. — VNS