Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
Flowers, gifts, and candle-lit dinners come the way of many women during the days just prior to International Women’s Day (March 8). Groups of women office workers dressed in áo dài (traditional long robe) can be readily found along city streets, at landmarks or flower gardens or any other nice spot, taking photos before heading out to lunch with colleagues.
While it’s good to see women enjoying the day dedicated in their honour, their contributions to and role and position in society should be recognised as a matter of course. True equality needs to extend further than just flowers, gifts, and lunch on a certain date.
Last week, a man posted a few photos of him washing the dishes at a dinner celebrated by four families on his wife’s side. Accompanying the photos was: “I did some chores in the kitchen at the family reunion. I caught a happy smile on my mother-in-law’s face she was delighted!”
He received nearly 5,000 likes and a lot of supportive comments, with people either complimenting his effort or wishing their husbands would do something similar. But one comment from an elderly woman went another way: “Men who do the dishes and sweep the floor can’t accomplish big things!”
Yours truly can well imagine how many “brickbats” were figuratively thrown at the comment, but netizens would say that if they were real you could build a mansion with them!
“Excuse me? What century are you living in? I feel sorry for your daughter-in-law, if you have a son, or for your daughter!” read one reply.
“Where do you live, so we can stay away from this son of yours who only does ‘big things’?”
Further down, someone else wrote: “This man has a career. He owns a chain of more than a dozen convenience stores around the city and he only posted this for our enjoyment!”
Others still were pleased to say that their husbands always share the housework and take care of the kids, and they work as senior government officials or managers at big companies.
“Gone are the days when a husband comes home, puts his feet up, and flicks through the newspaper while his wife gets dinner ready,” posted another. “We both work in my home, we both clean the house, and we both look after our children and our parents!”
And many men were keen themselves to confirm that March 8 is no different to any other day, as they always share the housework but just don’t feel a need to take photos of it.
The Swedish embassy held a workshop in Hà Nội recently for men to talk about their own issues as the equality battle takes hold, as many aren’t at all sure what’s expected of them in the home.
Gender equality differs, of course, between countries and cultures. Any “Swedish approach” is unlikely to work in Việt Nam, because few Vietnamese men here are going to head online or to a meeting to talk about how much housework they do or don’t do.
Instead of picking up the broom and sweeping the floor, many men toss and turn at night thinking about what big deeds are needed to accomplish something in life for their families.
It’s acceptable for men to be disappointed at having failed to achieve their dreams, with many feeling frustrated at not earning enough to be able to change their little slice of the world. The housework, in truth, just isn’t their priority.
Regardless of the circumstances, though, men and women do indeed need to be sharing the workload at home. It’s pretty simple really.
Launched in March last year, just as the first COVID-19 social distancing measures were introduced, “Việc nhà có anh”, which translates as “Housework? You can count on me” and is part of the YÊU BẾP, or LOVE COOKING, community, has inspired many to be more proactive in sharing the load. The page, which has more than 1.5 million members, received recognition from the UN for its messages on gender equality.
“The Challenge”, posted to challenge male members of the group, had an incredible effect in encouraging men to share the housework while also encouraging women to appreciate men’s contribution to the home.
As the group admin wrote: “There’s so much housework, it may never end, but with sharing the load comes positive feelings, and they also may never end.” - VNS