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Stresses associated with migration itself, discrimination against racial minorities in this country, poverty, unemployment, and crowded living conditions heighten the chance that a husband will become abusive" (p. 1402). From the Vietnamese-American perspective, these issues are even more pronounced and they are discussed further below.
a. Male dominance. One of the most powerful forces affecting Vietnamese families at home and abroad today is Confucian ideology, an ideology that is predicated on the dominance of men over women (Kibria, 1993). According to Lowe and her colleagues (2003), some gender socialization influences on Vietnamese men are similar to those that are typically experienced by men in other Asian cultures. "Similarities in gender role socialization that Vietnamese men share with other Asian men arising from shared influences of Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist philosophies include messages about appropriate family roles, emotional expressiveness, and the role of assertive behavior" (Lowe et al., p. 246). For example, in general, Vietnamese family roles tend to be structured such that older generations are given elevated status, men are accorded a higher status as compared with that of women, and the father is the dominant member of the household and has unquestioned authority (Lowe et al., 2003).
b. Female submission and subservience. Kibria (1993) reports that Vietnamese women are expected to be married at a young age, after which they entered the household of their husband's father. "Young brides were subservient to both men and older women in the household and had little domestic status until they produced sons. For the young bride, her relationship with her mother-in-law was perhaps the most onerous of all, as suggested by the abundance of Vietnamese folk tales describing the harsh treatment of the wife by her mother-in-law" (Kibria, p. 45). The subservient position of Vietnamese women in the family unit was further reinforced by Confucian beliefs. In fact, according to the "three submissions," a woman was ordered to obey first her father, then her husband, and finally her eldest son; likewise, female behavior that was regarded as being ideal was conceived in terms of the "four virtues": 1) to be a good housewife, 2) to have a beautiful appearance, 3) to speak well and softly, and 4) to be of good character. Kibria suggests that these ideals served to legitimate the subordination of women by upholding passivity and submission to male authority, as well as restrictions on women's sexuality.
The traditional Vietnamese legal codes were also influenced in important ways by Confucian ideas; as a result, these legal codes served to further institutionalize the subservience of Vietnamese women. An important exception reported by Kibria, though, was the Le Code of the 15th and 16th centuries, which opposed Confucian principles by sanctioning equal property rights for men and women and protecting women against certain forms of coercion by men. Nonetheless, even in the Le Code, women were assigned a lesser status than men, as evidenced, for example, by the law that a husband could unilaterally divorce or repudi ate his wife, a privilege not extended to women. Traditional legal codes also sanctioned polygamy, which was held as a mark of affluence and prestige and was usually practiced by the wealthy. Second-rank wives and particularly concubines had few rights under the law, and they "were usually treated very poorly, akin to indentured servants, so that there existed a class of women inferior even to other women" (Kibria, p. 46).
In traditional rural settings in their own country, Vietnamese women also experienced less economic power than their male counterparts; however, women were vitally involved in the task of rice cultivation, from which most Vietnamese earn a livelihood. The Vietnamese adage, "Men plow, women transplant, the buffalo pulls the harvest" reflects the traditional gender division of labor in the process of rice cultivation. According to Kibria, "Women not only played an important part in rice cultivation but also did most of the household work. Women were responsible for childcare and housework and for taking care of household gardens and livestock" (p. 46). Nevertheless, in spite of their important roles in a wide range of economic activities, women's economic participation continues to be regarded as being secondary and peripheral to that of men, who are considered to be the primary breadwinners in rural Vietnamese society (Kibria, 1993). When these values are violently transplanted into a free market consumer-based economy such as exemplified by the U.S., there are bound to be profound social issues that arise, including a severe loss of self-esteem and an increased incidence of mental illness and substance abuse among both younger Vietnamese-American men and women; however, Vietnamese-American males who had become more acculturated were shown to be more likely to use marijuana and alcohol than their female counterparts, but both were at equal risk of smoking cigarettes (Daniel & Yi, 2001). Unfortunately, culturally sensitive and effective interventions remain elusive for this population group, due in large part to a fundamental paucity of resources, limited educational opportunities, continued language barriers, a lack of medical care due to lack of insurance, and a lack of proper citizenship paperwork and legal standing to pursue legal remedies (Doan et al., 2001).
III. Interview Results.
Three one-hour interviews were conducted with a friend of the writer's who agreed in advance to participate in this research project; although no compensation was provided for participation, each interview session was conducted at a local pizzeria over the course of a week and the meals and gratuity were paid for by the writer. The interviewee, "Julie," was a 22-year-old female Vietnamese-American college student who also worked part-time in a local department store. Although no questionnaire was used to guide the questioning, a series of questions were prepared in advance to be addressed when the time seemed appropriate. The results of the three interview sessions are provided below.
First Session. The first interview determined that Julie's parents were both Vietnamese, and were both professionals employed by the U.S. government during the war when they lived in South Vietnam. Julie stated that her parents do not discuss their past lives that much, and she noted that it was rare to hear them speak Vietnamese today, even when her parents were speaking to each other. She pointed out that she remembers hearing them speak Vietnamese, particularly to each other, more when she was younger, though. When she was asked about her life in the U.S. And how she felt about it, Julie stated that she liked her life and felt grateful for the opportunities she had that her parents might not have enjoyed. She did add, though, that she felt everyone's expectations of her were inflated; she stated she did not know whether these expectations from others were the result of the stereotypes that exist concerning academic excellence among Asians in general and females in particular, but she felt the expectations of her parents and her father especially were misplaced. Julie refused to elaborate on this subject and she was not pressed to explain. This concluded the first session.
Second Session. The second interview began much like the first, with some small talk to "break the ice"; during this idle conversation, Julie volunteered to explain what she had meant about her father during the first session. She explained that her father had not actually been a professional in Vietnam, but was rather a housekeeper for an officer. The officer had arranged for her father and his family to be among some of the last evacuees to leave Vietnam, and she was not proud of his position. Julie was assured that all of these events sounded heroic from the writer's perspective, and her family appeared to have done what was required to remain free under difficult circumstances. Julie nodded in agreement, and suggested that family meant much more to Vietnamese people than to Americans, but apparently she did not want to say it like that so she just changed the subject. When asked about her college experiences, Julie replied that she felt completely accepted by her teachers and classmates, and had not personally experienced any type of racism or sexism from Americans in general; however, she again alluded to how this changed somewhat when she shifted from a strictly American environment to one comprised of first generation Vietnamese. The writer suggested that these issues should be discussed in the final session, discussed below.
Third Session. There was no longer any ice to break, so the third session was more fruitful than the first two. When she was asked about her plans for the future, Julie stated firmly that she intended to be a veterinarian no matter what her parents wanted. Here, at least, was a clear nerve that was struck and Julie said she had wanted to care for animals all of her life, but had been dissuaded from pursuing this career by both of her parents. Her father indicated he…[continue]
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