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Despite living in America for most of my life now (11 years out of 18), I haven’t forgotten my Vietnamese roots, and the way that I interact with family and friends is a clear reflection of that. In contrast to the current societal state of America in which traditional nuclear families are demonized, Vietnamese families are still very traditional, with many being nuclear families (although extended families are very common also). Women are generally expected – although not forced – to stay home and take care of their children, while men leave their homes to go to work. From personal experience, I’ve experienced very few situations in which traditional gender roles have been oppressive or even limiting towards people I know; in fact, I’d argue that gender roles have actually benefited us, for the tasks associated with them can personally identify us and we can take great pride in that.
My family of four consists of my mom, the primary caretaker of the household and co-breadwinner; my dad, a retired aircraft engineer and war veteran; my older brother, who just leeches off of my parents; and me, the perfect child. My mother; despite having a day job, works for seven hours, six days a week, no matter the weather, only being able to come home late at night at 8:00 PM. The moment she comes home, despite being tired from another day of work, she proudly puts on her apron and helps my father finish cooking dinner. Even though she works hard, probably the hardest out of anyone in our family, she rarely complains. We don’t force all of this work onto her, she does it because she takes great pride in making sure that our house is clean and respectable, and everyone else in the family shows our respect and gratitude to her in return. She has taught me many things about managing a house and has prepared me extensively for living on my own.
My mom is the primary chef in my family, which is typical of a wife. She does most of the meal planning and cooking in my household, although my dad helps out on most days. She prides herself on her culinary expertise, and her friends along with everyone in my family agrees that her cooking is excellent, to say the least. Learning how to cook from her mother, she sometimes tells us stories of when she lived in rural Vietnam before the war, learning how to cook traditional dishes that have more or less disappeared from the culinary scene. She very much enjoys cooking, and she even teaches me how to cook some of these dishes too. The task of cooking is in no way forced onto my mom as she could stop cooking for us at any time – although I pray to god she doesn’t – and everyone will probably find a way to cook for themselves. When asking my mother how she felt about cooking for the family, she happily replied “Mẹ rất thích nấu ăn chứ,” which translates to “obviously I really like cooking” (Tran). Only a person that truly likes cooking can create such amazing dishes that can brighten up everyone at the table.
Similarly to my mom, now that my dad has retired, he has taken up a larger part in managing the home. He helps out my mother with cooking, cleaning, doing the dishes, and a myriad of other traditionally female tasks. He shows my mom the respect that any wife should deserve, and he doesn’t complain about having to do these tasks just because they’re traditionally feminine; akin to how my mom doesn’t complain about having to work a day job. That’s not to say that my dad hasn’t taken up traditional male roles; he has for most of his life, and almost everything I know about manhood has come from him.
Manhood as I know it is just a very simple set of rules that boys and men alike should follow. I was taught to respect my elders, respect other people, and overall be a gentleman. Today’s media has shone a negative light on masculinity, and many now associate any form of it with “toxic masculinity.” Anytime that I’ve tried to defend masculinity, my opinion have been completely ignored and I immediately get labeled a sexist; apparently having an opinion that doesn’t 100% align with liberal ideals is a one way ticket to being wiped off of any civil (though I guess not really) forum. You shouldn’t even have to worry about gender roles in most aspects of your daily life. If you spend your entire life trying to find something to be offended by, you’re going to be offended. Here’s a quick tip on living a happier life: stop trying to find disparities in gender and gender roles; just let people do whatever pleases them. Simple, isn’t it? If a woman enjoys being a homemaker or if a man enjoys being the primary breadwinner of the family, why should he or she have to stop just because it’s not progressive enough? In contrast, if a man enjoys cooking and cleaning for the family, and the woman works outside the home, what’s stopping them from doing so? For a large part of my early childhood, both my mom and dad had day jobs, and I had a nanny take care of me when they were away at work. I was too young to understand that what my mom was doing was not typical of a mother, that she still worked to help my dad provide for the family.
In contrast to my parents working together, nowadays masculinity and femininity is constantly pitted against each other, and I propose that neither femininity nor masculinity should be viewed as being polar opposites. They rather work in tandem; supporting and lifting each other up, not tearing the other down. The argument that masculinity is inherently dangerous, “toxic,” and a detriment to progress is completely false. While I won’t refute the claim that women have many societal struggles as a result of their gender, men aren’t completely bulletproof either. Young boys are growing in a very different society under very different circumstances than their fathers and grandfathers. Boys need internal examples of manhood to teach them how to be respectful, how to differentiate between right and wrong, and how to be a functioning member of society. Without a father figure, boys will “become the tortured evidence of the culture they grow up in” (Boys Will Be Men). The consequences are nothing to scoff at, evident by the increase in young boys committing mass shootings and participating in drug use.
The problems don’t stop there. Jack Myers in an interview about his book “The Future of Men” states that “only 40 percent of college degrees are going to men versus 60 percent going to women,” “stay-at-home dads … have increased from 1.1 million in 1989 to 2 million in 2012,” “the new generation of men aren't getting the kind of support that women have had,” and Kantor claims “almost nobody is living out the kind of gender script or marriage script that their parents did” (“The Future of…”). For decades people have been screaming women don’t have rights; women are oppressed; women are discriminated against; women bear the brunt of every evil in the world; yet we’ve completely forgotten about young boys and how they feel. Young boys who’ve been sexually abused and harassed are just only now “emerging from decades of silence,” and many of them are struggling or have struggled with drugs and alcohol (Abelson). While it’s true that men have been historically more privileged than women, we’re getting to a point in which both genders now “[share] the anxiety of earning money and raising a family more equally than ever before” (Kantor in “The Future of…”).
Both genders have problems, and it’s crucial that they work together in order to mutually benefit each other. As you can probably imply, I’m very open when it comes to gender roles. Feel free to abide by them or not; But the problem occurs when someone is attacked for complying with gender roles, the reason being that it isn’t empowering women to be different and stand up for themselves. That’s a load of horse crap. True female empowerment is allowing them the freedom and ability to do whatever pleases them, and this god-given right shouldn’t be impeded on by anyone, male or female.
This was an essay that I wrote for my English composition class, and I thought the topic was interesting enough to put on my site.