Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals. - Emma Watson on Gender Equality at the UN -
Several years ago, there was this opinion from an educationist that accused our textbooks of being too sexist. Everyone went apeshit. Discussions among this statement were on fire. Generally the public opinion was that her accusation is laughable, and that there’s nothing sexist about the way textbooks depict genders. I, however, found the crowd to be laughable, and that the issue the educationist pointed out was really worth more serious attention.
The issue is, there are too many sexist things in Vietnam, and sometimes we get used too much to sexism to even recognize that ugly truth.
Textbooks for primary or high schools are exclusively published by Ministry of Education and Training’s publisher house. That way, every single student in Vietnam would absorb in all the same values and beliefs they are taught at schools; their views about the world are skewed by these books. So how did the mentioned educationist say books are sexist? In textbooks, we can see quite clearly the gender discrimination reflected in the characters’ occupations: doctors must be men, nurses must be women; school teachers are female, but college lecturers are male; girls do the house work, moms always cook, and dads always make more money. One may argue that these stereotypes are just so real in Vietnam, that men are generally taken more seriously than women, and that Vietnamese women, however smart or professionally talented they are, should be submissive at home. I can tell you, this is bullshit! For a long time our society has put too much pressure on women’s shoulders, that they have to be no less hard-working than men, yet they can’t (or should never) surpass their male counter-parts. If this fact is depicted in books as an obvious universal truth, what is the point of educating people? What are we doing trying to improve gender equality, while at the same time teaching the perfect opposite in books?
Gender discrimination apparently is not limited to textbooks. This whole textbook thing is just so minor, compared to all the “He can do this – She should do this” air we have been breathing in. Though I’ve rarely been a victim of gender inequality, I see it happen around me, in the way people talk or act, and it’s just like an itch that cannot be scratched. When I was in high school, I had a history teacher who I liked very much; but I liked her a lot less when I knew she was asking other teachers if they had any techniques that would help her conceive a baby boy. Then one day I was with my sister at a clinic for a sonogram, I heard a woman cried talking to her husband on the phone “Honey come here! It’s a boy! It’s a boy!”. So what if it was a girl? Would the husband ever come with his wife to the clinic, or would he ever care at all he was having a child?
I had never cooked until first year of college, when I started living on my own and had no other choice. My mom used to say “You’re a girl, you have to learn to cook some day!”, and that “You’re a girl” part kept me from cooking for years, as a rebellion. But I had kept this huge secret for a long time: I love cooking. And I love being the cook in the family, not because I’m a daughter or a future wife, but because I just love being creative with food. Why do women feel obliged to cook every day? Why are men often teased when they cook for their family, while it’s actually a very beautiful and sexy gesture? It’s just so sexist, and it hurts both sides.
What bothers me these days is that Vietnamese TVCs are sexist, too. Well, I love advertising, so I watch TV on advertising breaks, and leave when the main program is on again. There’s this TVC for VTV cable system which shows a “standard family”, where the mom does all the house works and the dad just watch, sighing to express his sympathy for the wife. But seriously Mr. Sympathy, your wife needs more than that! Why can’t he just help her, because all I see is him walking around the house watching people?
OK, so in TVCs you have to show a standard lifestyle, which means women always cook, men always eat; the opposite scenario, which is the family wait for the family man to bring out a tasty dish, seems to never happen. (But this happens in real life!). Then it built up to a climax when I saw a commercial of Ariel (detergent). It’s a short interview of a mom who claims that “I’m a woman. So as a woman, all I care is that my husband and my children are successful out there.” Women do not live in a cave, so there’s no “out there”. While I respect a mom caring for her family, I think the concept they are using is just ridiculous and sexist (and mainstream, too). Daddies care about children, too. Daddies can cook. Daddies can take care of his wife and children, as much as Mommies can go out and work and be like a boss.
I would change the Ariel’s TVC to this: A single dad is very happy to see his little girl grow up and wear her white Ao dai dress to school the first day. But he’s very concerned that the dress looks pale, and he doesn’t know how to whiten it. One day he saw a pack of Ariel in a neighbor’s shopping cart, and he just bought the same product. (Of course it’s a TVC) he was happy with that decision. I believe that people want to see more of independent women vs family men on the media. They want change, but they just think it’s too hard, so they choose to get along with those sexist traditions.
Speak up now the media people, educationists and social activists. If not now, when?