To Vietnamese people, family is the most important feature of life. helloVietnam tour operator is listing the 3 main aspects of family that have shaped their thinking & behavior.
Preferential Treatment and Double Kinship System
Unlike Western culture that promotes individuality, to Vietnamese people, family is the most important aspect of life. Its health and cohesiveness is the main cultural imperative. The more generations (and sons) a household is constituted of, the more fortunate and blessed it is considered. One’s roles, privileges, and obligations within the family (or any community) are more emphasized compared to their own individual desires.
A Three Generation Family
In Vietnamese culture, the family (nuclear and extended) is very interdependent and tight-knit. There is a saying: “Một giọt máu đào hơn ao nước lã”, which is an equivalent to “Blood is thicker than water”. Most Vietnamese people feel a sense of belonging and loyalty towards their family, including both their ancestors and future generations.
The kinship networks of the paternal (nội) and maternal (ngoại) sides are also treated profoundly different, even the ways of addressing them; nội (inside) and ngọai (outside) have proven that themselves. The lineage on the paternal side is accorded the main priority in terms of everything from affinity to service, while that of the maternal side is more perfunctory.
Filial Piety and Obedience
Vietnamese Families are patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal. Within a household hierarchy, the oldest male has the ultimate authority, responsibility, and final decision in all matters, followed by his eldest son. The patriarch is to delegate tasks and involve other family members in the decision making while the others are to obey.
“Khiêm tốn” (humbling and self-restraint) is the most important value in Vietnamese society. If a child has ideological or moral opinions that differ from those of their superiors, he will mostly likely to keep them to himself.
Filial piety is considered a key virtue in Vietnamese Culture
Vietnamese people grow up being taught about "Tôn ti trật tự", which is "to respect the hierarchy in the family and society, and show deference to their superiors". Emphasis is placed on the importance of obedience to their parents and ancestors. Children are expected to yield to their seniors because of their interior position. Girls are expected to display a more intense degree of moral socialization and feminine virtues, especially modesty and chastity.
Filial piety is the key virtue and the first ever moral lesson one is taught in life, in which, children are required to give their parents, their elders, and their older siblings respect, love, and care. One must always put their family first, and if they bring dishonor or disgrace to themself or their family, their family may ostracize them. That’s why when writing one’s name, their family name must be put first, followed by their given name.
In the past, parents arranged marriage for their children (sometimes forced it on them), hence the saying: "Cha mẹ đặt đâu con ngồi đấy", which literally means, "children must sit wherever their parents want them to". According to their belief, marriage has to be between people from the same background (môn đăng hộ đối).
Gender Discrimination and Inequality
Confucianism is a religious and social philosophy that has significantly shaped the way Vietnamese people think and behave. This philosophy imposes a mental fetter of wifely submission and virtues called "Three obedience and four virtues" on women.
Even the pictographic character of the word "Women/woman" -女, shows the image of a woman in a kneeling position, meaning women are supposed to be obedient, subservient, and docile.
The word 女or woman shows the image of her kneeling down
The status of Vietnamese women in the past
In Vietnam, studies of Confucianism attained their apogee under the Early Le Dynasty (1428-1527) because they were favorable for the monarchy. Along with the rise of Confucianism in Vietnam, the status of women also declined drastically. They had to go through harsh treatment and put up with gender inequality.
In the past, polygyny/concubinage (to sire more sons), and abuse (to get the wives to submit to their husbands) were allowed and even encouraged in some sense. Men had 7 reasons (Thất xuất) to divorce their wives. Women, on the other hand, were expected to sacrifice and endure all difficulties for the sake of her children:
1. Childless/Doesn’t have a son
2. Promiscuous, lazy
3. Disrespects her in-law parents
5. Commits petty crimes
7. Has lethal diseases
There were 3 scenarios that allowed the wife to stay:
1. She has worshipped her in-laws for 3 years
2. She doesn’t have shelter
3. The family has gone from poor to rich after marriage
At least some of the studies have never been practiced in reality. For example, Even though according to Confucianism, women are expected to be subject to paternal authority: to their father, brothers (even the younger ones), husband (when married) and sons (when her husband dies), the mother is still a sacred figure in Vietnamese culture.
The Confucian doctrine declined due to the French conquest and the exposure to Western philosophies. However, the Confucian doctrine still pervades the Vietnamese people’s way of thinking and behaving from all walks of life, just to a lesser extent. In the family or the public sphere, men are still relatively more dominant than women and are rarely expected to do household work.
Vietnamese Women in modern days
In a patriarchal society like Vietnam, having sons is a must when it comes to inheritance and anything else. Well-off families want to have boys to inherit their property, or at least the lion’s share of it, because sons are expected to look after their parents in their old age. Only men have the right to worship their ancestors and women are expected to worship their husbands’ families. They believe that a family without sons is unfortunate as it can’t be superstitiously continued and will disappear forever.
There is an old saying in Vietnamese: "Nhất nam viết hữu, thập nữ viết vô", which means: "If you have a son, you can say you have a descendent. But you cannot say so even if you have ten daughters". That leads to the dangerously high gender ratio at birth with 112.2 (boys)/100 (girls) in 2014, which directly translates to the rise of adultery and divorces, selective abortions of female fetuses, and death of women in childbirth, all because they prefer a son to a daughter.
Nowadays, the role of Vietnamese women in the family and society is changing for the better. Their contribution has become more and more significant in the economy. However, the unequal sharing of responsibility between men and women that society has been forcing on them is disheartening. No matter how successful they are in society, if they fail to juggle their family affairs, they are disqualified from being a good mother and wife, which is something that never happens to men. This conservative and narrow-minded way of thinking has greatly hindered women from growing professionally.