Speaking Bitterness: Patriarchy in Asian Families

participants: MAMAGUNZ, Sid Brown, round-round, and r.r.

MAMAGUNZ: i wanted to talk about how parents treat sons and daughters differently mainly because my parents have been pressuring me to do all kinds of domestic chores and telling me things like, you have to know how to cook because you’ll need to feed your husband in the future. my brother, who is about 8 years younger, doesnt get that kind of treatment. he just sits in front of his computer after coming home from school. does nothing at all and expects my mother to do everything for him. it seems like parents train women to become housewives generation after generation, whereas boys are trained to become some sort of lump on a log. what’s up with that?

Sid Brown: its true, but boys feel a different kind of pressure too. they have to fulfill the duty of “providing for the family” (considering hetero-normative gender roles). for them, they are burdened with getting a good job and to most asian parents that means lawyer, doctor, engineer, etc.

MAMAGUNZ: yeah, my parents are very happy that my brother goes to stuyvesant hs. so it seems like he has the brains and stuff. but he doesnt have any practical skills. neither one of my parents teach him how to do anything, so im wondering how hes even gonna try to get a job later lol. i try to teach him. like, my mother blow-dries his hair for him. i tell her that he should do it himself. when he tried to dry his hair, he held it too close to his scalp and ended up burning it. then he just stopped trying. even after i explain to him how to blow-dry his hair properly…

round-round: wow

MAMAGUNZ: yeah, its THAT bad

r.r.: i will have to agree with both of you to certain extent. girls= future housewife; boys= future breadwinner, sort of expectations. however, that’s definitely not as simple as we would speak for our mothers and their mothers. we are all college graduates here so i guess we all can agree that our parents do want us to have a public role besides the one of a housewife.

Sid Brown: that is pretty lame. :( my dad doesn’t encourage my brother to work to obtain those practical skills too like ironing, using a washer/dryer, and washing dishes by hand. but when he comes over my mom’s house where i live, he knows he isn’t getting away with that shit.

r.r.: but again, men don’t go through the similar “trainings” of running a household as women do. women are often expected to perform both roles. so i guess we could talk about what is “it” that leads parents to have such expectations from their daughters. or maybe i’m posing this question based on my own experience of my parents’ ideal daughter: a wonderwoman! (it has to be a wonderwoman. a fictional character, no?)

Sid Brown: actually, my parents don’t. i think they only wanted me to go to school to be more competitive in the marriage market lol but i DEFINITELY agree with r.r. clearly defined gender roles are not the norm for recent asian immigrant families, asian migrant workers, or working class american families in general.

round-round: i have a friend who lives in a female headed household. she is the eldest of four daughters. she feels like, as the eldest and asian immigrant, she needs to fill the void of her father. so she ends up playing the supporting mother role and the father role to her sisters. i wonder if this is also similar to the trope of the wonderwoman daughter.

r.r.: absolutely! remain a girl, unless you have to fill in for your brother/father/husband, etc. etc.

MAMAGUNZ: my parents expect me to multitask. they laugh when i say that my partner and i will split all tasks evenly. they think that doing that it feminizes my partner.

Sid Brown: oh i see now.

MAMAGUNZ: wonder if they think that if my bro takes on cooking and cleaning that he’ll turn into a woman overnight.

r.r.: i had a similar experience when my father saw my relationship with one of my exes who cleaned the apartment, did the dishes, etc. etc. my father was completely troubled with our relationship, and told us that it wouldn’t last for very long because there was no “respect” in our relationship. the relationship didn’t last, but for different reasons.

MAMAGUNZ: when i try to criticize my brother around my mother, she feels like she’s being attacked. and this is because she raised my brother. so any criticism of my brother becomes a criticism of her. what did your mother say?

r.r.: nothing. i’m sure she smirked behind his back. haha i have a question for you, MAMAGUNZ.


r.r.: i remember growing up we were often told that if the children turns out to be right: respectful over-achieving boys and wonderwomen girls; it was always a pride for the father. but if the kids didn’t turn out to be the “ideal” children, it was always the mother’s fault. is that something that is similar in your culture?

MAMAGUNZ: yeah, my father actually blames my mother when my brother behaves badly.

round-round: same here.

MAMAGUNZ: he says something like, i work all day and i come home to this mess? how do you raise your children? as if we’re not his lol

r.r.: well, yu’re his children only if yu’re the “ideal” children.

MAMAGUNZ: how does this work in your fam, round-round?

round-round: my dad used to be like that too. if something me and my sister did was wrong, it was my mother’s fault b/c she’s supposed to be the disciplinarian. but after he retired, my mother set him straight.


round-round: in this way i think it’s really a gendered labor type of thing but after my mom took the gender out of it and made it purely about how labor is distributed between public/private, my dad became responsible for all the house stuff.

r.r.: i wonder if your mother has a similar experience and she has internalized this very patriarchal idea. so whenever you criticize her, it’s validating her own insecurities.

MAMAGUNZ: yeah, i think what you say is right, r.r.  i wanna see my mother set my father straight like round-round’s mother did. your mom and my mom need to have a one-on-one.

Sid Brown: lol

r.r.: i want to hear more about your mom, round-round.


round-round: well, my mom said that he’s been pulling a double standard on her when he retired. so now my dad’s a stay home dad who’s responsible for all the private labor.

Sid Brown: how cool.

round-round: i.e. household chores, etc. and disciplining children.

MAMAGUNZ: do his friends make fun of him?

round-round: i wouldn’t know. i hardly see his friends, and all his friends live in nursing homes.

MAMAGUNZ: ah, what about family? my dad’s side of the fam criticizes my mom for childrearing stuff. does your dad’s side of the fam criticize your mom for changing the roles in the house?

round-round: well, my dad’s brothers are all kinda maternal. the ladies in my dad’s side are known for being untraditional. they’re all loud and can get really mean.

r.r.: haha

round-round: but i feel like it’s my aunties who really get on my mom. for not performing her duties well. "duties."

MAMAGUNZ: aunties from your moms side?

round-round: no, my dad’s side

MAMAGUNZ: ah, what do they say?

Sid Brown: do your families have that in-laws problem where there is tons of pressure placed on the mother?

round-round: well, my mom comes from a lower class so there’s that dynamic too. and we’re Hakka so that’s different.

r.r.: hakka?

round-round: it’s a subethnic group in China.

MAMAGUNZ: ah true, hakka women have a history of being loud and vocal. they didnt bind their feet cause they had to do farm work too.

round-round: so we have a coolie history and there’s a class dynamic there

MAMAGUNZ: to answer sid's question: yeah, my fam places a lot of pressure on my mom. there was one time one of my aunts was like, wow, what did you do wrong? why does your son behave like that?

r.r.: i think i had a similar history too. my father’s side of the family were all peasants. my father was the only one who “made it” by joining the british army (well, he was literally dragged at the age of 13 by his father, but that’s a different story). but my mother’s side of the family were businessmen.

round-round: so who got the burden of blame when things went wrong?

r.r.: my father’s side of the family never said anything. even if they did, probably behind my mother’s back. so my mother didn’t necessarily have to go through the scorn of her in-laws (my paternal grandmother died long time before my parents got married). but i think she had internalized this idea herself, so she would feel the pressure even when there wasn’t any actual pressure. but my mother was/is also a housewife and my father being a breadwinner, they have a different power relationship.

MAMAGUNZ: how does that happen? people internalizing stuff?

round-round: and what exactly are our mothers internalizing?

r.r.:  to state it simply: there are traditions built to hold up the patriarchal structure. our mothers internalize these structures through these traditions.

MAMAGUNZ:  im thinking of an example. like, my father really wanted to have a son, cause sons are generally more cherished in chinese society. women used to be married off at a young age, so they weren’t considered to be as precious since they didn’t stay on the farm until they got old. i think that is still carried over when people migrate to the US.

r.r.:  well, to go back to what you started off with: your parents are “training” you to become a good housewife because that’s the tradition. what they don’t understand is that they’re just pawns of the patriarchal structures.

MAMAGUNZ:  true that.

Sid Brown:  yeah, social pressures were huge when it came to my mom finally moving out and getting a divorce. me and my sisters actually wanted my parents to divorce but my mother feared the scorn associated with being a divorced mother. it is usually the woman blamed for the failure of the marriage, and it is more difficult for the woman to remarry.

Sid Brown:  yup, women were considered a burden on the family. that is why they were married off at such a young age.

r.r.:  i think that every culture is built up on patriarchy. it just gets carried out differently. child marriage, bride price are all cultural. patriarchy is universal.

MAMAGUNZ:  can anyone say more about how every culture is built on patriarchy? like why there is a necessity for each culture to be carried out this way? or, an assumed “necessity.”

round-round: i agree that almost every culture has patriarchy built upon it, but at the same time i want to acknowledge that culture is not static. back to what MAMAGUNZ was saying about how patriarchy seemed to have migrated over with our parents. i agree to a certain extent that there are some values that have a historical legacy, but want to believe that our mothers are more than passive recipients of culture, especially when women’s bodies are supposed to be conduits of culture through childbirth and keeping up traditions. that seems especially true when we feel like we’re inheriting their unfair labors as wonderwomen.

Sid Brown:  i just think religion has a big role in what is expected of either gender in my family. its the answer to nearly all questions as on gender roles. and then on top of that its justified by biology.

round-round: "justified."

Sid Brown:  i have had countless conversations with my aunts, who are all very strong women but encourage me to learn the things i need in order to be a good wife…. cook clean, make (good) chai.

MAMAGUNZ:  yeah, how does biology enforce patriarchy?

Sid Brown:  that a woman is weak and is the child bearer, so she needs to be protected. bla bla bla really, it has to do with honor—control the women in your family so your daughter does not have a child out of wedlock and you know your wife’s kids are your own.

r.r.:  i know it’s definitely not science point of view, but to me, to be able to carry a life in a womb for an average of 9 months and to be able to bring another life to the earth by laboring through your vagina is a pretty powerful concept to me.

MAMAGUNZ:  yeah, and women are not appreciated enough for that.

r.r.:  i agree with Sid. i feel like women’s bodies are more subjected to family’s honor than men’s.

r.r.:  i want to go back to what round-round was talking about when she mentioned how our mothers are more than just the passive recipients of culture. can we take a moment and think about what our own mothers have done? i think it’s important to recognize that.

Sid Brown:  like round-round said… culture isn’t static. we know from our own mothers and I surely know from my own that as much as she resisted and wanted to stay with my father, she has sacrificed so much and continues to do so despite her “traditional” upbringing is all.

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