In Hmong society, only two genders are recognized, male and female. Hmong men are most admired for being tough, intelligent, wise, generous, and commanding. Above all, they must materially support, morally guide, and resolutely defend the family and sublineage. In order to achieve these ends, they also have to negotiate and maintain reciprocities with other kin groups. In this strategy lies a paradox for would-be civic leaders and politicians. They must be perceived as loyal family members who will not use their positions in the community to favor relatives. The appearance of kinship bias in the performance of public duties can seriously undermine a leader's support.
The ideal Hmong woman of one or two generations ago was nurturing, patient, forbearing, industrious, mature, quiet, and not given to gossip. She modestly avoided joking, or even talking, about sex. When faced with a serious tragedy, such as the death of loved ones, she displayed great emotion, but muted her feelings when dealing with the aggravating problems of everyday life. Rather than being assertive, she tended to withhold opinions that might contradict the views of others, particularly those of male leaders. Most of these qualities continue to be valued by Hmong in the United States, but the ascent of women into public positions of authority reflects a trend toward greater gender equality with respect to opinion sharing and problem solving (see Donnelly, 1994; Rice, 2000; Symonds, 1991).
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