Relative Status of Men and Women

Although the construction of gender in Hmong society varies regionally, as well as over time, the privileged status of males within the family appears to be a constant. Because they perpetuate the descent line and remain closer to the parents, sons were, and still are, considered more valuable than daughters. When a boy was born in village Laos, the parents announced that he would be "the little one to shoulder fire wood," that is, he would remain with the parents and carry on the family traditions. A female newborn was called "the one to pluck greens for the pig" and "the other people's daughter." Said more directly, she would help the family until old enough to marry and move out. Patrilocal residence tended to keep male siblings and their male offspring closer together, whereas married females usually resided with their husband's kin group. Ideally, the families of close male patrikin formed pawg neeg (see above) in order to share resources and to help one another solve problems. According to one Hmong proverb, "Nine fireplaces are not as warm as the sun; nine daughters do not equal one son" (Vang & Lewis, 1984, p. 71). Metaphors that downplay the value of daughters are heard less often in the United States, but sons are still considered essential to the completion of a family.

In Laos, men performed the clan- and lineage-specific rituals while women functioned in supporting roles. The handling of a family's most prestigious goods in public was the prerogative of males. For instance, at large feasts associated with funerals and New Year celebrations, women were restricted to preparing common staples like rice and vegetables, even though they prepared all types of food at home. Men assumed the more important task of cooking the meat dishes, which symbolized family wealth and success.

Hmong family celebrations in the United States are becoming smaller as kin, affines, and friends find it increasingly difficult to coordinate their busy schedules. At these increasingly intimate affairs, the women usually prepare the food while the men socialize with guests. This role shift may reflect the fact that the provisioning and preparing of meat has lost some of its symbolic value inasmuch as it is no longer difficult to obtain nor particularly expensive. Hmong men may also be responding to what they see as a prevalent cultural pattern in the United States, that men do not cook inside the home. Some kin groups continue to have male cooks prepare the meat dishes at large celebrations.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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