Men lose role as breadwinners


Two years ago, on mature reflection, Martin Nguyen Huu Thinh decided to stop working for a company in Binh Duong province and look after his seven-month son at home so that his wife could pursue her job at a communication company.

At that time his wife took home a monthly salary of 12 million dong (NZ$785), much more than his.

Thinh ignored his relatives who advised him not to give up his job. They live with his parents, who are too old to care for their son, in Ho Chi Minh City.

“Now I both care for my child, do housework and run a laundry service at home to generate income, but my parents-in-law nag me to seek a job and support the family,” the 35-year-old father said, adding that they tell him that as a man in a patriarchal society he must be the breadwinner and let his wife stay at home and look after the child.

Thinh admitted that he has an inferiority complex about his position in the family with his wife and picks quarrels with her about her relatives’ complaints about him.

He said he plans to send their son to a Catholic-run daycare centre and look for a job but his wife, who is five months pregnant, asked him to take care of their second child after she gives birth.

“I feel disappointed with my wife, who tells me that she makes more money than me so she has the right to continue her work,” he said, adding that she fails to acknowledge his sacrifice for their family.

“I am deeply ashamed of our problems and do not dare to tell other people including the parish priest,” he said.

A recent social survey, “Men and Masculinities in a globalizing Vietnam,” conducted by the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS), showed that over 80 per cent of interviewees agreed that women should do simple work and look after their families rather than build their careers.

The survey, which involved 2,567 men aged 18-64 from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the provinces of Khanh Hoa and Hoa Binh, disclosed little change in gender equality among men who claim that they have more abilities than women and are easily tolerated by the society.

ISDS director Khuat Thu Hong said men suffer from the burden of masculinity, have status as sole breadwinner on the brain and put themselves under pressure to show their firmness in front of women. Over 97 per cent of respondents said that they want to be the emotional and financial support of their spouses. Those who fail get stressful and consider themselves losers.

The findings revealed that 83 per cent of participants are concerned about the burden of supporting their families, while another 3 per cent admitted that they have considered suicide.

Over 30 per cent of participants in the survey experienced feeling lonely, 33 per cent feel weary and 16 per cent think they are failures.

Experts say many women are well educated and make more money than their husbands but their success hurts their spouses’ pride.

Joseph Phan Van Huynh, 46, said he has grown weary of his marriage for years as his wife regards him as a social inferior.

Huynh, who has been married for 14 years, said his wife was a specialist in computer-aided design at a local newspaper and her salary was four times more than his. She made all decisions in the family.

“She asked me to support the children while she worked to buy a house,” the father of three said. “I had no choice but to accept her request.”

He said she quit her job and spends all time going out with her friends and doing charity work after she bought the house.

Huynh said he could not afford to cover his children’s school fees, food and other family needs with his salary of 10 million dong per month. He has to ask for money from his siblings and ask them to prepare food for the children.

He said he asked his wife to share the family burden with him but she refused. “You are the breadwinner but could not buy the house. I already bought it. Now you must support the children. If not, you are not a fit man.”

He said they no longer speak to one another.

Father Joachim Nguyen Thanh Tuu, an assistant priest from Vinh Hiep Parish in Ho Chi Minh City, said a Vietnamese saying goes “Men build houses and women build homes,” so wives should treat their husbands humanely and kindly. Both have duties to work together and build their homes.

Father Tuu, who offers marriage courses to young couples, said men have practical experience in dealing with problems even though they have low education.

He said he tells couples to accept one another’s weak points and help improve them rather than criticize one another. “They should respect one another and do their best to support their families, not focus on one another’s education and finance,” he added.

Mary Tran Thi Hoa, who works at a bank in Kien Giang province, said her spouse has just finished high school and works on farms to support the family.

Hoa said in the past they had bitter quarrels about little things and her husband avoided decision-making and dealing with family issues since he had a complex about his education.

The 45-year-old mother of three said one time he left her and returned home while they were out with her colleagues. Her colleagues unintentionally talked about broken marriages due to different education between wives and husbands.

Two years ago, she asked her parish priest to allow him to serve as the head of a group of Catholic households and he turned over a new leaf.

“He leads daily prayer sessions at church, gives the Eucharist to Massgoers and patients, and gathers people to pray for dying people and support those who have wedding parties,” she said. He is content to make friends with other people.

“I am happy that he actively works with me to prepare for our son’s wedding ceremonies next month,” she said, adding that a happy marriage is based on real love, not education.

  • First published in Republished with permission.
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