For years, Joseph Phan Van Huynh stayed home while his wife worked, making four times what he used to.
“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.”
In Vietnam, where a recent survey showed 80 percent of men feel they should be the breadwinners and women housewives, it was a humiliating situation. His wife, a computer-aided design specialist for a local newspaper, made all the decisions and treated him as a social inferior.
Then she quit. The house was purchased and paid for and his wife told him it was now his turn to support the family. Meanwhile, she spends her time socializing and doing charity work.
Huynh, who has been married 14 of his 46 years, found the new role challenging. He couldn’t afford his children’s school fees, food and family expenses on a salary of just 10 million dong (13.375 baht) a month.
He asked siblings for money and begged them to food for the children. He asked his wife to share the expenses and 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.”
Huynh and his wife no longer speak but, as Catholics, remain married.
Welcome to 21st century Vietnam, where gender modern roles don’t match traditional expectations.
A recent social survey, “Men and Masculinities in a globalizing Vietnam,” conducted by the Institute for Social Development Studies, showed that more than 80 percent of male 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.
More than 97 percent 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 percent of participants are concerned about the burden of supporting their families, while another 3 percent admitted that they have considered suicide.
Two years ago, Martin Nguyen Huu Thinh decided to quit his job 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 made a monthly salary of 12 million dong, much more than his. The couple lives with his parents, who are too old to care for their son, in Ho Chi Minh City.
That didn’t stop the in-laws from nagging him, however.
“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.
His wife is now pregnant with a second child, but wants to continue working.
“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.
In today’s Vietnam, many women are well-educated and make more money than their husbands. But their success hurts their spouses’ pride.
“Men build houses and women build homes,” a Vietnamese saying goes. Father Joachim Nguyen Thanh Tuu, assistant priest from Vinh Hiep Parish in Ho Chi Minh City said wives should treat their husbands humanely and kindly. Both have duties to work together and build their homes.
Tuu offers marriage courses to young couples and tells them 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.
The original, longer version of this story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.