$5,000 Will Get You a Wife or 2 Cows — The Worth of a Hmong Woman

When a girl is molested or raped, often times the family will demand that the perpetrator pay to restore the family honor. That amount is usually $5,000, and that’s only if her father demands it, not to mention that the price is to restore family honor, not the girl’s.

When a girl is kidnapped and forced to marry her kidnapper, the bride-price is usually $5,000 for the average girl. When a man trespasses upon a woman’s rights, her body, her being, $5,000 seems to be the ticket price for female dignity here in America. Well, $5,000 doesn’t get you very far nowadays. Two cows for a funeral costs $5,000.

If a woman is highly educated, the price then jumps to $10,000 — which is less than the price for a used Toyota Camry.

What does that say about how we view women in Hmong society? That women are just a commodity, like livestock? To be bought, traded, and reared for the consumption of men?

I understand the need for a bride price back in the old country. It was a way to ensure that your daughter would be treated well — which in itself is problematic that you need money as insurance that your daughter won’t be abused, and far too telling about the amount of abuse that exists within Hmong culture. But the question isn’t just the amount. The bigger question is why it only applies to girls.

A man’s worth is measured more keenly by their accomplishments. Their education, their intelligence, their cultural knowledge, their net worth. Whereas women, even when our accomplishments surpasses men’s, we’ll still be seen as an accompaniment to them. A side piece.

I will never be presented in traditional Hmong company under my own name. I will always be presented as my father’s daughter, and later on if I marry Hmong, my husband’s name. My name is almost inconsequential in Hmong society. Whether I want to or not, I will always belong to a patriarchal lineage. When Hmong people greet me, the question is always who my father is. I understand that this was the traditional way to keep track of who’s who and who belongs to what clan, but in this ever changing landscape of American society, it’s not hard to also see the shackles that come with never being able to be recognized as equal to your fathers and brothers, never being seen as an individual whole.

I recently wrote an article on rape culture, and one particular comment from a Hmong man stuck out to me:

“If he broke it, he buy it or pay to repair it.”

The “it” he was referring to was Hmong women. So if a man raped a woman, he would pay her family or he would marry her, with no regard to how she felt about it. Sadly, this was a very common practice, and is still being practiced today.

Though I see the tide of Hmong women rising, succeeding beyond our brothers, it’s still sad to see that we are worth so little in our community. We find ourselves in a struggle within a struggle — the constraints of our own culture and those of the larger American cultural dynamics.

Hmong men have never had to define their worth. They are “worthy” just by birth alone, for having been fortunate enough to be born male. There is no price tag attached to their personhood, to their honor and dignity. This is a privilege that all of our sons are born into that our daughters have to fight for.

For women, society would have you believe that our honor lies between our legs, that our worth is in how well we obey, and not in the strength in our backs and in our brains. Even today, there is a large portion of our men who can only see our worth in how well we perform our wifely duties. Even for me, when I think of my own worth, the answer doesn’t come easy.

Hmong men my age and older don’t have much to say to me. Though I’m fluent in Hmong, we speak two different languages. Them, in the old tongue where my worth is summed up in dollars and cents; and me, in a new tongue laced with the struggle for equality and a worth that should have been mine by birth equal to my brothers.

Shaker Offer.

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