Literal Translation: Having children, [a woman] must suffer for her children,
Having a husband, [a woman] must bear the burden of the husband’s household.
English Equivalent: Behind every successful man is a woman.
When I look back at how society used to be, I realize how far women have come. Everywhere in the world, women are at a better place in society than they were yesterday, a year ago or a decade ago. This change is the fruit of an ongoing struggle.
Our March proverb (actually a folk song) demonstrates this. To understand it, we need to explore the historical context of its birth. In the past, women in Vietnam and Asia held very traditional roles within society due to the widespread acceptance of Confucianism. According to the teachings, a woman was expected to be subservient to her husband and other male figures in her family, while carrying out her duties within the household.
In Vietnam, there’s a proverb that expresses the four qualities in an ideal woman – Công dung ngôn hạnh (hardworking, beautiful, soft-spoken, virtuous). Công (hardworking) refers to her labor and devotion to the household and serving her family. Our folk song is further evidence of this gender norm, expressing that a woman must take care of her children and home. Interestingly enough, the folk song actually expresses pity and empathy for women as indicated by the use of the words khổ (suffer) and gánh (carry the weight of/ bear the burden of), both having negative connotations. The folk song is acknowledging and praising a woman’s sacrifice for her family. This traditional role of women was duplicated around the world, not just limited to Asia.
Today, there is the saying “Behind every successful man is a woman.” While this phrase is not without criticism, it nonetheless recognizes the role women play in men’s success. The phrase is not about housekeeping or childrearing, as in the past, but reflects a woman’s direct involvement. Barack and Michelle Obama, Pierre and Marie Currie, Johnny and June Carter Cash – these couples earned the adoration of spectators for their harmonious relationships.
In each case, the wives played a vital role in the husband’s success. Michelle was the eloquent First Lady who matched Barack in charisma, Marie was the perfect partner whose intellect rivaled Pierre’s, and June was the musical muse and soul mate who inspired Johnny. Women have come a long way in their fight for rights. They no longer stand in their spouses’ shadow, but beside him or her as a partner.
As positive as this progress is, there is still a long way to go in the fight for equality.