What does 'Men make houses, women make homes' mean in modern time?
Since I’ve been recently discussing this topic with some of my friends between 25 and 35 years old, I've gained some interesting insights.
“My mom often told me this when I was a kid to emphasise the importance of knowing how to do house chores and how it can potentially help me build a happy family for myself in the future,” Mai Dang, 26, told me.
“I used to buy it, until I got older and became an independent woman. I now believe that women can do more than just 'make a home'”, she said.
I understood Mai completely since my mom has raised me in a similar way. The age gap between my mom and me is about 40 years. Considering the social role of women in a male-dominated culture many years ago, I very much understood why my mom swore by this perception and passed it on to me.
“During our moms’ era, women didn’t have many opportunities to thrive socially,” Mai said.
To be honest, I’ve always felt pressure about being familiar with house chores because I’m extroverted and love to hang out with friends and do stuff that boys of my age do.
By doing “girly” housework, I have a concern that I might be deemed “less” than my partner, and I don’t want that to happen.
“Women have taken on more important social roles now, so I believe many of them have the same concern as you. Even I do!” Dung Nguyen, who is seven years older than me, said.
“The saying 'men make houses, women make homes' is not exactly out of date as it still makes sense in certain ways. However, with many men now making a home, I believe the younger generation shouldn’t take this statement as seriously as the older generation did,” she said.
I don’t have male friends that stay at home 100 per cent of the time, so I’m glad that Dung could offer me some insights.
“I have an older friend that has stayed at home and taken care of his family for more than five years,” she said. “Due to an unfortunate layoff, he lost his job and started to invest more time in his family. He told me that although he felt uncomfortable at first, he was glad he married a successful woman who is very supportive of every move he makes in his life."
I’m not sure about anywhere else, but in Vietnamese culture, particularly the version that I grew up with, my brother and cousins were taught to become breadwinners of their family.
“My friend said that abstaining from the breadwinner role offers him an opportunity to redefine manhood for himself,” Dung said, adding that it’s very modern and positive of her friend to think of the situation in that light.
“Most of my male friends, especially ones from northern Vietnam, inherit a mindset that a successful career is what best defines masculinity and secures their power, and that they would never trade anything for their career,” Mai said.
“However, in this modern world, there is more than just a career that makes up the identity of a man and especially a happy family,” said Mai.
And I couldn’t agree more. As a matter of fact, though usually placed at a “higher” level compared to women, from what I’ve seen from my male relatives, they always feel under pressure to live up to what Asian culture expects them to do.
“Sometimes, I would love to 'resign' from my breadwinner role for a few days and just chill,” one of my older relatives said.
“Since we both (my relative and his wife) didn’t come from a wealthy background, I feel like it’s my responsibility to provide the best for my family financially, and sometimes it’s exhausting,” he said.
I also had this discussion with another friend of mine, Anh Tuan, 31, who hasn’t married yet.
“I will never stop working and just 'make a home'. It may sound selfish but I don’t like the idea of stay-at-home dads. I’m not sure whether this perception will change as I will marry in the future, but for now, waking up every day, I’m eager to climb the ladder of success,” Tuan said.
“My job makes me feel worthy and gives me a sense of social inclusion,” he said.
I understood where his idea comes from and it’s not selfish at all for a person to strive for career success, considering that it’s his choice of living and it motivates him to live meaningfully every day.
From my experience, we all live to fulfill the purpose that we have set for ourselves, though it could be socially constructed like the saying “men make houses, women make homes”.
My friends and I all agree that we’re living in a modern society in which everything should be shared equally, whether it’s making a “house” or a “home”.
“Instead of strictly determining roles based on gender, it’s healthier for both partners to experience different aspects of life and contribute their unique experiences to building a family,” Dung said.
“I feel like the concept of making a 'home' and a 'house' has intertwined. Sincerity from both sides is the recipe that really matters,” Mai added.
“I greatly appreciate when my wife offers to help me with my job. As we all have experience in the same field, my wife’s suggestions have saved me many times. Sometimes, I feel bad for my wife for having to quit her job to take care of our two children. I always try to help her with house chores every time I have the time,” my relative said.
Since I’m an independent young woman who hasn’t married yet, I think I’m not in a place to judge whether the saying “men make houses, women make homes” is still relevant today.
I believe it’s all about choices and how both parties find a balance in their decision. Balance and equality are key.