(Bringing with them messages of love and everywhere they go, love will go)
Women and men
(When you see the faces of the women and the men you too will know) Women and men have crossed the ocean
They now begin to pour
Out from the boat and up the shore
Two by two they enter the jungle
And soon they number more
Three by three as well as four by four Soon the stream of people gets wider
Then it becomes a river
River becomes an ocean
Carrying ships that bear Women and men
It was only a matter of time before a They Might Be Giants’ song influenced my thinking in a blog. The connection is really simple. I was thinking about the difference between women and men, and as soon as I said the two words, I started singing the song.
But why I was thinking of women and men is a bit amusing. It begins with my first church visit today. I went to Mass at another installation of another pastor today at So Kien parish. I have been to crowded Masses before, but I have never in my life seen a church this lined with people. Make sure you have Google Earth downloaded onto your computer and then click here to see So Kien parish. Wow! People everywhere.
I was trying to find a good place to sneak some pictures without being a disturbance. I was doing all right, but people kept on looking at me. This is normal, because I’m a tall white man, who looks American, in a sea of short Vietnamese. No problem. I’m actually shocked at how friendly they are to me as an American. No problem. All the children like to wave at me… ah… here’s the problem. I’m standing on the side of the church where there are only women and children. All the men are sitting on the other side of the church. I’ve never been in a Catholic church that did that, but… OK, I’ll go to the other side of the church with the men.
There are lots of interesting things that can be said about gender. I’m not really the scholar on the subject, but know a few who are. They are really good at pointing the socially constructed roles that are created for men and women. I have learned to respect cultures wherever they are at, but I always find a twinge of discomfort when I experience what I have been experiencing. As I have sat around dinner tables for lunch in remote areas of Vietnam, I have found that the men and women sit separately and the women do all the work. The men sit around and drink and talk… well I don’t know what they are saying really, but I’m sure its Vietnamese.
I’ve noticed that the women are also doing all the work in the rice paddies as well. I’ve been desperately trying to convince my hosts that I want to go into a rice pad and plant rice. They laugh at me. I’m serious, but they find my interest in farming amusing. Maybe someday I’ll be old and grouchy enough to demand they let me do it, but for now it is considered “women’s work.” A man would never actually plant the rice.
As I sit trying to curb my infuriation with sexism (which probably more about my infuriation with having to listen to women’s infuriation with sexism), I realize something. The way the women are walking in the paddies is significant. The rows of rice are very close together, and the women have very tiny feet. The men are seen plowing the field and doing work on the irrigation systems, but the women are working at jobs best suited for their smaller bodies. A man would cause there to be more space between the rows, thus less rice, or he would trample over everything. I guess there is something more behind whatever ideologies shape gender in a culture.
I have to return to the problem of being an American in Vietnam. The United States was at war with Vietnam a short time before I was born. There are many complicated influences, but it is just hard to fathom. These people are so wonderful. They love the Earth, and are comfortable just going to the pad and caring for the rice. The children laugh and play, they were even excited to hold an umbrella in the rain for the tall American who was in their village. There is nothing significantly important about claiming this land for Communist or Capitalist. It is farm land. Simple. Beautiful in its harvest, because of the beauty of its laborers. What on earth could make the United States, or anyone seek to destroy the land or its people?
If you have already downloaded the Google Earth pictorial for today, take a look at the seminary link very close to So Kien parish, or click here. This is a seminary that was bombed by the French in 1954. The French who brought Catholicism to Vietnam, bombed the seminary. What insanity! You can also see the bricks and sand that lay by the seminary now. The Archdiocese of Hanoi is getting ready to rebuild the seminary after 50 years of the ruins laying in decay. But it never should have been destroyed. What could cause this to happen?
I always say to the young people with whom I work, “Ask questions, but seek answers.” So I guess I can’t stop with such a bold question if I don’t look for an answer, and I know where the answers can be found. The United States was concerned among other things, with the spread of Communism in Asia, and the impact it would have on American’s interests. But these people aren’t the Communists. These children care very little for the ideas of Carl Marx or John Locke. The Vietnamese go to the field, they plant the rice, they wash off the mud, and they live another day. They live in one room houses with two beds that rest 6-7 people. I can show you. Just click here to see the Google Earth pictorial I took of Bao Long parish and the people who live there. These are the people we were bombing, many of them still remember the war, or fought in the war, and the fact that I am an American doesn’t keep them from raising a glass of rice wine to toast my presence. If the Communists or the Capitalists arrive, these people will still go to the rice paddy and plant the rice. It makes no difference.
The war was fought over an ideology. That’s it. A man made concept about who is right and who is wrong. How stupid! How idiotic! Dying for an ideology? Communism? Capitalism? Catholicism? Just get rid of all the “isms” and we could have let all these happy people just be happy. Death to “isms”!!
Or so I would have thought at one point in my life. I know two things. First, This land has been covered with the blood French, American, and Vietnamese. In churches, such as the third church I visited today, Thien Tue parish, which you can view in your Google Earth browser by clicking here, women and men prayed for the deliverance of their fathers, husbands and sons. These were real sacrifices that were made by people who were doing their best, and even if I disagree with the ideas behind the leaders who told them to go to war, I cannot deny the honor they possessed in their dedication to sacrifice their very life.
Second, I realize that “getting rid of isms” is in itself, an “ism.” That is to say… idealism. Just as Communism and Capitalism are merely ideology, so is the ideology I tend to espouse, the ideology of peace. In the same way that the causes of sexism are just ideologies, so is the ideology that women and men are equal partners in life. Whether it is women, men, war, or the war between women and men, it isn’t practical, much less possible, to rid ourselves of our ideals, but we can strive to ensure that our ideals are the ones that are really worth living and dying for. President Abraham Lincoln once said, “Let us not pray that God be on our side, but that we would be on God’s side.”
There are very simple women and very simple men who live lives of great integrity and work in the rice pads of Vietnam. Think of them the next time you have a bowl.