#MeToo Vietnam ~
Back in 2014, we were renting an apartment in Long Biên from a friend, across the Red River from Hà Nội. As is my habit, I went about looking for a running route that would take me the four miles I normally run each day. I found a pretty good one on MapMyRun that took me all around the neighborhood, but never very far from our apartment.
After several times using this route, it became routine, and I relaxed in the warm, humid air, having no fear of becoming lost or running into other challenges.
I was out early one morning when I heard a motorbike behind me, causing no concern. However, I could hear the driver was slowing down, but that still was nothing unusual. Then, there was suddenly a hand…..on my right buttock….giving me a good squeeze.
I gasped for air as I tried to take this turn of events in and make sense of it. By then, the rider had sped up, and all I saw was his back getting smaller and smaller as he put distance between us. He was wearing an army green shirt and helmet, his only distinguishing feature from hundreds of thousands of other motorbike riders.
I continued my run; I had not been hurt, and I doubted the guy would show up again. I was pretty sure he had just taken advantage of what he considered an opportunity, and thought himself fortunate that no one was around to observe his actions. (However, Vietnam is such a densely populated country that odds are someone saw it.) I was actually somewhat amused that if he had known me, he may have been surprised that his victim was likely more the age of his mother. I kept a lookout for him for the rest of my run, but didn’t see the drab green clothing again.
When I related this incident to young women friends later, they nodded in recognition; clearly this was a challenge in such a packed population. Anyone could grab anything in passing, whether on foot or a motorbike, and there would be no repercussions, as the perpetrator could melt into the background crowds easily.
I have been exceptionally fortunate in my life in terms of sexual harassment or attack; there has been almost none. There was a creepy guy in college who came into my practice room one day when I happened to be wearing shorts, and shoved his hand in my crotch. When I recoiled in horror, he asked, “Well why do you dress like that then?”. In mentioning this to fellow female musicians, I found I wasn’t the only one he had touched; the guy was not only inappropriate and gross, but guilty of criminal assault. But aside from that, I somehow escaped anything more heinous.
Young women in Vietnam are experiencing something of a revolution, and Larry has documented many of them in his abstract photography project “The New Global Women”. They see online how women in more developed countries are negotiating their lives and careers, and they want those lives and careers for themselves. This gets them into all kinds of trouble; most Vietnamese parents from my generation never thought of the girls in their families as being able to choose how they live their lives; it’s all laid out for them before they’re even born. You might go to school, or you might work in the fields, but you certainly are not going to have a career when you need to stay home, cook, clean and raise children.
So some men in Vietnam are feeling angry, resentful, guilty and fearful at this turn of events, and most of them are under no circumstances getting on board with this new way of thinking. There is a sexual tsunami coming to Vietnam, and it just won’t be pretty, no matter how you look at it. If the #MeToo movement ever takes off there, I suspect there will be an avalanche of pretty pissed off women aligning themselves with their global compadres. This will be to Vietnam’s ultimate advantage. It stands to reason that if half your population is suddenly contributing in a very significant way to the bottom line, that you’ll do better as a whole.
We have seen young women friends leave the country in high numbers; they tire of hearing the old mantra of how they should live, and go take advantage of a free education in Germany. Many of them settle in Europe and never go back except to visit, because they know they’ll be hounded to get married and settle down. If the men can’t rise to the occasion, and stop looking at women as conveniences or worse, why would they?