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"Because We Are Women"

Updated: 5 days ago

Dear Asian Youth,

Last year on Chinese New Year, my heart broke witnessing an overlooked problem of gender inequality for us women in a traditional Chinese family.

It was the first day of celebrating Chinese New Year at my Grandma’s house. As usual, we gathered together in seas of red shirts and dresses to welcome this new era of prosperity and union. My role was to stand under the heat to welcome and shake my cousins’ hands before we proceed to the second floor to catch up, while the older women in the family prepared the feast.

Half an hour later, we were called down to eat. All sorts of delicious dishes were laid out on the table, the whole thing impressively looked like it took more than three women to prepare. I devoured the last bits of the delicious Chángshòu Miàn before standing up for the sink; leaving behind the dinner table filled with laughing cousins and gossiping aunts. As the first one who finished, I didn’t want to be the one who ended up washing everyone’s plates, so I tried to wash it as fast as I could. Though sadly, it wasn’t fast enough as plates started to pile up on the counter.

A heavy sigh escaped my lips, and at the end, I succumbed to washing plate after plate. After the last plate was hung on the rack to dry, my hands frowned back heavily in wrinkles, and sweat swam heavily along my spine. The dining room was already void of people, except my grandma and mother, both women diligently cleaning up after the mess. It looked like the elders have retired early to smoke and gossip in the living room, while the younger cousins were upstairs playing card games.

Naturally, I was inclined to join the game. But as I headed for the stairs to play, guilt stopped me in my tracks. The feeling of irresponsibility in leaving them to clean up weighed heavily on my conscience, so I decided to turn around and lent them a hand instead. I could always join the cousins later.

They gratefully welcomed my presence, and the three of us started to clean after the leftovers while my Grandmother told us tales of her childhood story during her time in the fishing village. Her humor and wit somehow lifted the mood of the place, making it more bearable for us not to collapse to the floor.

It was a job almost done, until one of my uncles entered the room and placed his empty beer glass on the table, before turning away and stalking back to the living room without a word. I looked at my Grandma for a reaction of disapproval, but she never told him to come back and wash it himself.

Instead, my Grandmother picked up the glass and washed it for him, as if she was expected to do it. I observed with my mouth zipped shut, locking the last container and putting it inside the fridge–– silently trying hard to keep the gnawing questions to what just happened in the dark. If she didn’t have a problem with it, I should not too. Right?

Not long after, my younger cousin ran down the stairs with an empty bowl, almost slipping on her dress for she ran too fast. She was in the middle of a card game, and the rest of the cousins was calling her name to come back up as quickly as possible.

“Wait! Let me put this first! Ants are crawling all over me like crazy.” She shouted back and was met by my grandmother’s stern stare.

“You have to be responsible and wash it. Don’t go up if you haven’t done it,” Grandma said, crossing her arms as she watched my cousin pouted.

“But granny, just this once? I’m needed upstairs, or my team’s losing!” She said, putting the bowl on the table and turning back around for the stairs.