The Wealth of One Girl

So my Daddy told me that bride fees were supposed to be like…a gesture of good will from the family of the groom to the family of the bride not only for taking care of all the expenses of the wedding and getting the newlywed couple on their feet with rugs and blankets, food, and etcetera, but also as a gesture of: we are honored by your allowance of letting your daughter to enter our familial folds. We promise to take good care of her, and here is the proof we will [exchange of currency occurs].

But as culture and human ambition, practice and customs have evolved, so have the implicit, underlying reasons for such social processes. And now…although I may be wrong and too harsh: bride fees are merely a sign of how much a girl is worth. A price to be haggled over, the daughter is now bargained over like a piece of property, some smelted flesh. No longer is she priceless, but of a set value that her beloved’s own may not be willing to budge upon.

The General–more on him later–a few years back set a “cap” on bride fees. Something like five G’s. A friend of mine was appalled. She thought–no she knew she was worth more than that. I wrinkled my nose and furrowed my brow: why perpetuate the custom at all? I’m tired of the objectification of women–in general too. Our subjugation to the man must end some time. Can I pay a fee to get rid of you? Buy myself out of this inequality because I’m not so sure I’d pay any price to have you anyways either…LOL. Just kidding.

But seriously: What do you think? Is this an archaic notion that needs to be eradicated if not reformed? Or are we moving towards some end–bride shops–that I’m not aware of…

FYI: Please don’t try to tell me we must adhere because it is “cultural”. Culture changes, it evolves, it is dynamic, and it is not the boss of me–especially if it asked me to kill my first born or jump off a cliff before my 50th birthday because wrinkles were a major catastrophe waiting to swallow me, my marital potential and ovaries whole.

BTW: Neither of the last couple of comments/ultimatums have any relation to Hmong culture…I just made them up to be overly dramatic and to drive in the point of ridiculously adhering–blindly ascribing to “cultural” establishments.

Controversially Congenial Lilian ;]


One Comment to “The Wealth of One Girl”

  1. Lilian,

    I think your understanding of capitalism as a sick system is central to your understanding of the bride dowry system. While it is true that Hmong have historically lived in a patriarchal society, none of the elders whom I’ve ever spoken with about this tradition see it as a “property bargaining” custom. In fact they would be disgusted by your characterization of the practice, since you make it seem as if it were as simple and mundane as purchasing an animal from an auction. Where in actuality this dowry is a sacred agreement between families and yes, the daughter. How so? It is the girl/woman who decides how to get married, whether she elopes or has her future husband to “tuaj nqi tsev hais.” If she chooses the former, the asking price, for lack of a better term, will usually be lower. If it is the latter, the price will usually be higher. In the rare instance that she is kidnapped, she still has the choice not to get married at all, or else the price will also be set high. The 5k cap is a recent Hmong American construction which nobody really follows, including the men who proposed it.

    You see, dowry is a type of insurance policy that doesn’t necessarily have to involve money. Your problem, it seems, is precisely that you don’t like seeing price-tags on a woman’s life. That’s fine. Dowry goes wayyy back, and you can find it even in the Jewish bible. Anyway, plenty of other cultures practice dowry. In cases where there is no money, the man may agree to come work for his wife’s family for a given amount of time, maybe 10 years, the number is dependent on negotiation and good-will. So maybe not 5k, but 5 years with you, your husband, and your father? No? That’s what money is for. It’s solid cash, clean, and convenient.

    I often hear Hmong mothers say they spent their lives raising, feeding, clothing, and sheltering their child from when they were as tiny as a pebble all the way to the day she ran off, so they demand something in return. Does this sound extremely unfair?

    As for your notion of paying a fee to get rid of people, what’s the difference between that and modern-day divorce? People settle disputes and pay each other and then go their separate ways. Nothing new there.

    Lastly, I know women who are college-educated and fiercely independent, but respect and want to keep this tradition in place. What do you say to them?

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