With both cultural and societal influences engrained in what is considered normal today, the effect that it has on people — particularly women — is astronomical when it comes to different aspects of everyday life. However, female artists across the country are working to make a positive change in the matter by spreading their messages through one art piece at a time.

Widespread inequality

Though Vietnam is progressing when it comes to women’s rights and other important aspects such as women representation in congress and leadership roles, gender stereotyping is still widespread. One example can be seen through the marketing of toys for either boys or girls, thus positioning children for their “correct” gender roles in society. Women are also often discouraged from taking career paths that are deemed to be more for men — such as those that involve science or a position of leadership. Further inequality can also be seen through the country’s substantial wage gap. For instance, the average income for women is 5.2 million Vietnamese Dong each month, which is reportedly only 81% of the average income of men. 

In addition to gender roles and stereotypes that aren’t often discussed, women’s topics such as menstruation and even breastfeeding are also among those considered to be taboo. Such social constructs contribute to an environment which leads to things like the denormalisation of public breastfeeding, or ‘period shaming’. However, many independent female artists are challenging others to discuss and think about those matters through their artwork. Through various creative mediums, including painting, sculpture, and performance, to name a few, their work is meant to be thought provoking and to encourage discussion about those often toxic societal norms, bringing to light those issues in order to hopefully make a change.

Key players making a difference

One of the many female artists striving to make a difference in Vietnam include Himiko Nguyen, who’s photography project called “Come Out II” involves nude portraits, in which her art attempts to challenge society’s current beliefs on sexuality and gender. On the other hand, Anh-Thuy Nguyen, another artist, creates interactive art performances — one of which is called “Encroaching Space”, likely due to the fact that it involves people walking through a room as she acts as an obstacle (while she also notes how they perceive her). While the work of these innovative artists is designed to be thought provoking and create a discussion on gender stereotypes and other important issues, it isn’t always as easy as creating and sharing.

The struggle of being heard

Because the subjects of these artist’s works are considered to be controversial in nature, many have had to deal with the country’s strict censorship, which makes it very hard to get their message out there. With anything deemed “anti-state” or being otherwise uncultured off the table, many struggle to hold exhibits, or even publish their work. This is perhaps why many choose to take their art abroad, or showcase their art in secret. One such example of female artists and censorship involves a pop singer by the name of Do Nguyen Mai Khoi, who uses her music to advocate for women’s and LGBT rights. However, due to the censorship laws, she can’t sing in public, causing her to hold performances either abroad, or in secret at underground venues in Vietnam.

Vietnam, while progressing, still struggles with gender equality and the normalisation of important issues such as women’s rights. However, female artists are working on making a change by provoking thought and discussion on such matters, one piece of art at a time.