Towards the end to the Twentieth century, Vietnam a rapidly changing country goes through a political and social transition, from a socialist to an open market “capitalist type” society. Since the late 1980’s Vietnam has adjusted it’s economy to compete with the world. In doing so, the country undergoes many political and social reforms. Ideals of the west have been implemented into Vietnams “market” economy. There is definitely a change that is occurring however the social status of women in Vietnam has not changed much. Moreover Vietnam’s transformation into the global economy has created large social gaps, which in turn creates many social inequalities, in particular, women in the sex industry.
The sex industry has always been a profitable industry. One can find this to be the case in many parts of the world. But what is it that makes the Vietnamese “Pleasure Industry” different? By using the works of Nguyen-Vo (Governing the Social: Prostitution and Liberal governance in Vietnam during Marketization) and Tran (Through the eye of the Needle: Vietnamese Textile and Garment Industries, Rejoining the Global Economy), I will discuss the problematic conditions of women in lower economic class of Vietnam.
Prostitution is considered a “social evil” in Vietnam, but being deemed “evil” does not put an end to this endemic problem that has been around for thousands of years. Prostitution is an issue that few individuals have taken to fully understand and in this case, the issue is misunderstood and many voices go unheard. Classified as “whores”, the women of the lower class in Vietnam don’t have much to turn to. Vietnam’s open economy has only created a bigger market for “pleasure”. Gradually the identity of the young ladies in Vietnam become more and more of a commodity, well at least in the eyes of the foreigner. “Foreign guest’ sought out a ‘taste of nice and cool specialty dishes of Vietnam’. High quality goods, whores deluxe” and so on (Nguyen-vo, 92-93). Being identified as “high quality goods”, they do what is expected from them and they survive. Due to the lack of education, these girls find themselves lost in the advancing city. Their hopes for success are crushed and with it lies the memories of disparity, the starvation of childhood, the beating of the drunken father, and many other troubles of poverty.
A society living under the Communist idea of all being equal; come to realize that reality is far more complex. In ever society lies different social classes. Each class is looked at differently and unfortunately, treated differently too. What can be done to change things for the better? As the government of Vietnam attempts to end the everlasting problem of prostitution, they implement ideas that are genuinely bogus. Creating prison like education camps for many of these young girls caught in the world of prostitution was an idea that would be easy to cash in on. This definitely proves to be the case for those who were unlucky enough to experience this sad reality. Forced into becoming what is so called the “traditional women”. One might ask what is it that is deemed traditional? According to the “changing” society of Vietnam, women must follow the old rules of Confucianism, an idea that has obviously sickened the East. The so-called “social evils” are taught “tradition, morality and ethics” (Nguyen-vo, 397). This ethical education served the wardens of these camps as sources of income and free labor. As their life become less livable, the girls in these camps resort hope a hope of a better life, in order to get by. The jobs that were suited for these girls are unbearable, at least to many of us who are from Western Society. “All of the jobs taught to women in the camps made slow and monotonous work that required much patience. Most of them required a high degree of dexterity” (Nguyen-vo, 391). This is what is expected from them, instead of extracting the creativity and art in these girls, the camps force them to do what is considered best for them. Once they are done serving “time” the are released back into the concrete jungle. Searching for the life that they longed for, however with the skills they have learned, the only life they can live is one of poverty. The poverty and hopelessness weakens their mind and turns them back into a state of prostitution. A quote found in Nguyen-vo’s work, “I get so sad/depressed/bored in the countryside. Every time I went back there, I could only stay for a few days and I just had to leave” (119).
How can the government of Vietnam expect these girls to change when they are taught to live a tedious and wearisome life? They are forced to change from making a hundred dollars a night to maybe half a dollar a day. Surviving is just impossible, considering the amount of work they put in and the income it yields. In order to preserve their souls they create a theme for themselves. By reentering the “Pleasure Market”, they truly believed that, “Sex was a service to be provided for a monetary price, and their female surrender to conquest was only a surface exchange” (Nguyen-vo, 116). Because of this idealism, tourist and many businessmen sought out for what was considered authentic “Vietnamese”. In this case a “tropical night” behind the huts of Vietnam.
The role that women play in the Vietnamese economy is critical. At this point we have discovered that women of the lower economic classes don’t have it easy. In addition the social expectations of these young ladies are pretty much falsified. The claim is that they are put in camps and are taught “traditional” values and so on, but these girls are only being exploited for cheap (moreover, free) labor and when release they will return to the life they considered “Surviving” (prostitution). It is no surprise that “the garment industries, which employ 600,000 workers in Vietnam, 80% of whom are women, best exemplify this pattern of global production” (Nguyen-vo, 401). If it means tedious labor and continuous hardship to be a woman in Vietnam, then there is pretty much no propose for life. To sell your body as a commodity is just another example of a globalizing economy.
Vietnam being a large garment and textile industry supplies countries such as the Russia, Germany, and other European countries in exchange for machinery and capital investment. Tran describes the open market economy for Vietnam as a change for the better, however the adjustments that must take place are ones that are rapid and possibly even bad for the Vietnam as a whole. In order to compete with the world Vietnam is constantly improving production quality and quantity. This is an illusion that is seen to be good for Vietnam, but since Vietnam is a young country and still not use to the “capitalist” way of life find themselves struggling to meet the standards of the world. Since the politics of Vietnam has become economically based, the transition into the capitalist world has left many scars in the starving communities of Vietnam. “Opening Vietnam” to the world has not only created many social inequalities, but it has implemented the “Burden of Capitalism” where the “rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. In particular the Women of the lower class find themselves as the bearer of this growing problem. It is they who provide the energy to make Vietnam a small tiger in the garment industry. Cheap labor and horrendous working conditions create a social catastrophe for country of Vietnam. In addition with the spread of endemic corruption, Vietnam finds itself on the verge of anarchy. I would claim that it is the men with money that run the country, just like the rest of the world. This problem makes social control very difficult to implement, however if there is little or no attempt to fix this problem, then one must feel compassionate towards those whom have sold their bodies in order to keep up with the changing “pace”.
For many of the women in Vietnam, the possibility of liberation lies with a different vision and a decentralized, “perpetual individual politics of everyday interaction” (John Doe, forgot his name). Without a widely shared vision, individual changes will not occur. Society will be at a halt. Not only must the world look at the many “authentic dishes” that Vietnam has to offer, but natives of Vietnam themselves must realize that the creation of these “dishes” were made through constant fabrications of struggle and poverty. Vietnam as a country must create “new dishes” to serve to the world. They must no rely on the dishes of poverty and of struggle, but instead they must cultivate a “dish” that truly reveals the hardworking ethics of what it means to be Vietnamese.
In our society today we have problems that arise from corruption and other various factors. It saddens me to say that to escape prostitution is impossible, yet it is the responsibility of society to heal the wounds that have been left “bleeding” for quite a while now. Even American Journalist Barbara Walter states, “Prostitution is a world that is here to stay, like it or not it is time to make the best of it”.