Eleanor, a Chinese student at Sunny Hills High School who asked that her last name not be used, acts the same as any American schoolgirl. She isn’t afraid to speak out in class; she discusses abortion with the opposite sex, and she holds opinions different from those of her teachers.
However, as soon as she steps into her parents’ house, she must return to her role as the obedient Chinese daughter. She looks to the floor instead of lifting her head, for example.
Eleanor is expected to wait upon her brother, even though hours of homework lay ahead. Her brother is not even expected to get his own glass of water; she must do it for him.
It’s a situation that doesn’t make Eleanor happy. She envies classmates who are not caught between the two culturally different worlds of school and home.
Eleanor’s dilemma reflects the clash between the change in standards for feminine behavior in the United States and those of traditional Asian and European cultures.
Historically, the Chinese view women as beings created to serve men. They are secondary in the family and are expected to perform housekeeping duties without complaint.
The same attitude can be found in other cultures, where the belief that women should be subservient to men is commonplace.
Although European women may appear to lead a more free lifestyle, tradition calls for them to marry early and stay home with the children.
“The wife is expected to serve her husband and her in-laws,” said Lara Kousharian, a junior at Sunny Hills, about traditional Armenian values.
Kousharian is expected to speak Armenian when she’s at home, and although she may select her own husband, he must be an Armenian.
Marriages are no longer arranged, but she still believes that a lot of matchmaking is going on behind her back.
“Armenians have a lot of racial pride,” said Kousharian, who added that they also tend to favor males. She says her brother is accorded more freedom than she is.
While Kousharian resents the assumption that she will willingly do all the typically female chores, such as cooking and cleaning, she does believe that living in the United States has provided her more freedom. “I’m allowed to speak more freely here,” she said.
Living outside Armenia’s borders has also helped to bring about a change in her parents’ views. Kousharian said they are now trying to bring their children up more equally.
In Japan, the traditional role for a woman remains mother-housekeeper-wife.
While her U.S. friends are thinking about becoming doctors and engineers and getting married well after they’ve begun their careers, a Japanese woman is expected to marry early and then stay at home.
Atsushi Kawamoto, a junior at Sunny Hills, said he “wants to marry someone who is willing to stay at home.”
Kawamoto believes it’s necessary for someone to stay at home to start a family, and in his family, his mother was that person. She had been a teacher but retired when she got married.
Joanne Cho, a Sunny Hills junior of Korean heritage, said the traditional view of her native country is similar to that held by the Armenians and Japanese: Women are housewives; men are breadwinners.
Cho said her parents too are strongly against interracial marriages. She said her family practices many Korean traditions, such as speaking only Korean in the house and taking off their shoes before entering the building. They also eat Korean food every evening.
Cho said her parents trust her two brothers more than her and her sister. "(My brothers) can stay out as late as they want to, but I can’t,” she complained. “I understand why my parents treat my brothers better, but I still don’t like it.”
Nonetheless, she agreed that living in the United States has given her more freedom than she would have if she lived in Korea, where girls cannot wear shorts, are not allowed to perm their hair and may not wear their hair, if it is long, loose.
Cho would also have to spend more time studying. “In Korea, they have less extra time for other activities,” she said.
Old World views of women’s roles in society often clash with modern perceptions, but nowhere is this more obvious than in the two worlds of today’s teen-agers with strong ethnic backgrounds.