Single Mothers and the State’s Embrace
Reproductive Agency in Vietnam
- PUBLISHED: February 2022
- SUBJECT LISTING: Anthropology, Asian Studies / Southeast Asia, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 236 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 5 b&w illus.
- ISBN: 9780295749433
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
In the mid-1980s, after the Indochina Wars, a shortage of men meant that many single women in Vietnam found themselves without suitable marital prospects. A number of these women chose to pursue single motherhood by “asking for a child" (xin con)—asking men to get them pregnant out of wedlock. Xin con appeared to be a radical departure from traditional Vietnamese kinship values and practices, which were based in Confucian patriarchal and patrilineal reproductive interests. However, this innovative solution was rooted in both pre- and postwar values, practices, and notions of gender, kinship, love, and sexuality.
This ethnography explores the practice of xin con among single mothers in the postwar era and today, and considers the ways their reproductive agency was embraced rather than rejected by the Vietnamese state as it entered the global market economy. Rather than condemning or trying to restrict older single women's reproductive agency, government officials enacted policies that would accommodate both the women and the state—a strategy that represents an intriguing alignment of Confucian heritage, Communist ideology, and governing tactics and demonstrates the social power of women.
Authors & Contributors
Harriet M. Phinney is associate professor of anthropology at Seattle University and coauthor of The Secret: Love, Marriage, and HIV.
"The book is a must read for anyone who would like to understand how gendered norms impact choices made by individual women and how the personal is necessarily political and social at the same time. As the book is well written and easy to read, it can serve not just other scholars but can also be adopted to universities as teaching material for undergraduate courses on gender and South East Asian studies. Phinney’s book is a welcome contribution to scholarship on women in Vietnam as it manages to be free from essentialistic interpretations of Vietnamese women while acknowledging the frameworks that have contributed to gendered sexual norms."-
"Single Mothers and the State's Embrace makes a significant contribution to our understanding of kinship and gender in postwar Vietnam. Phinney's longitudinal perspective beautifully illuminates how individuals make choices within social contexts; society comes to identify those choices as categories of action and being; government renders the categories legible through discourse and policy; and the resulting interpellation shapes individuals’ subjectivity and future action."-
"Harriet Phinney takes us from the intimate emotional and physical spaces of single-motherhood to state efforts to institutionalize women's reproductive strategies. An essential read for anyone interested in gender, governmentality, and social change in contemporary Vietnam."- Nhung Tuyet Tran, University of Toronto
"This captivating analysis will make valuable contributions to our understanding of the politics of reproduction, single motherhood, and women’s agency."- Lynn M. Kwiatowski, Colorado State University
"A moving exploration of the quest by unmarried Vietnamese women for a child of their own and of the state's decision to support motherhood outside marriage. Enhances our understanding of the ways in which individual decisions can have a profound effect on politics and initiate social change."- Hue-Tam Ho Tai, professor emerita, Harvard University
"An insightful and comprehensive account of a historically unique reproductive strategy that will be of interest to area studies scholars, medical anthropologists, and gender and health researchers."- Tine M. Gammeltoft, University of Copenhagen