Samoa: A Sexist Culture that Oppresses Women?

In this week’s Samoa Observer column, I get to rave a little about feminism stuff in Samoa…

I have a five year old called Bella. The very last child that will ever alien-grow in my uterus, she is the supreme ruler of our universe – and woe be it unto any creature who does not understand that SHE should be the ruler of THEIR universe as well. (In other words, Bella is spoilt rotten. Yes I’m owning it. But let’s all agree it’s her father’s fault.)

Bella has announced that when she grows up, she’s going to “be a Princess, own an ice-cream shop, weld big buildings with my Dada and study bugs like the scientists on the Discovery Channel.” She also plans to “find a nice boy to marry, not a yucky one, and he will have the boy babies and I will have the girl babies.”

I like that my daughter believes with fierce intensity, that she can be anything and all things. Do any and all things. (Some of those things might have to be revised once she has a better understanding of biology… )

But it’s my hope she never lets go of that belief, my prayer that the world with all its soul-crushing weight of gendered roles and expectations doesn’t succeed in driving that fiery optimism out of her. Raising girls who are strong, confident, assertive – and happy to be so – is a challenge in any culture. Is it more so in Samoa?

Read the rest over at the Observer: Samoa – A Sexist Culture?

4 comments

  1. My only daufgter, Tiana, got a gleam in her eye to hear that she is the pupil of her three brothers eyes !! Being a strong Palagi woman married to a beautiful Samoan man, somehow this fact never came up…when my husband became a (double) Matai, one of his brothers said to me “well sister-in-law”, you are a queen now..my reply was that I have always been a queen ..and known it..and thankfully been treated like one in my marriage. I love to see women, young or old who manifest their righteous strength and mentor those who do not recognise it in themselves..yet.

  2. Lani,

    I loved reading the full article regarding Sexism in Samoa. It seems, from my perspective, that feminism isn’t something Samoan culture lacks, but, due to outside influence, may be in danger of losing. I see it here in America as a contrast between the newly arrived from Samoa, and those who have grown up here. My son-in-law, for instance, respects me to no end. If I, even teasingly, chide him for something, he is immediately apologetic in words and body language. He did not grow up here. He is teaching his sons by his example that women are to be respected and cherished. I am very glad of this.

    On the other hand, there is the violence to often meted out on Samoan women by fathers, brothers, and husbands who are frustrated, angry at the world, and, more than likely, drunk. My son-in-law has learned this is not acceptable, and to his credit, has grown immensely since joining our family. Others I’ve known, don’t seem to have the strength, or perhaps proper guidance, to find their way out of that violence. Granted, I’ve known a Samoan woman guilty of this as well. I feel much of it comes from a clash of old ways, old values, with the new. A feeling that they can’t fit in either world. The saddest part is, that to support their families, they must cope with a modern world, but they often find that family loyalty, fa’alavelave, often clash with worldly responsibility and they find themselves unsure how to navigate between them.

    It is my hope that successful Samoans of both genders, Polysnesians of all types, will find ways to reach out to the lost and show them how to be proud, productive, and balanced people in the modern world without losing their Samoan identity. School outreach programs, books written and put into the hands of Polynesian youth, etc… Your books, Lani, are an inspiration to Samoan girls the world over, in truth, to girls in general. It is no surprise to me that you are receiving awards for this contribution to Samoan Culture. Here, in the US, Samoans are often stereotyped as the ogres of our society, rough, uneducated, undisciplined. We know this to be far from the reality, but the children are believing it and it is changing them. I hope that others like yourself will arise and reach out to them, show them that Samoans are a strong people with good values, a beautiful culture, and so much more to be proud of. There is no need for them to feel lost, to feel outside of the rest of the world. They can, and should, be leaders of us all.

    My thanks,

    ~ Karli

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