The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division , at sacred-texts.com
With the numerous cultures and societies in Vietnam, attitudes toward women and their status fluctuate widely. The individual who seeks in a few words to describe their life, place and influence in theory and fact is undertaking an impossible task.
The farming or village class woman works at hard labor just as does the man. Wearing black pajama bottoms and a short blouse topped by a conical hat of palm leaf with or without its plastic cover she may be seen at hard work everywhere, be it the rice field, the cane patch, the market place or along the streets. Often she is the business-head of the family and operates any financial endeavor which it undertakes. Such a business may be a small store, a mobile sidewalk cafeteria, etc. She is not normally a pedicab operator or a fisherman at sea, although she is often a fishmonger or peddler. Among the Viet Cong she is known to be a crafty and hardy warrior. Some Vietnamese government women have been similarly acclaimed.
Confucius taught that the young woman is subject to paternal authority; as a wife, subject to her husband; and as a widow, to her eldest son. While this may be the theory and outward affectation, the fact is that women play a vital role even though it is obscure. The man may be the head of the house, but the skillful and perceptive wife understands enough practical psychology to have her ideas followed most of the time. Many Vietnamese legends attest to this.
When children are small and the husband dies, the widow becomes the head of the household; she performs ancestral worship until the eldest son is old enough to assume this function; she handles property etc. If, however, she remarries, all of her authority over her children and of her husband's property is lost.
The middle and upper class ethnic Vietnamese women wear the Ao Dai which is a slenderizing formfitting outer garment that extends from its choke-throat collar to below the knees with long sleeves and slit on either side to the waist. It is worn over a pair of pajama-type bottoms with shoes being either sandals or closed shoes as desired. The lovely pastel color combinations and their light graceful movements combined with well groomed hair and countenance make many Vietnamese women quite attractive.
Their skillful ability to ride bicycles, motor scooters, etc., so gracefully creates an amazement in most Westerners. In the cities many women are becoming educated and capable of performing technical tasks required in a changing society. Yet many of their attitudes are still largely moulded by traditions hundreds of years old.