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In the memoir, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip and Jay Wurts, discusses the childhood of Le Ly Hayslip during the Vietnam War, her escape to the United States, and what her return to visit Vietnam after 16 years was like. Throughout the story, the discussion of sexual violence and prostitution comes up several times. Along with sexual violence and prostitution, there is a discussion on if sexual violence and prostitution is referred as either a women’s victimization or women’s empowerment or even both. After reading the memoir, I believe that sexual assaults are when women are victimized, and prostitution is a women’s empowerment. This memoir explains why sexual violence is seen as victimization and that prostitution is seen as empowerment as Le Ly goes through both sexual violence and prostitution during her life.
Sexual violence refers to crimes such as rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse. It is when someone forces someone else into doing unwanted sexual activity without their consent. In the case of Le Ly, she faced sexual violence a couple of times throughout the story. One example of this would be when she was taken for her death sentence, but the Viet Cong soldiers decided to rape her instead. “I have been raped- I now knew the horror that every women dreads. What had been saved for a lifetime for my husband had been ripped away in less time than it takes to tell”. This quote is when Le Ly states that she had been raped and how she felt when she was raped. Hayslip uses vivid description when describing what happened when she was raped. She explains how she was left feeling dead after the incident. She states, “The force of Loi’s twisted soul had entered me and killed me as surely as his knife. He could shoot me with a bullet now- I wouldn’t even feel the bullet”. She uses a lot of descriptive words to explain what she is feeling or what is happening to her. This incidence is what I would describe as a woman being victimized because Hayslip had no choice in what was happening to her. Rape can be seen as women’s victimization. Victimization is when someone is being treated cruelly or harmfully such as sexual assault and rape. Therefore, sexual violence is explained to be a women’s victimization due to it not being a choice and no consent is being taken. Prostitution refers to engaging in sexual activity with someone while getting paid.
Prostitution is seen as women empowerment because it is seen has women having choice and they are the ones making the choice to do sexual activity with someone else and also, they are getting paid. One example of this is when Le Ly uses prostitution in her favor to survive and take care of her family. “I got another roll just like it from the second. I told’em clean poon would be expensive. They even paid me in advance”. This quote is when she sold drugs and started prostituting to survive. “I stared at the cash the way a thirsty prisoners stares at water. Four hundred dollars would support my mother, me, and Hung for over a year- a year I could use finding a better job and making connections”. This is when Hayslip is offered four hundred dollars to sell her body which is known as prostitution. Since she had the choice to agree or disagree to the offer, prostitution is referred to be a women’s empowerment. I believe that prostitution is an empowerment because Le Ly had the power to choose to accept or not accept the offer. Empowerment is having authority and power to do something, which in this memoir was prostituting. Therefore, I see prostitution as an empowerment rather than a victimization.
Rape and prostitution in war was something that comes up often. Rape is sexual assault that is forced. Rape during war happens due to men in military wanting the desire to have sexual pleasure, therefore they tend to rape. Another reason for soldiers raping to is have a sense of fear for the villagers who live in the villages that are being involved in war. They rape in order to scare the villagers, which may lead to the villagers moving, which means the soldiers don’t have to waste time killing or removing villagers from war zones. Over the several wars that have been fought, rape is known as a weapon for war. This is because rape happen where wars happen, and it helps to destroy communities totally. In the case of Le Ly, rape is a weapon of war and prostitution is a way to survive in war as a woman.
Hayslip’s experiences with rape would be seen as victimization which means Le Ly was a victim of rape. Another case where she gets raped even when the guy did not desire to rape her. The guy who did not really want to rape Le Ly but ended up raping her was Mau. Mau seemed like he was forced to rape Le Ly. “‘I’m-I’m sorry, Miss Ly’- his voice quivered more than mine- ‘this is something I have to do’”. The reason why I believe he did not want to rape her was because he said sorry before doing it and he states that it is something he has to do. The way she hides what happened to her is interesting to me. “‘What happened to you?’ Thum asked, looking at the leaves in my hair and the dirt on my just-washed face. ‘Nothing. ’ I didn’t even give her the courtesy of a decent lie…”. I wonder why she didn’t tell Thum what had happened to her. Maybe Le Ly had the fear that maybe someone might criticize and come after her for not being dead, because the original plan for the Viet Cong soldiers was for them to kill her, but they decided to rape her instead of killing her. I find Le Ly very brave and powerful as a person because even though she was hurting so much, she cared about family and how her family might be viewed or targeted if the news of her getting raped got out, therefore she decided to hide the truth. This incident of rape did victimize Le Ly, but she was able to use her strength as a poor village girl, as she describes herself, to have the power to hide her pain. Overall, rape in any form is a women’s victimization because of not having an option and being forced.
In the memoir, there was one case where sexual activity was done in the form of love. The one case I remember where love was involved would be the night when Anh and Le Ly shared intimate moments with each other. “I went to my room but as tired as I was. . . Although by age fifteen I had been threatened, beaten, shot at, molested, and raped by men, I had never before been kissed by one…”. This quote explains how she didn’t know what to feel when someone kissed her with love. Anh seems to be the first man she cared for and loved him for helping her as well as how much he cared for Le Ly even though she was a servant to him. “The day after Anh and I made love was fine and sunny, although my longing glances and kittenish smiled aimed in his direction were not returned”. She felt like the day after was sunny and better than before. However, It was sad that he did not return smiles in her direction and she discusses that he probably did not return the smiles because he felt guilty for sleeping with his servant that he cared for behind his wife. That guilt is felt by both Le Ly and Anh because she also described that she felt unhappy about what she did, but she was honest and knew she was also to blame for what happened on that night. Throughout her life, the night with Anh was one of the special nights for her because she was with someone she cared for and loved, and Anh also cared for her as well as help her survive during the times of war and where work was difficult to find. Throughout the story that is told, Le Ly has mostly made her decision on her own terms except for being raped and beaten during the war. She uses her power to make decision that benefit her as well as her family. Prostitution is one of her decision she made to help her and her family survive. Another decision she made was marry an American man to escape Vietnam and move to the United States. It was really smart of her to realize that marrying a guy from the United States would help her escape Vietnam and the difficulties she was facing before moving to the United States. After realizing this, she does find an American man that wanted to make her a wife. “I’m going home to San Diego- permanently…Le Ly: I want you to be that woman- to come back with me to the States. If you’ll have me, I want you as my wife”. The man that wanted to make Le Ly a wife was Ed and he wanted to take her to the states. I felt like finally something good was happening in Le Ly’s life when he stated this. She felt like going to the United States would solve most of her problems and it did. She no longer had to face difficulties she faced in Vietnam during war, because she had freedom and had a husband that helped her survive and take care of her children. The decision of marrying Ed and moving to the United States is referred to as a women’s empowerment because it had the option to choose and the option benefitted her. Therefore, I believe women’s empowerment is received when a woman can make her own decision that benefit her and her family.
Overall, the story of Le Ly Hayslip during the Vietnam war was emotional. This was due to the way she described her pain, what she felt, and using her experience to open discussions about sexual violence during war. This memoir helped explain the differences between women’s victimization and women’s empowerment. Women’s victimization is when women are victims of abuse such as being sexually assaulted or rape. Rape was a huge topic in this novel because of how descriptive Hayslip was when describing what she was going through, Women’s victimization has to do with having no choice and being forced into something that the women don’t wish to do when it came to sexual activity. Women’s empowerment can be seen as a choice a woman can make in order to help her survive. Prostitution and moving to the US in the case of Le Ly would be an example of women’s empowerment because Le Ly herself had the power to choose what would be beneficial for her. Overall, women’s victimization and women’s empowerment are two main topics discussed in the memoir of Hayslip and the ways these are explained help to better understand what victimization and empowerment really mean in term of being a woman.
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