The “F” Word

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“Are you a feminist?”

My Turkish student asked after I told them I was studying women and development. I did not know much about their country but  later on, I found out that they were religious and at the same influenced by European culture. They could not get over the fact that in the Philippines, or in China, when a guy asks you for a date, it’s the guy who usually pays the bill. In their country, they split up the bill regardless the status of their relationship. Whether it’s serious or a first day, they practice equal sharing of the expenses. True sense of gender equality, right?

I just smiled and after five seconds, I said “yah.”

So you do the bra-burning?”

They asked teasingly.

My five-second pause came from the popular images of feminists: A woman with an iron fist, or a muscled woman, or Beyonce. Some call themselves feminists by displaying their armpit hair. Gee, feminism is much more than that! I don’t have a tough looking face to be called a feminist. I don’t want to be branded by any political ideology because feminism just like any political ideology should not be treated as a fundamentalist truth. I don’t like to be labeled because feminism is also against stereotypes.

I may not agree in everything feminism believes in but you and I can benefit a lot from feminist thinking. Feminists comes in different shapes and sizes. They fight for different causes but they share some common beliefs which people from different walks of life can get inspiration from. Here are some:

Motherhood is important.

Some say feminism movement is responsible why many women neglect their responsibilities at home, why they prefer career over family. That is not feminism! In fact, motherhood is important to feminists. This is the reason feminists fight for long maternity leave, daycare centers, and breastfeeding stations in offices and public spaces. It is so important that feminists would like to share the gift of motherhood with men. We don’t take motherhood lightly. Feminists have high regard for mothers. We know how heavy the role of the mother is. This is also  the reason some opt not to have kids of their own.

Domestic work is important

Some people might think that feminists are fighting for reversed roles that feminists are the brand of women who prefer to do what boys do and who do not like to cook, and take care of children. But feminists are actually fighting for domestic work to be recognized as real work. There are many women who would just introduce themselves, “housewife lang” “nasa bahay lang.” This shows how much we undervalue women’s work, just because it does not bring economic value. We want to change the minds of many women to take pride of what they do, that they should stand tall when they say “I’m a full-time mother” or “I’m a homemaker”

Women experiences are important

We believe experiences are entry point in understanding women’s condition. We believe knowledge does not only come from scholars, books, or from a special kind of jargon that are highly institutionalized. We take time to listen other people’s experiences because they are also rich source of knowledge.

We don’t belittle personal stories

We don’t because we believe the personal is political. We believe your silence is a product of life events. We believe your aggressiveness speaks a volume of entries of your life journal.

We believe in sisterhood and solidarity

We recognize that sometimes in the course of a woman’s life, it is a fellow woman who pulls you down. A women empowerment campaign often shows a highly successful woman in the public sphere. This encourages a lot of individualism. A real feminist does not aim competition among women but rather equality not only among different genders,  but among different classes, and races.

We value diversity

Because we respect differences, we don’t impose a life prescription on how you should live your life as a woman, as a mother, as a wife. What we care most is your freedom and empowerment.

Lastly, we recognized that you are not only oppressed by your gender, but also by your age, race, class. And we recognize that it’s not only women who are oppressed.

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Interest in Women

I really don’t know how my interest in women studies started. I don’t have enough drama in life to fuel sentiments against gender stereotype. I come from a loving household. People don’t describe me as an activist. I have nothing against men.

It is perhaps my vulnerability that shaped my ways of thinking. I may not experience the pain of motherhood, forced marriage, abusive relationship but I know how it feels to be an outcast, to be treated unfairly, to feel less. I do not like to describe these feelings in details because this is not a competition of who experience worst in life. What matters most is that through our small life experiences, we can empathize, reflect on other people’s experiences.

When I was in college, I learned to appreciate feminist material. My subject Theater 100 made me appreciate women’s theater. It was probably the first time I learned that there was such a thing as women’s theater. My group was assigned to perform For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntzoke Shange. I also prefer feminist material for my monologues, such as those taken from RAW, Cause I’m a Woman

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Then, a jerk/s came along in my life. Just like all epic heartbroken stories, I kept reminding myself that I didn’t need to have a relationship to gauge my worth as a person. I then wrote essays for women. I told myself “I will work hard and rely on nobody but myself.”

Things have changed in my life and I realize we all rely on a system of dependency. I need others and others need me. I also learned that from the same university who taught me self-reliance. I am currently in my second year on women studies. I may have changed some of my ideas in relationship and marriage into something what people may consider ‘less feminist’ but I have developed a better understanding on human conditions. And if I meet a young girl who gets rejected, I can honestly say to her, “Heal your wounds with new learning.”

At present, I immersed myself into the community of women in the informal economy. These women have needs and wants different from my peers. It is wonderful to see the world with multiple lenses and to reflect on life with other people’s wisdom.

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In Buddhism, there’s what we call nirvana. It is the highest state that someone can attain, or a state of enlightenment. I believe I am getting closer to nirvana. For me, nirvana is a place where you embrace everything that defines you. If asked, why I am interested in pursuing women studies, my reply: I come to a stage of my life where I learn to embrace everything that defines me. And I can’t deny that being a woman is a large portion of who I am.

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Jesus (Fill in the Blank) Women

Photo from http://celebrationpublications.org/blog/patmarrin/13/09/1486
Photo from http://celebrationpublications.org/blog/patmarrin/13/09/1486

Is Jesus sexist? I have often read that religion is misogynistic and oppressive.

I read a blog addressing to Christian women: feminism is not your friend. I also read a blog of a pastor, entitled Ten Women Christian Men Should Not Marry. The list included: The older woman, The Divorcee, The Feminist, The Gossiper/ Slanderer, the Immodest Dresser.  If I have to make my own list of Ten Men Christian Women Should Not Marry, one would be The Judgmental Guy.

It disappoints me that this is how they see women basing it on their Christian faith. It also saddens me that through these views on women, people who do not belong to Christian faith fail to appreciate the good news. Why?

Because this is not how I know Jesus

More than quoting and memorizing Bible verses, I think what is worth examining is how Jesus lived his life on earth and how he treated women.

Jesus was radical on how He treated women in His time. He showed importance to women in the time that they weren’t much of value. Author Dorothy Sayers, a friend of C.S. Lewis, wrote:

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there had never been such another.

Jesus made women special and relevant. Jesus let women join his ministry and traveled with him as written in Luke 8:1-3. Also he first appeared to a woman after his resurrection.

Most important to note is that Jesus challenged laws and norms that were not in favor of women during his time. I have often heard this criticism that the conservative Christian beliefs encourage women to suffer in unhealthy marriages because of the Bible verses pertaining to marriage and divorce.  Matthew 19 states:

 Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.

But if you read the entire chapter, you will understand that Jesus’ idea of marriage and divorce is intended for the protection of women. Women were disposable and dependent during his time. Men can leave their wives for any reason.  Jesus deviated this norm when he said to the Pharisees that men could leave their wives only on the grounds of adultery. (Matthew 19:9).

I was reading a book  Discover your Inner Beauty Queen , Godly Secrets to True Beauty. While I appreciate the author’s attempt to inspire women, I am bothered by the some degrading descriptions of women. On her book:

“When I first met Issa, her looks mirrored immoral lifestyle. Her tight clothes exposed her voluptuous curves. Her skirts, barely made it past her buttocks. Her hair hung seductively across her face. She exudes a lustful, almost indecent aura.”

I’d like to give the writer a benefit of the doubt for loosely using “seductive”, “lustful”, “indecent aura”, and “immoral” but I’d also like to reflect on what would Jesus do.  What would Jesus say? How would Jesus react if he met this woman?

In the life of Jesus, he had met a lot of women who were not well liked but he welcomed them with forgiveness, compassion and without prejudice. Remember the woman who was caught in adultery and everybody wanted to cast stone on her but Jesus only said to the woman “ ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’”

Source: sharefaith.com
Source: sharefaith.com

Jesus accepted women who were considered outcasts in the community. Another example of a woman who initially received prejudice was the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with perfume (Luke 7). Jesus was pleased by the gesture of this woman and told her that her had faith saved her.

He talked to a Samaritan woman. It was not appropriate for a Jew to talk to Samaritan woman (John 4:4-30, 39-42). His help extended to foreigners and that was not conventional during that time. Jesus also helped a Canaanite woman, another foreigner, in Matthew 15:22-28 by healing her daughter who was demon-possessed.

The greatest proof that Jesus has always been egalitarian, is written on Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28

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As what President Jimmy Carter said you have an “ option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women.” We can cherry pick Bible verses to oppress women but I’d like to note that treating women with dignity and value is also Bible-sound.

A Message to All Women

You can also read: https://bible.org/article/christianity-best-thing-ever-happened-women