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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To my hypothetical daughter

IMG_20150407_125805To my hypothetical daughter,

I have loved you even before you were born.

I want you to know that you are perfectly made, and whatever you will gain in life  will just be an add-on to who you are and what you have. Whether you will have an eyeliner, a jewel, a sash or a medal,  they do not set the price of who you are.

While it is my duty to protect you, it is also my responsibility to introduce you to the real world. I will let you chase butterflies even if they leave you with cuts and bruises. If you need to get dirty to feel the earth, you will always have my permission. Don’t worry if you trip or fall. Mama had always been clumsy and she survived.

I will not force you to read books but every night I will read stories to you. Maybe I might read some fairy tales to you but I don’t want you to dream of a knight and shining armor. I want you to be a queen in your own kingdom. I want you to lead the universe without a crown and scepter. And if you want romance, you can always avail it. You can find romance in sappy movies, in strings and verses, in sunset and sunrise. You don’t need to kiss a frog to find it.

I want you to know that the popular girl in campus is not your competitor. She is your sister. And the girl begging for a piece of bread is also your sister. I want you to know that sisterhood is beyond blood ties, spaces, and races. Understand that every girl struggles with life the way you do. Never see someone’s achievement as a threat to you. Sisters rejoice in each other’s victories and lift those who are falling. If you are starting to feel worthless, convert envy into batteries of inspiration. People value you not based on who you defeat and which place you conquer but how you treat others. Kill your enemies with kindness.

I don’t want you to be obsessed with magazine covers. I will probably buy you some to let you know that the front cover is a product of art and creativity. Do not think of your body parts as mere objects but as  extension of your innate abilities. I don’t want you to dream of becoming a cover girl because your mama cannot assure you that you will win the genetic lottery. Instead, dream of legs that can take you to faraway lands, dream of eyes that can see the future, dream of breasts that can feed, dream of lips that can convey power, and dream of a body that can work for God’s glory.

One day, you will spot blood stain in your skirt. As you will earn pimples, you will be more familiar with the sound of catcalls. Mama will not stop you from meeting boys, the way your grandma hasn’t. But I’ll tell you there are much more interesting things in this world than boys such as travel, culture, trekking, spirits, fashion, martial arts, and a lot more.

As you grow old, some things will be more expensive such as confidence, love, and pride but do not be deceived by what  the TV tells you. Do not save your money for these things. You cannot buy confidence with toothpaste. You cannot buy love with a box of chocolates.

If you make mistakes, do not think of yourself less. No one can break you. You are a rubber band. You will bounce back, no matter how hard life will stretch you. Mama will always remind you that “Everything will be fine. And it’s okay not to be okay.”

I want you to work hard, not for me, but for yourself and for what you believe in.

If one day, you decide to get married, my first question would be, “Are you serious?”

I will not ask for a grandchild. If you are happy in what you do, you fulfill your mama’s dream.

If you want to be a teacher, a pastry chef, an engineer, a farmer, a soldier, a cosplayer, a mother or whatever fictional character you can think of, I will help you become one.

I will give you wings when you want to fly. I will give you a microphone whenever you think your voice is too small.

Your life begins with me but it does not have to end with me. I want to share you with the world so that they can see how wonderful God made you.

Remember, you are a happiness machine.

You will be what you want to be.

And even before you realize what you can be, you are already enough.

“ Dahil ang totoong nagmamahal ay mapagpalaya”

Love and light,

Your hypothetical mother

Define Woman

“You are a woman. Skin and bones. Veins and nerves. Hair and sweat.
You are not made of metaphors. Not apologies. Not excuses. ” – Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay, known for spoken word poetry, wrote a beautiful piece about women. Her poem, The Type, gives a new insight on how women should see themselves.  She wrote in Huffington Post: “Media attention has been paid to what it means to ‘be a woman,’ but often the conversation focuses on what it means to be a woman in relation to others…I believe these relationships are important. I also think it is possible to define ourselves solely as individuals, without comparisons or relationships.”

True enough, women are often defined and valued based on their relationships. This explains how we make labels, ”The Good Wife,” “The Mistress,” “The Other Woman”. For every stage in a woman’s life, her identity is always associated with her relationships. When a woman reaches her mid 20s, people wonder why she does not have a boyfriend. When a woman is at her 40s, people think she is missing a large chunk of her life if she is not married (even if she has a house, career, business, nieces, parties, and friends). When a woman is married, people expect her to have children. Ask a beauty queen, a husband, and a wife on what is the essence of being a woman? They will answer: “It is childbearing or child-rearing ” But how about a woman who cannot bear a child or a woman who remains single by choice or by act of nature?

I have high regard for women who strive to be the best daughter, best girlfriend, best wife, and best mother.  All these roles should be part of our aspiration in life. Our relationships shape our lives and build our character but there is something more than what a relationship has to offer. Yet culture tells us that it should define us.

Society depicts that women should naturally maintain relationship. Hence, when a relationship fails, a woman needs to justify herself. When a married woman is caught having an affair with another man, she is immediately guilty of adultery. But when a married man is caught having an affair with another woman, he is not yet guilty of any extramarital crime. Philippine law states that he is only guilty of concubinage if his affair is under scandalous circumstances. I said to my friend: “So what do we do then? Should we protest? Protest  that we can also have  extramarital affair and not have an automatic crime of adultery like men do, unless we do something scandalous?

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Define Woman

But how do you define a woman? Is it by length of time she spent on the bathroom? If she knows how to use an eyeliner, then maybe she can call herself a real woman. Two straight men told me that I should know how to apply makeup. It’s an unexpected irony to think that girls are more vocal about grooming and style. My inner self tells me that I shouldn’t groom myself because I am only pleasing the eyes of men (more than my eyes….you don’t get to see yourself as much as the people around you) And when I aim to please the eyes of men, I allow my relationship with others to define me. I allow culture to define me.  I allow society to define me. That for me is a form of oppression.

We all have a shared picture of an ideal woman while we don’t have a concrete picture of what an ideal man should be. Yes, he should be a provider but we can disagree that he does not have to know how to drive,  how to fix electric wires, how to repair a faucet, and how to play basketball. He can be tough yet he can be soft spoken.

I’m afraid I am mistakenly placed in a woman’s body. Apparently, I don’t cook and I’m not domesticated. I am not caring and even if ants love to bite me, I don’t think I’m sweet. I honestly feel I am less of  a woman. But I’m hoping someday I will raise my own family and epitomize a conventional woman. At the same time, it is within my understanding that life has many possibilities. I’m afraid to disappoint but I’m more afraid of losing myself in the course of finding and keeping people who can make me happy.

Before this post exceeds more than 1000 word count as this might lead to random ramblings on  being a woman, in a gist what I like to say to women:

It is probably a mistake to fall in love with the wrong person, to get pregnant without marriage and preparation, to have a sex video and find out later it is publicized, to raise a child who turns out to be a black sheep, to provide and serve less for a family who needs your commitment. But you can forgive yourself.

It is okay to submit  to the people you love and care for but it can be very devastating to build yourself based on your relationships with them. For when a relationship is broken, you question your worth as a woman. We need affirmation from the ties we bind. But even without them, we can find happiness and be complete.

i am no bird

As much as I like skirts and flowers, I don’t like to identify myself as a woman. The word ‘woman’ itself is in relation to a man, wo- “man.” I’m not a woman, not a girl, not a lady. I’m just a plain human being who happens to have menstrual period and who happens to like the boys. I am independent from the many variables that make a woman.

“Let the statues crumble.
You have always been the place.

You are a woman who can build it yourself.
You were born to build.”

-Sarah Kay