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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Dear Men

Photo from http://www.komando.com/happening-now/246615/the-latest-crazy-photo-meme-baby-suiting
Photo from http://www.komando.com/happening-now/246615/the-latest-crazy-photo-meme-baby-suiting

I am writing this for my hypothetical son so that when he grows up, and someone asks him, “Are you man enough?”, he can get over it. He does not have to answer on “what it takes to be a man.” There is no effort to be a man. There is no effort to be a woman. It should always be effortless to be who you are.

Dear Men,

You must have heard this for most of your life. “Man up”, “Are you man enough?” Courage by all means has no gender and everyone has the capacity to be vulnerable. Yes, vulnerability is a capacity. If you take away the person’s need to express fear, sorrow or dismay, you are taking away what is innate in human.

Many women complain that most of their sufferings have to do with men. menstruation, menopause, or “men oppose” but believe me you are our comrades.

It doesn’t not matter if you were created first nor how you were created. Whether you are products of evolution or family planning, it does not increase or decrease your value in this world. It does not matter if you are made of steel, bronze or metal. It does matter if you come from the ground or from left over of star dust. You are too intricate, and too complicated, to determine which elements you are made of. I will simply describe you in the way that it is written in Genesis, in the likeness of His image.

If you think you are authorized, entitled, I’d simply say: You have the power. There are many kinds of power but not all kinds of power are meant to lead or control. Choose your power wisely.

Most of our lives, we imprison ourselves with brand names but brand names do not indicate our purpose in life. Let us refrain from using our gender as an excuse or privilege. “Because I am a man” and “because I am woman” cannot explain the talents we have, the principles we keep, and the sacrifices we make.

In this lifetime, it doesn’t matter who wins and loses. It doesn’t matter who leads or submits. It doesn’t matter who has more or who has less. It doesn’t matter who is stronger or who is weaker. Love is the greatest equalizer. For when we love, we based our actions not on our roles, on our strengths, but for the welfare of others.

Keep this in mind that you are not limited or defined by your testosterone.

And let’s face it. You are not complete without women. Your genetic makeup speaks so much about it. For your XY chromosome, you owe it to your mother. The mere fact that all men have X chromosome is a tribute to women. Hence treat every woman as your sister, daughter and mother. No son would want to see his mom objectified. No father would want to see his daughter get hurt.

Your role is not to save a damsel in distress. Your role is to save the world from bondage, to save it from greed and oppression. Be an agent of change. Your role in the lives of women is to uplift them. Let it be known that they do not need heroes. They are heroes too.

Read more about women, but not on how to date a woman, or how to take her out. Read on their contributions in history, culture, literature, revolution and others. We need to hear more of them because for the longest time, we left women out of the pages of our books. Let us dream together for a better place to live. And maybe someday there will be no history, herstory but only “our story.”