Last February 15, Cosmos: UP Fair Friday 2019 brought the best of OPM music and the people together in the name of gender equality and the continued fight to achieve it. It brought to light the existence of struggle against institutions, policies, systems, and norms, and called for the eradication of social constructs put in place by those who look down upon anyone who is different. The dust has settled after the success of Cosmos, but the pursuit for gender equality has not stopped. The month of March is International Women’s Month and in the true spirit of the celebration, it’s important that we re-examine how we, as a society, have been treating women and other oppressed groups like the LGBT. In the long journey towards gender equality, we must not neglect the small steps we can take that can produce lasting change.
STEP 1: NO = NO
Guys often misunderstand or ignore it when women say no or reject them. This leads to guys making unwanted advances towards women. It is not romantic to keep pursuing a girl who clearly is not interested. Many guys, not necessarily maliciously, often misinterpret “no” as “not now”. This perception is worsened by the perpetuated "sawi" culture which romanticizes going for someone despite being rejected. Guys should respect the responses they get; they should take it as it is and leave them alone.
It's difficult to live in a world where your decisions aren't respected by others. Imagine having to bear with so many uncomfortable situations with a person who clearly is not taking a hint or, even worse, creeps who are very aggressive. Hopefully, more men learn how to take rejection like a champ and let go of their ego and entitlement so that this world can be a place where women can breathe easily.
STEP 2: Leave Rape Culture in the Past
Ladies, are you uncomfortable walking the streets of Katipunan? It wouldn’t be surprising if the answer is yes. It’s scary how many stories there are about strangers, in particular, catcalling women on the sidewalk. Too often it would be “Hi Ganda” or “Hi Miss” with the matching manyak smile that gives you a sinking feeling in your stomach. It’s puzzling how these men disrespect women like that when they themselves have mothers and sisters who they must surely love and respect dearly.
People often associate clothing to issues like catcalling. Today, women are still judged based on what they wear. People still relate the length of women’s skirts, the depth of their neckline, or simply the abundance of revealed skin, to their self-respect or how much they “want it”. Just because someone wears revealing clothes, it doesn’t mean that they’re “slutty”, “have no self-respect”, or want to be touched.
“What was she wearing when it happened?” “Ano ba suot niya kasi?” Conscious or not, people still involve these questions in the discussion of rape and sexual harassment cases. Until today, we still blame the victims for their predicament. However, if you hold the “lack of clothing leads to harassment” argument to be true, harassment would occur only in the summer, when women wear bikinis and lighter clothing, and disappear in colder weather. This doesn’t hold up in reality; women are sexually assaulted and harassed regardless of the season and the amount of clothing on them. I mean, even Muslim women who are covered from head to toe in their religious attire experience sexual harassment. This just goes to show that such instances of harassment are not caused by what the victim wears, but by the harasser.
Sadly, not everyone is aware of this truth and the practice of victim-blaming is still very prominent in Filipino culture. Parents still limit their daughters’ clothing choices out of the fear of them becoming victims of sexual harassment. It is still more natural for women to be told not stay out late alone, to dress modestly, and not to drink too much during a night out to avoid getting harassed, rather than for men to be told to respect women’s clothing choices, personal space and basic rights.
STEP 3: Watch Your Language!
Using “girl”, “gay” and “bakla” as insults was never cool. I’m sure many of us are familiar with how these words have been used in our very macho culture. Slurs like “Don’t be such a girl!” and “Bakla ka ba?” are thrown at people who don’t exude ‘masculine’ traits to insult them and make them feel inferior. People also tend to recklessly throw slurs around like, “That’s so gay/girly”, to express distaste for anything under the sun. These imply that vulnerability and other feminine traits are undesirable compared to more ‘masculine’ characteristics, and equates women and LGBT groups as nothing but weak and subordinate human beings. It paints the freedom of expression and the identity of women and the LGBT in a negative light; something that should not happen. In the present, there have been many women and LGBT people who have changed the game and what it means to be a woman or LGBT. They’ve proven themselves time and time again to be just as, if not more, capable than men in their chosen pursuits.
It’s 2019, everyone! It doesn’t cost much to be more sensitive towards people who, in the past, have been devalued and undermined. Practicing these small, yet important, steps can bring an end to toxic behaviors and replace them with a greater perspective on awareness, sensitivity and respectfulness. Improving the way we act, think, and speak can foster a more inclusive and empowering society that allows the potential of diversity and human dignity to be fully realized.
Images from: The Good Fruit: view here
Photo: Before by William Hogarth: view here
Painting: American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin: view here
We Can Do It by J. Howard Miller: view here
New York 50s-60s: view here