An Education: Why Feminism Matters, Why I Travel.

Kapihan.I had the privilege of addressing some undergrads today. They recently put up a gender society in order to talk about feminism and whether it is still relevant to us in this day and age. Below are excerpts of my remarks:

Hello! First of all, I AM NOT BETTER THAN YOU AND TODAY, I’M NOT HERE IN A POSITION OF AUTHORITY—EVEN IF MY JOB TITLE RANKS ME HIGHER THAN YOU IN THE SCHOOL FOOD CHAIN.

MY NAME IS NASH, I’M A 25-YEAR-OLD WOMAN AND THERE ARE SOME THINGS I WANT TO SHARE:

First, I objectify men too sometimes—There’s this guy, he’s known in South Africa as the Shadow Minister of Finance, a title he gave himself which made me tell my mother, “Well, that’s one shadow I wouldn’t mind being under.”—to which we both laughed. Proof enough that I’m not about to cut anyone’s balls or declare war against the men. I like men—a lot. They’re great equals and I can’t imagine a world without them—Y The Last Man was nightmarish for me, despite the awesome storytelling.

Mr. Tim Harris, Shadow Minister of Finance, DA, South Africa.

Mr. Tim Harris, Shadow Minister of Finance, DA, South Africa.

Let me start with this excerpt taken off the Ateneo de Manila Secret Files Page (emphasis mine):

Yes, there is sexism in Ateneo. This page has enough proof of that. But how exactly is the Sanggunian supposed to address that issue? Maybe the candidates weren’t right to dismiss it entirely, but if they had been elected into power, what, exactly, could they have done to promote gender equality? Honestly, I don’t think it’s Sanggunian’s job. More importantly, those pushing for gender equality should realize that while it exists in Ateneo, it does not interfere with the main reason we are all here: education. Experience. Guys who think your short shorts make you a slut do not (at least they should not) interfere with your academic performance. They will not stop you from participating actively in your organizations.

Lastly, please realize that sexism is a mindset that is extremely difficult to change. It’s not something that can be done by a home org the Sanggunian with projects and promos. If you want to fight sexism, do it yourself. Be that girl in short shorts who scores higher than the misogynist in corporate attire. A leader who can make people look past what she’s wearing. If you want to stop sexism, stop complaining, live your life, meet your goals and prove to everyone you’re not one to be ignored. If you want to stop sexism, it’s still up to you.

– First-generation feminist, SOM, BS MGT, 2016

Maybe this says more about the Sanggunian than it does about women, noh? Concerned as the student government is with projects and promos? But today the student government is the farthest from my mind.

Today, I can only think about my privileged education and how in many cases, it has failed me as both an educator and a woman myself.

The system has taught me to want success and it has defined success as being better than everyone at everything. Using that scale, it becomes acceptable to flaunt my body, be gawked at and maligned for it behind my back—for as long as I outperform. I have to be better than all of you and all of them.

I constantly have to prove myself to be accepted, let alone respected by peers and students, it seems. Everyone believes in successful women who have carved a niche for themselves in this man’s world and all of the female heroes we’re taught to aspire to be occupy places of great power. Kudos to them, really, but what I want to know more than anything is: what happens to the millions of women out there who are fighting just to be considered human?

What truly gets my goat about this excerpt I read on the SF page is the suggestion that sexism does not interfere with one’s education—what exactly do you get from yours anyway? A degree that says you went to a prestigious university—that all of a sudden you are qualified you to be better than everyone else?  This mentality worried me a lot as a student and it continues to worry me today because in no way is “where you went for college” enough to justify the kind of person you are.

And might I remind you, I, being a woman, AM YOUR EDUCATION. The “woman problem” isn’t going to stop you from learning your maths or acquiring great research skills—but if you let the data speak to you, you’ll find that the exclusion of women, the poor, and other marginalized groups is actually at the root of the world’s biggest development problems.

But let’s not worry first about things that may be too abstract for our comprehension.

Is there room for feminism in today’s world, you might ask? Is there room for this in our campus?

Photo by KC.

Photo by KC.

Tell me: What is the worst insult you have for a woman? Be very honest. (She is a ________) whore, bitch, slut, cunt! And a man? (He is _________) a fag, bitch, pussy, girl!

See?! My very essence as a woman insults you whether you are a girl or a guy and even when you act out your gayness, you get called out for it because you act like a woman. Too soft, too effeminate, right?

Why is this right?

Women are said to outperform men in school and in the workplace and yet, AND YET, most of what determines job security is what you look like on your application form—Sometimes it’s not even about wearing the right clothes but looking a certain way.

If you think there is no room for feminism today, why is there so much stress in this country to be whiter, thinner? Why so many billboards selling you the farce that women are only good one way and not the other?

#WHIPIT—really? Rappler partnered with Pantene some months ago—and I do appreciate the message but not the language. Why does being strong mean wielding a whip?

How many men have expressed the desire to see us clad in leather holding whips, ready to rein them in? “Baby, I like you on top,” my guy friend once said—it’s a nice place to be, admittedly, but I certainly don’t want to have to whip it…because I should be able to negotiate power even and especially from a position of weakness. I should be able to say no and you should all respect that. Some men want to be whipped because they like “strong women”—but do you all really know what a strong woman is and can you love her for her honest self?

The person said it plainly: Sexism exists on campus—It’s your right to not care but I suggest you do because silence and apathy affects all of us.  Just look at how the state controls our bodies. Reproductive health here is defined by a group of men who are themselves cloistered from the human experience of sexuality. Why do we still need priests to be celibate? Maybe if they enjoyed sex like we do, we wouldn’t be judged for being such animals.

I, personally, can have access to proper reproductive health because I can afford it and I can look it up on the internet—albeit after sifting through the garbage and the myths.

There is clearly something wrong with this…

One last note—a brief story—I once read that my silence would not protect me and that I was taught to respect fear more than my own voice. [The original quote reads:]

I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you…. What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.”

I began to ask each time: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?” Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, “disappeared” or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.

Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.

– Audre Lorde

In the Philippines, this wasn’t as real to me because I speak out a lot anyway but last year, I went to Delhi a few months after the death of this woman who was brutally raped and all my assumption about how to act were challenged. Everyone told me not to go for fear of getting raped. Truthfully, I sat a mere three hours away from landing and began to cry. Part of me regretted having to go at all because I placed myself in a very vulnerable situation. The man next to me, a father himself, reminded me to take the necessary precautions: Don’t go out alone and don’t go out at night.

Comforted as I was by his advice, I felt more relaxed when I found the voice to question the people themselves about whether or not it was right to live in fear of getting raped. I remember taking to the podium during the ADB Youth Conference and asking those present if there was any reason for me to fear traveling alone in this country of theirs.

There was silence and some applause but afterwards, both the women and the men approached me and assured me that there was certainly some danger–but that this could happen anywhere. They pushed me to continue on, to travel anyway.

Worried as I was to receive this advice, the road itself proved instructive and my interactions with the people validated claims made by the participants. There was no reason to fear–and even when I was most afraid, sitting by myself at a restaurant, enduring the long stare of a man I would later invite to sit with me and confront about both his staring and the idea of rape in India–the people proved to me that there was more to them than just the headlines, that not all Indian men are out to rape me.

[End of speech–sort of, I still expounded…The points can be found below, I think?]

India--May all beings...

In Sarnath, India where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma.

My insight here, and it’s in no way complete, is that often we are taught to fear that which we don’t fully understand–and our language and culture often cement our respect for fear when what we really should be doing is finding a voice and speaking out against it.

Travel has taught me that if one lives perpetually in fear of what might happen, we miss out on what is happening–and, trite as this might sound, life is quite beautiful. Our assumptions aren’t always true–and that’s a very, very good thing.

SONY DSCHopefully, the discussion continues–a lot of the points I made still need to be properly framed and articulated but there will be time for that.

 

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