womanhood, femininity and empowerment

how does one separate these three issues? how does a woman become her own self, become whole? does femininity reduce empowerment? does being a “kikay” indicate “weakness”, or no or very little “paninindigan sa buhay”?

i was born in an era when women wear pants but still have to tie her hair at the end of the day to attend to mommy and wifely duties. long gone are the days when they stay at home waiting for the men in their lives to come home after seeking out provisions for their family. women today are partners in all aspects of family and community life. they have earned the well-deserved respect because of their skills, talents and other qualities that enable them to function as well as men in their chosen fields. whether, this is in policitics, communications or some high-profile field, or in low-key areas that nevertheless require their expertise. of course, there still exists the occasional chauvinist pigs who think they own women and treat them as properties who live to serve their every whim and desire. they deprive women of the respect they bestow only on their “fellows”.

i’ve never been one to strongly advocate for women’s rights. of course, i absolutely abhor any form of abuse directed at us because, although we can surely stand up for ourselves, there are physical limitations that cannot simply be overcome. we have seen, heard or read horror stories about the kinds of situation that women find themselves in because of their inability to protect themselves, either because of really abusive people around them or their lack of willpower to stand up for their rights.

so far, i have (or any woman close to me for that matter) never really felt that any real threat to my status just because i’m a woman. maybe because i know where i stood right from the beginning. i’ve never been bullied, i’ve never had to do certain tasks at home or in school or at work, i’ve never had to stand for myself, and i’ve never been whistled at or ogled in a really offensive way. maybe it’s because i seem to send off an aura of confidence that no one has dared to do these things to me. (some even say i seem snotty at some point, but really, i’m not!). the point is, despite my literally small stature, i don’t look like i’m pushover. i don’t look like a “maton” and i’ve never been boyish, but i manage to ward off those moments when people would like to push me around by trying to exude an air of self-assurance that i don’t sometimes feel.

what i’m driving at is, women sometimes are treated badly because they somehow have an air about them of helplessness and vulnerability. unconsciously, they give off vibes that they can be pounced on at any moment. they don’t feel they deserve the respect and love due to them by their partners, family, peers, colleagues and superiors.

but how does a woman stake her rights? does one have to be forcefully strong-willed? do we have to pick fights all the time? do we have to contest every thing that comes our way just to show our might or prove to others who’s the boss? i personally do not believe in this kind of system myself, and feel that women of this kind will not earn the respect they want. a show of force does not necessarily mean strength. on the contrary, it may even be a farce or a cover for the insecurities that one intends to hide. this behavior may likewise be a sign of misguided pride. while this may work for some, this may also create more friction as when wives or women partners tend to emasculate their husbands, which may lead to more problems. we know that men, by nature are also proud, and having their women stomp all over them may not prove to be a pretty sight for them. at one point or another, while some men may seem docile, too giving or even meek, they may turn out to be women’s worst nightmare when pushed over the edge. as women, we can be reasonably submissive without having to lose ourselves. being such does not diminish our persona nor our wholeness as wives, daughters, mothers, sisters or whatever place we have in society. as i said, knowing our place in life will help us carry ourselves with dignity while earning the respect we deserve from other people.

recent news events made me again question these kinds of things. everyday we hear a gamut of stories pertaining to women–of survival, of abuse, of childbirth, of growing up, of being fashionable, of surviving your teenage years, of dating, of motherhood. almost all women have stories to tell. but two of them stand out and have become the most talked about because of the complexities of their tales. that of trina etong and nicole, the rape victim. both grabbed headlines for the situations they found themselves in.

trina etong, the other half of famous broadcaster, ted failon, was found with a bullet wound to her head that left her struggling for her life, and eventually losing out on the battle. speculations abound on whether she committed suicide and was shot by somebody else. a supposedly suicide note was found in her room where she repeatedly asked for forgiveness from ted for something she did. allegedly she took her own life because she can’t face him anymore for the thing she apparently did. if this was true, it got me wondering what the hell she did that warrants the taking of her own life. doesn’t she have anything else to live for? doesn’t she have a 12-year kid that needs years and years of her attention and love? yet she choose to give that up. she let go of the privilege of karishma to have a mother to watch and guide her in the next few years or so. i have had my shares of heartaches and failures in life that i thought i couldn’t go on. but after a while, you look at those times, and you may even laugh at them, thinking how stupid you are for even entertaining the thought that your problems are more important than your life. i am not judging her though. trina may have her own reasons for doing what she did. it’s just a pity that she did not value herself that much to stand up for the mistake she did. she lost the fight because she chose to let go because she did not believe in herself.

as for nicole, i had this gut feeling long before her case became a media circus that indeed, she was not raped. don’t get me wrong. i am not saying that she is “bad” woman. i have never been the conservative type. i do not believe in all the hypocrosies of being “pure” because purity in a woman, or a person for that matter, lies not in one’s physical state or condition, but rather on how we think and present ourselves. while it was alright to have fun in bars with your date or even with someone you just met, our decisions on how to conduct ourselves are of highest priority when we find ourselves in these kinds of situation. granted that she was intoxicated and she lost her inhibitions for a night of passion, nicole should have been responsible enough for her own actions. at that time of the supposed crime, she just gave in to her desires, and quite unfortunately, found herself disrespected by a bunch of foreign soldiers. she then thought that she no recourse but to get back at them for somehow ruining her reputation because these men had made fun of her even though she is a woman. she got her wish, and made one of her “attackers” suffer when he was convicted of the rape he never committed, but claimed to have been consensual. two years after, nicole recanted her story, notwithstanding the payment she received for damages. in the end, she acquitted the person she had convicted in the first place. she now doubts whether the crime indeed happened taking into consideration the events leading to the incident–her reckless dancing, shameless flirting in the bar, continuous drinking and eventually going out of the club with the “rapist”. it could’ve been a moment of passion, she now tells. now who would believe her? feminists and women’s rights activists somehow got slapped in their faces. after all those time times fighting for her and taking potshots at the government while making this into a political thing because of the VFA. still, as they couldn’t stand to lose face, they continue to vilify the government for not lifting a finger to help nicole. this might have been political diplomatic suicide because the government actually was torn since nicole’s reputation was in question, as well as her motives, thus it does not warrant angering the US over this small a case. but this is another subject of debate. going back to nicole, they continue to fight for her, or rather, to continually stab the government when the subject has given up on the fight herself. what we must understand here is, while we women sometimes triumph over the odds, we must do so with cautiousness. the now seems like an empty victory for nicole. she might have won the first round, but all she ever accomplished was taint somebody else’s reputation while she gets paid for it. it is quite shameful for women like us.

i’m going to have a daughter soon. i hope i can raise her to become the best possible woman she can be. i pray to God that He give her the wisdom and nerve she needs to make it in this world. my baby, i can’t be there to protect you all the time. mom can only guide you, and cry with you, and lift you up. be strong little one. i cannot promise honey and roses all the time, only love and shoulders and arms to embrace you.

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