Courageous women

By: Anna Cristina Tuazon - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | March 16,2023 - 08:00 AM

I hold a similar jadedness with women’s month as with mental health month: The flurry of empowerment workshops and seminars only for the month to end and we go back to the systems that hold us back. I wish, time and time again, for my cynicism to be proven wrong and hope that my idealism returns someday. Perhaps this is why effective advocacy requires the coming together of people from various ages and experiences: We need the wisdom of the old and the idealism of the young. What about us in the middle who are battle-fatigued yet haven’t earned the clarity of purpose that comes with having already set things in order within our own lives?

Only after more than a decade of legal battles did the female flight attendants win their discrimination lawsuit against Philippine Airlines for forcing retirement for women at age 55 while men get to retire at 60. To have persisted in a 19-year legal battle with your employer requires tremendous courage. Imagine how many other companies and industries have been implementing similar rules without having to face the Supreme Court. There have been pervasive stories of women being evaluated for their looks as part of their job application in various sectors, most notoriously in the service industry. How many of them have the resources and the against-all-odds guts to bring them to court?

Adultery is still a female only crime in this country. Adding to this absurdity is that the woman cannot be exempt from liability, even if she had already been abandoned by her spouse. What options are left to the woman inside a dead marriage? The right to divorce, mostly advocated by women, have yet to be legalized. If you wonder how divorce has become a gendered issue, consider this statistic: Nearly 70 percent of divorces in the United States are initiated by women. Divorce would have allowed women more legal options to determine the relationships they want and don’t want to be in. It requires courage and fortitude for a woman to end a relationship, much more a marriage. With only annulment as our option, it is also terribly expensive and the party with the most money gets the upper hand.

In our own academic community, the pool of candidates for both University of the Philippines president and Diliman chancellor are all males. Lest you think it be merely a coincidence, there has only ever been one female UP president and Diliman chancellor, Dr. Emerlinda Roman, whose term ended in 2005. The last decade yielded no females in the top position. There are certain areas of research and study that are predominantly male-heavy. Interestingly, these same areas are also the ones who tend to receive the most funding. (A psychology history lesson: Females were allowed to enter applied areas such as child psychology only because these were deemed much less prestigious than “pure” research.) Having worked in some male-heavy academic spaces, I have had to tolerate uncouth behavior such as crude sex jokes (which I was told to ignore because it was simply locker room talk). I did speak up and calmly cautioned them to be careful about saying those jokes in professional spaces. I was met with silence and was never invited again. To be a woman has always required courage. Either the courage to tolerate or the courage to speak up. It requires courage to take up space in circles that do not welcome you. It takes courage to handle a system that is rigged against you and to keep trying anyway.

Seminars for women’s month are filled with good intentions. These are mostly organized by women. They are also mostly attended by women. When conducted as a safe space for women to come together, it may serve as a welcome brief respite from having to fend off patriarchal systems. However, don’t we deserve more than just brief breaks? Whenever I conduct a session with a group of women, they often remark how refreshing it is to be with each other without having to perform, either as the mother or as the quietly-competent-and-never-complaining worker. Another thing they always say: This should happen regularly. I feel inadequate that I can only offer so much.

I wish that women’s month is not only celebrated by women but also by men. I wish seminars and workshops would consider offering allyship opportunities for men, teaching them how to make every space a safe space for women. I wish for them to recognize and celebrate the courage of women, rather than see it as a threat. I wish for a world where women no longer need to be so brave all the time.


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