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Friday, March 9, 2012

Are Women Now More Equal Than Men?

(Photo courtesy of

That title, of course, is alluding to one of modern literature's most famous lines from George Orwell's masterpiece, Animal Farm. Unahan ko na yung mga magsasabi na (Let me get ahead of those who will say that) "more equal" is a contradiction.

It's something I've been chewing on since we celebrate Women's Month - not just a day, as everyone else does elsewhere in the world - and have not yet really gotten any satisfactory responses.

I ask this, at the risk of earning the ire of any woman, because I'm beginning to sense that women now have their cake and eat it, too - albeit in dainty ways. And this comes in the heels - pun intended - of a Newsweek report that we are one of the best (top 20) places in the world for women to live in. If last night's news report is correct, we are the only Asian country on that list.

I suppose that given the political fact that we have had two female Presidents, it was a no brainer that women's rights here are upheld, with the political checkmarks to prove it. (Although that same list gives us a 50 plus percent score only where women's health services are concerned. No surprise there, either, when celibate men dictate to the government regarding this issue.)

What first got me thinking about this question was when our MRT (Mass Rail Transit) alloted a "Women Only" car in the train.

It struck me as a blow to women in the arena of equality.

Personally, I find the allotment a nod to the claim that women are the "weaker sex". That they are "weak" and should not be subjected to the pushing, shoving, sweating that men do in every other car of the train. Any move that gives "preferential treatment" when there is no physical disability present smacks to me of inequality - are we saying that one's genitals are a license to get "special treatment"?

It also brought up the many other ways that some women use "femininity" to get their way.

When women "expect" to be treated on their meals on account of being female.

When women "expect" men to open the door for them on account of being female.

When women "expect" men not to shout at them in arguments the way they would with other men they also argue with, on account of being female.

When men feel they have to use "kid gloves" when berating an employee for their work performance, or firing them, on account of being female, lest they be found guilty of anything remotely tangent to "sexual harrassment" or being "anti- women".

It really has been ingrained culturally, to be fair. Why do you think we have expressions like "Ladies First"? This has been invoked time and again by those with a traditional point of view as "respecting" women, but I actually see the opposite: Are they saying that women cannot fend off for themselves? That they need men to hold their hand while they do tasks expected of men to be done on their own? That they are "inferior" in some way and need a free pass always, on account of having a vagina?

Nothing can be more disrespectful than implying that a woman is weaker simply because of her "lady parts".

In my mind, pare-pareho tayong tao. (We are all humans.)

And that means if you need to stand up while you are taking public transport, then that is what you should do, if we want to talk about "equality". And that goes for the women. People should not have to give their seats up because of a difference in chromosomes. That act (giving a seat to a female) says the same thing to me: women are weaker and need another free pass.

If I was a woman, I would be highly insulted anyone would think of me that way.

(Funny, true story: Back when I was based in Quezon City, I had to take the MRT daily to and from work. On a mid-morning ride back to QC, all the seats were occupied. So I resigned myself to standing up the whole trip. In the Buendia station, a woman in her 30s - definitely not more than 40 - got on the train and looks around desperately for a seat, to no avail.

She then resorts to public humiliation: she invokes her being female to get her way. Again, this is mid-morning, so while the seats were filled, the train itself had a lot of room to stand, so everyone could hear her speech: "Hay, naku...totoo nga yata ang sabi nila, patay na daw ang panahon ng mga (Gosh, I guess it's true, what they say, this is the end of the era of the) gentleman. Dati rati, di na pinag iisipan, nagmamadali ang mga lalaki magbigay ng upuan sa babae. Ngayon, pahirapan." (Before, there's no debate, men fought over who got to give up their seat to a woman. Now, you have to beg for it.) She looks around to all the men seated, and says it again for effect: "Patay na talaga ang panahong yon." (That era is long dead.)

I could see all the seated men look at each other, and no one budged.)

My mother set my template on what it means to be a woman: equal in every way. She stood in line in both the supermarket and the hardware store. She has never asked - verbally or implicitly - to be given favors because babae ako. (I'm a woman.) She doesn't bat her eyelashes to get her way. Even though some men do that (become more "courteous"), given our cultural pressure, she never took advantage of it: whenever men try to give her the space in front of them in line, she refuses, and in one instance told me why: "It's just right we stay where we are, lahat tayo nakapila, (we are all in line), it is the fair thing to do."

And I have to thank her for that, because that is what women's equality means to me: take your place in the line. Walang lamangan. (No one taking advantage.)

And why in one of my recent airport scenarios, I stood my ground when a group of women tried to barrage their way in front of me (obviously very late) for their flight.

We have been in line for almost an hour, the "leader" tried to use their numbers to force their way in, and unfortunately, I was next to be served. I told her to ask each and everyone in line if they were willing to give up their spots for them, and it wasn't my fault that they were late.

Knowing she was rebuffed and could not slink in, she - like that MRT commuter - resorted to public humiliation: "Kalalaking tao, ayaw magbigay daan...bakla yan siguro, kaya ganyan." (He's a man that refuses to give way to ladies...he must be a homosexual.)

I pity this woman's husband, if she had one. In her world view, anyone who doesn't "give way" to a woman has to have his heterosexuality questioned.

(That anyone should be made to feel ashamed of being homosexual is mentioned only in passing here, but deserves to be tackled much, much more, as it is the current battleground in the never ending struggle for civil rights. We have religions and organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church whose philosophy is built on the idea that all the evil and ills existing in this world is due to the gradual acceptance of homosexuality, so this definitely warrants further and deeper discussion.)

In both cases, the women were aware of the weight of cultural expectations, using ridicule and shame to their supposed advantage to bully their way into getting a free ride.

That doesn't sound like equality at all.

How odd, that while other women are forging ahead in fields previously closed off to them, there are still other females who believe that all they have to do is pout their lips and presto, everything is handed to them, clinging on to outdated ways of relating to the opposite sex.

It's time to get with the program. Unless you really want to go way, way back, when women were barred from voting, sold as wives and slaves and pretty much weren't considered human but possessions.

Does anyone seriously want to go back to THAT?!?

Happy Women's Month, ladies.

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