When I saw on my Facebook feed that my old friend of almost 20 years was back in Manila and starting a feminist group, I thought to myself: “Well… I wonder how this will turn out.”
First, let me tell you that I can say that I have been a feminist for as far back as my memory serves me: pre-school. I have two brothers and two sisters. I always had an interest in my brothers’ cars, Lego, or their police helmets. I had my own stash of Matchbox cars in a little laced basket hidden like contraband. Boy’s toys just seemed far more fun than playing with dolls. I didn’t really understand what was so fun about dressing up a doll or brushing its hair. I was, however, curious about their anatomy and wondered what they looked like underneath. I would also draw on my sister’s Barbie and Ken dolls. At some point I tried cutting Barbie’s hair to see if it would grow back. I was a curious little girl who played with my father’s engineering equipment in the garage frequently because being the youngest of five kids meant not getting your turn on the Nintendo or be able to play with toys without a fight. So I’d retreat to the garage playing with soldering wires and circuits. My read-along books with a little 45 I would play on the record player with a voice that would read to me and later to the set of encyclopedia books that had answers to everything.
Cut to me being 38 and having a daughter of my own. I once joked in college that I would never want to get married—that I would find a real hot guy some day, have a one night stand, and have his baby then raise that child on my own and adopt a bunch of other kids. This is because I found that all throughout school, if boys weren’t objectifying me, they were trying to own me. So I never really engaged in serious relationships. Up until I met my kid’s dad. He was persistent. Unyielding. Handsome. It was a whirlwind intense romance, which culminated in a proposal in Paris. I was uncomfortable with such a quick proposal after only a year of knowing each other. We moved in together six months after we met. Long story short, a feminist since pre-school was still drawn into a four-year abusive relationship that ended with her holding her two-year-old in front of a guy blocking the door with a knife. How could that be?
I decided to attend Grrrl Gang Manila’s first meet for two reasons: be there for other girls by sharing the lessons I’ve learned and find a way to make sure my own little girl, and others like her, never ever doubt their ability to make their own choices and dictate their own success.
When I first walked in, we were asked to write on cards our thoughts on feminism. What we would like to see changed? What peeves us? So I instructed my six-year-old to do just that, “Write what you like about being a girl. Or what you want to be better.”
She wrote four cards:
“I want to be awesome like the boys.”
“I want to be cool like the boys.”
“I want to play soccer like the boys.”
“I want to play basketball like the boys.”
Halfway through it I told her that she didn’t need to be like the boys. “No… How about what you like about being a girl?”
It struck me that perhaps a lot of the shows these days are feminist in a sense that although they are all about women’s empowerment, they still imply inequality by comparing females to males. She saw a room full of girls and assumed they all want to be like the boys. She was being agreeable. But I realized that although I constantly tell her “You can do anything, it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy or even a girl-boy (transgender), you can play with or do whatever you want, pick the color you want…anything,” things beyond my control like school, books, and media still have an inherent tone of inequality even when we are fighting for women’s rights.
So I thought to myself: “Why do we have to fight? We are already equal. I want the next generation to not fight for that equality. I want to highlight how we are equals—partners in child rearing, sexual consent, sexual protection, and home life.”
Later in the session, we shared stories and experiences that helped us find commonalities and diversity in philosophies. The stories helped us turn strangers into sisters. The most powerful part was looking at those issue cards and grouping them into areas of action. These were now working groups to take the issues and solve them through viable strategies. What I saw was that these women were benevolent. They wanted to educate the world on equality, but not complain and rant about inequality. They wanted to celebrate gender. They weren’t angry with men, in fact they wanted to include them in the discussion. I was happy to see that this group was not just about hanging out with mimosas to gripe and b*tch about how unfair life is as a woman. They were there to make a difference. Not an angry difference but an empowering and benevolent difference. And that is what I want my daughter to see: benevolence such that issues of inequality become obsolete.
Photo courtesy of Grrrl Gang Manila’s Instagram account