On my recent trip back to my hometown I found my diary from when I was seventeen years old, in it I wrote “My boyfriend is a chauvinist. I need to get a new one.” I burst out laughing when I read that, truly my higher self knew what she was talking about. I wished I had ended it shortly after, as I constantly question why I still dated that person for the next seven years. But now I’m also thanking and honouring myself for getting out of it. I have come a long way from that relationship and have learned many lessons in the process.
International Women’s Day reminded me about that moment. Growing up in my family no one ever placed any rules or limitations on what I could or couldn’t do. Nobody ever said “kababae mong tao” to chastise me. There were no rules for what a woman should look or behave like. We weren’t taught to be demure or to try to please men and laugh at their jokes even when they weren’t funny. We were taught to be decent human beings regardless of our biological makeup. However, the outside world had a different view and it went about reminding you of your “place” in insidious and also aggressive ways. My first serious relationship was my first brush with how patriarchy, misogyny and sexism ruins and destroys people, relationships, and builds insecurities that affect our every day. It reflected the kind of behaviour in relationships we thought normal but were actually unhealthy. To this day I still see most friends engaged in toxic relationships, unaware that their well being’s slowly deteriorating.
From the very start of that relationship I was given a set of conditions. I wasn’t allowed to wear skirts (else he’ll ditch me on a date), I wasn’t allowed to drink. I shouldn’t be out so late at night with friends. Of course I never followed any of these but then came the “punishments” or “retaliations” which consist of cold shoulders, flirtations with other women, abusive words- all justified and blamed on me.
It came to a point that even hanging out with common friends became an issue. He’d step out of the way when I happened to meet a friend on the street. I felt so isolated and torn all the time between him, friends, and family. I was also victim-blamed when I got groped on the bus -the first thing asked of me was “were you wearing shorts?”
Even things like having known womanizers and sexists as his idols bothered me. As well as saying things like he only wanted sons. Every achievement I hit, the school I went to, the boys I’ve previously dated, everything was a threat to his masculinity or how he’d look like to society. At least, that’s what went in his head. And so I had to play a certain way, I had to keep my opinions to myself, laugh at stupid jokes, and tried be quieter, more feminine. I was not myself anymore.
The people who knew me noticed the changes. “What happened to the cheerful, carefree, confident girl?” they’d ask.
There were a lot of things in that relationship that didn’t feel right, and somewhere inside me just knew it wasn’t it. But psychological and emotional abuse is a cycle and we also become party to it. It takes a while to snap out of it. Anyway, even though it was painful to let go, the moment I found the chance to get away, I ran and never looked back. Those chances are rare and in between and I’m trying to figure out ways to help friends in similar situations get out of it- hence, this post?
In Philippine society men telling you what to do seems normal. When they dictate what you wear, or who you go out with or where you go, people pass it off as an act of “caring”, of men wanting to protect. The boys are socialized however to do anything they want because that’s just what boys do. We grow up accepting these behaviour as normal. But it is not, it’s controlling behaviour, creating a culture of victim-blaming. I remember being told by my ex’s brother that I should be patient and wait for him to mature, my ex even giving the excuse that “when we’re married i won’t play around.” I sat in the car thinking how I’d waste my years waiting on someone to shape up and let them be just because “boys will be boys.” How we perpetuate that thinking in this society is what f*cks us over (pardon the language.) Boys should be held accountable. How unfair was it to expect a woman to be long suffering, and when she snaps back and walks out, it’s still her fault? The last time I saw that ex, he still faulted me for leaving, that I didn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his labor because I balked out the last minute just when he started “shaping up.” It took me years to build the strength to leave that relationship, I would not be manipulated again to believe everything was my fault.
Still, I gave that person the benefit of the doubt and allowed him a “closure.” I didn’t need the closure, he just needed validation that he wasn’t a bad person. That’s when I realized that it’s hard to change when you’re way older. You just find ways to justify yourself. I was appalled at his sense of entitlement and realized he hadn’t grown or learned from the years we were apart. It was useless arguing or driving home a point. It made me thank my lucky stars to have missed the bullet.
My only regret was that I was too young and naive to have known of these things. I wouldn’t have to go through it had I been more aware. The idea of toxic and fragile masculinity was something still abstract, I couldn’t put it into words even though I was going through it daily. I expanded my awareness of the effects of machismo and patriarchy while I was in university, away from my ex. It was these small pieces of resistance that helped me build myself up, the classes in sociology, the environment I was moving in, the people I surrounded myself with. I sat with couples in healthy relationships and the more I exposed myself to these, the realization dawned on me that my toxic, emotionally abusive relationship was not normal.
Still, I know many progressive women who have found themselves in similar situations, even I who also had a feminist father. It’s because it is so deeply ingrained in our social consciousness that we can’t recognize the red flags. This is why I think men and women should be raised feminist. I was always wary of the word feminism because I didn’t understand it or felt that I was not very political to stand by it. But when you’re a woman, subjected to these things every single day, it only takes time for you to realize how oppressive patriarchy is to both men and women.
Men are pressured to act a certain way. In the Philippines it’s the macho mentality. You’re a man if you have a lot of women, play a certain kind of sport, and show no emotion. You end up treating women as objects, as possession, something of disregard unless they’re your mother or sister. Women are dichotomized as virgins or prostitutes. Women you can play with and women you can marry. The measure of a woman was in how they could please you. I am here to tell you that this is not okay. This is not normal. This should not be tolerated.
I hope we raise our children feminist, I hope we get into relationships with feminists. Treat each other as equal and not hold them back into the roles we expect them to play because of their sex.
Feminism is for everyone, it helps everyone. I hope we discard our prejudice against feminism, much more so today in a political climate where our leaders condone and perpetuate misogyny. Note that I’m only talking about one aspect of women’s struggle and haven’t even touched topics such as women’s struggle in other socio-economic class, race, and colour. I apologize since I’m not the most knowledgeable but this is just an anecdote, a piece of the pie in women’s struggles. But I still hope my experience reaches you.
If you still can’t wrap your head around what feminism is and what women’s struggles are here are other helpful articles, anyone reading this who have great links to articles can contribute on the comments and are much appreciated: