What it’s like to be a woman in 2016

Frankly, 2016 is an incredibly frightening time to be a woman. On some days, I find myself lying wide awake, not wanting to sleep but not quite having the motivation to get out of bed either. On some days, I struggle with deciding what outfit to put on not because I have plenty of clothes to go through, but because I am partially paralyzed by a lurking fear that what I wear might elicit reactions I am not comfortable with. On some days, I walk outside with my eyes deliberately downcast and my shoulders constantly hunched in the hopes of not drawing unwanted attention to myself. On some days, I still ponder over my self-worth, wondering if my value as an individual correlates to the amount of skin I have on display. On some days, I still have to bite my tongue in order to keep my temper in check as another person tries to dictate what I can or cannot do (mainly the latter, really) as a female. Every day, however, I am painfully, utterly aware that my personal experiences do not even scratch the surface of what most women go through on a daily basis.

And 2016 has taken the plight of all women, myself included, even further downhill.

I recently stumbled upon a Facebook post that quickly became viral. The author of that post narrated how, while riding a bus from Calamba to Alabang, she drifted off and woke up to an old man informing her that he groped her breast as she slept. According to the victim, the man specifically said, “Sobrang tulog ka kanina ha. Ayan tuloy nahawakan ko dede mo. [You were sleeping so soundly a while ago. I was able to touch your breast.]” As if he deserved to be commended for doing something so exceedingly inappropriate and disgustingly repulsive. As if by falling asleep, the victim granted him some sort of permission to act upon his perverted impulses. As if harassment was a logical repercussion. As if harassment could ever be a logical repercussion.

The sad part is—the man’s misguided sense of justification for his disrespectful behavior was not the most outrageous aspect in this scenario. What personally bothered me the most was the manner in which people on social media reacted to the story. Having been shared via Facebook more than a thousand times, the post garnered plenty of reactions and hundreds of comments. Several people rushed to console and to comfort the author, asking if she was doing okay after the encounter. Some expressed their anger over the assault, condemning the stranger’s blatant disregard for personal boundaries and respect.

However, a number of the comments opted to point out that she should not have been sleeping while using public transportation in the first place. Others tagged their female friends and respective significant others via comment, gently reminding them with variations of “Wag ka matulog sa biyahe o baka mamanyak ka. [Don’t fall asleep while traveling or you might get harassed.]” Surprisingly, a few people even took the situation lightly, tagging female companions and adding lighthearted quips such as “Mag-ingat ka. Kahit na wala naman silang mahahawakan. [Take care. Even though there’s nothing for them to grope.]” and “Paano na pag flat-chested? [What if you have a flat chest?]”

Personally, I find these comments deeply troubling as they collectively insinuate a normalcy in rape culture and victim blaming. Although it is clear that these people disapprove of what happened to the author, their responses deviate from the crux of the matter, which is the objectification of women and the subsequent mistreatment towards the female gender. By steering the focus away from the principal issue and directing it towards matters of trivial bearing (i.e. falling asleep in a public vehicle), the gravity of the situation is downplayed as, at best, a common occurrence, and at worst, as a generally accepted norm. This, in turn, implies that although harassment is not a logical repercussion, it is, to an extent, a repercussion. That alone is already very harmful. Not only is this mindset completely unhelpful, but this line of thinking also, and more importantly, enables rape culture to keep happening.

Moreover, in the Facebook post, the author included two photos which displayed what she wore when the incident occurred. One female commented, “The sad part about this also is the fact that you had to point out that you weren’t wearing what most may consider ‘inviting’ just so people can understand that you were sexually harassed.”

Another recent case of sexual harassment was brought to light through Twitter and created waves of engagement, discourse, and controversy in social media. The incident revolves around a female high school student who was subjected to lewd, explicitly sexual remarks from four college-age boys. Specifically, they created a Facebook group chat wherein they repeatedly exchanged lustful and degrading comments about the girl’s physical assets. To make matters worse, the group then added that very same girl to their chat box – a virtual conversation primarily dedicated to objectifying, sexualizing and disrespecting her. Despite the victim’s multiple attempts to leave the conversation, the boys continued to re-add her. Eventually, she and her cousin took the initiative of compiling screencaps of their inappropriate chat and posted the shots on Twitter with the intention of both raising awareness of the issue and publicly shaming the perpetrators. The tweet thread rapidly gained attention, especially from millennials.

Many lauded the two for holding the harassers accountable for the vulgarity of their actions, emphasizing that posting their conversation online was a bold and empowering move to make. Despite this, however, an overwhelming number of people jumped to the boys’ defense as they believed that humiliation on such an open and encompassing platform was unnecessary, if not unwarranted. They even went so far as to accuse the girls of attention-seeking and bullying. In fact, the taunts, threats, and online backlash escalated to the point where both the victim and her cousin felt compelled to not only delete the tweet thread but to deactivate their social media accounts altogether as well.

The majority labeled the entire issue as something completely blown out of proportion and the four students’ predatory, sexually loaded commentary as simply “boys being boys”. It saddens me to note that even numerous women shared the same sentiment – plenty of whom participated in hurling insults and variations of the phrase “attention whores” toward the two girls. It saddens me that these women chose to tear each other apart instead of standing in solidarity with their fellow women against those who seek to oppress and to trivialize them. It saddens me that internalized misogyny is rampantly dominant and yet most people fail to ever realize it. It saddens me how our society is so poisonously patriarchal that it has succeeded in conditioning females such as myself to tolerate abuse and harassment as we collectively have been disillusioned into believing that men outrank us.

Why do we give these men such allowances? Why do we still continue to associate masculinity with aggression, violence, and power? More imperatively, why is it that their power must come at the expense of devaluing women, of entirely dismissing our worth? Why must we lower ourselves solely for the sake of making them feel as if they’ve been placed on a pedestal? Why do we still lower ourselves?

The two cases I have mentioned are merely the infinitesimal tip of a perpetually growing iceberg. There are many atrocities and injustices against girls that are left unnoticed by social media. There are many stories of sexism that cannot be delivered in increments of 140 characters. There are many, many women whose struggles do not grace the top of our Newsfeeds.

The prejudice against women is prevalent and predominant both online and offline. Catcalling and lewd whistles in the streets have become largely accepted practices. Abused women and victims of sexual exploitation are told they’re at fault for provoking their perpetrator’s interest. Until this very day, women are seen as bodies – lumps of skin and soft curves – before we are seen as people and these bodies are receptacles of the male gaze and commodities used for their personal gratification. Until this very day, men are absolved of any and all responsibility, leaving women to be blamed for “asking for it”. This culture of victim blaming and internalized misogyny has burrowed itself so intensively under the skin of our current society that we no longer recognize it for the threat it actually is.

2016 does not hold any promise of offering solutions to this consequential problem. As I write this, the highest position of political power in the Philippines is currently being occupied by a vociferous misogynistic male who made a tasteless joke identifying the Vice President as a nice pair of legs, who has public statements wherein he proudly claimed to have assaulted women, and whose countless sexist remarks are not only thought of as entertaining but are also completely brushed off by his supporters. Meanwhile, the United States, a globally influential and unparalleled superpower, has recently elected a businessman with an advocacy of grabbing women “by the pussy” into their presidential office.

With that said, female empowerment and solidarity among all women are at their most warranted now more than ever. However, I am in no way placing this responsibility on the shoulders of women alone. I am not denouncing all men as a single evil entity because that is not what feminism stands for. This is not a battle of the sexes, but instead a call for unity and equal opportunity.

This is not me declaring the male gender as the enemy. Rather, this is me condemning a society that has been deliberately structured and continues to thrive on revering one gender over the other, much like how the present government caters only to the elite. A society that imposes on women what they are and are not capable of doing because they are not men. A society that teaches girls at a young age that they should be ashamed of their bodies and that the length of their skirts suffices as a measure of the respect they deserve. A society that advises women to take care of themselves but refuses to instruct men to care for people. A society that habilitates rape, abuse, and harassment through impunity and by absolving those found guilty of full accountability. A society that continues to establish constructs meant to further divide us. The fight for equality leaves little to no room for silence or apathy.

Let women be women.

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Shealea

First of her name. Queen of millennials and the constantly caffeinated. Protector of books. Breaker of norms. Iskolar ng bayan.

15 thoughts on “What it’s like to be a woman in 2016”

  1. An amazing piece. I found myself nodding along all through it.

    Rape is not okay. The rape culture we’ve been brought up in is not okay. Women are people not objects.

    Women need to stand up for it, but so do men. Standing silently by and accepting the behavior says the behavior is “okay”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was very well-written. I sometimes, even as a woman, tend to ignore the rampant sexism still present in our world. However, with the recent poor decisions my country has made, I see more keenly than ever the role misogyny continues to play in our society here in the US, and worldwide as well. We know that we are amazing humans, with strength and courage and grit. We’ve had to be strong to continue facing the world as women. I agree that men aren’t the problem, but society is, as is also true with racism. We need to find a new way to live. Thank you for sharing this powerful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! With everything that’s been going on, it is now more crucial than ever to wake up, identify what’s wrong with our current societal norms, and take immediate courses of action.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. One of the “problems” is that we don’t teach women how to handle themselves in these situations. Many women who say “you should dress modestly” are not blaming the victim so much as trying to teach women how to protect themselves with the false narrative that has been fed to them that it is about sex. But it really isn’t. It is about control. We need to teach our girls to walk with their head high and eyes alert. We need to teach them how to defend themselves. Yes, we need to teach our boys better as well, but at the end of the day, women need to stop counting on men to make this right for us. We have taken our own lives into our own hands on so many ways, but in this we still are afraid. We still want to count on men to do the right thing. I assure you that if a man got his hand broken every time he groped a girl, there would be a lot less groping incidents. If a flasher got a solid punch to his groin there would be less incidents. If a rapist found himself face ti dace with a gun, it wouldn’t happen. Does that mean that girls who can’t defend themselves are at fault? Absolutely not! Does that mean that men who do these things should not be held accountable? Well, if the courts and the public will not do so, then women must. Until these men are held accountable things will not change.

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    1. Hell yes! Education, education, education…and good examples in the world. It annoys me that I’m always told to keep my head up and shoulders straight, but never really learned how to do that. I’m working on that, but for someone, like many others, left to fend for herself without much guidance or clarity, it’s tough. It’s gotta be up to us, but all of us together. I actually stood taller this week when I signed up for self-defense classes, regardless of the cost (posted about it yesterday), and will do all I can to educate myself and others. We need tools to get us there. People talk about “fight or flight” reflex, but not the faint/freeze reflex that seems to happen the most…and I want to work on that.
      Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Kudos to you for taking up self-defense classes! That’s very brave of you, and I admire you for it.

        I do agree that people tend to overlook how instinctive it is for victims to become paralyzed with fear, which unfortunately further perpetuates both rape culture and victim blaming. In retrospect, taking necessary measures (e.g. saying no, speaking up, fighting back) is definitely easier said than done.

        Thanks for your two cents!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. While I don’t completely agree with all your points, I do believe that yes, women should educate themselves on how to protect their own and how to handle these types of scenarios. It isn’t enough for us to call out men for being chauvinistic pigs; it is still very much imperative that we learn to fight back and to defend ourselves as well.

      With regards to being told that one “should dress modestly”, it is, in fact, victim blaming no matter what angle you choose to view it from. Doing so only fuels the false narrative rather than oppose it. And this contradicts the very foundation feminism is built on. If it restricts the empowerment and expression of women, then it is not feminism. If it favors only a select few, it is not feminism. If it empowers some women by trampling on the rights of other women, it is not feminism. Feminism is whole and inclusive, and is meant to offer protection accessible to all women. My two cents.

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  4. Whoah, this is an amazing piece. “Poisonously patriarchal” is a great phrase. The way you described your top political representative in the Philipiness, I honestly thought you were describing Donald Trump. What is happening with our world?!! Women make up more than 50% of the population; WE are the ones who raise boys–WE can teach them. If women off all ages and races could just stick together on this issue, to be there for each other, to INSIST upon the REALITY that degrading women is wrong, wrong, wrong, then the incidence of treating women like weaker, second-class citizens would surely disapear. Unfortunately, as you mentioned, “internalized misogyny is rampantly dominant and yet most people fail to ever realize it.” SO many women suffer from a virulent case of Stockholm syndrome, plus whatever it is that makes the oppressed fight amongst themselves instead of uniting against the oppressor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! 🌻 In some ways, our current president is quite similar to Trump. In fact, President Duterte is a supporter of his. It’s quite alarming. I fear for my country’s future, especially considering how his “war on drugs” (which is actually a brutal campaign against the poor) has already taken away more than 7,000 lives — a lot of which are innocent. Our government is even considering reinstating a death penalty. It’s a scary, scary world.

      I definitely agree with everything you’ve said! It’s such a shame that it’s gotten to the point where people, especially women, voluntarily choose to silence themselves. Thanks for the insightful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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