The F Word

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The word “feminist” has entered our collective consciousness again, thanks in no small part to celebrities openly talking about it. As expected, anyone who has an Internet connection made polarizing responses. Comments either supporting feminism or debunking it swarmed online forums, and eventually it became a hot topic for real world conversation.

A quick look on any discussion about feminism would reveal that much of what was lost is the ideology’s essence. What was once an important political movement has mutated into a spectacle of criticism and name-calling. Case in point: the reincarnation of the word brought about the Men’s Rights Activists: the misogynistic, acutely masculine men who reduce the tenets of feminism to whimpers from overindulged women who want more.

Just recently I brought up feminism on a random chat with a friend. What stood out for me was not the fact that he had the misconception that feminism strives for female dominance (this is a misconception that almost everyone has about it); it was that when I mentioned the word, he seemed offended. As if it was something that has worn out of style. He said that both men and women are being subjected to double standards and that Filipinas enjoy the same rights and privileges as men, or even more. He also said that feminism does not push for gender equality but for women to be superior to men. And to conclude his argument, he said that there are more relevant issues to discuss than something that has been circulating the Internet yet again.

On the surface, I have to agree. The Philippines — despite its terrible public transportation system and its fixation with status — is relatively “female friendly.” We have laws that protect women against violence and sexual harassment. We had two female Presidents, high-profile female politicians and female heads of governmental agencies and private companies. I also have to agree that society holds both genders in impossible standards to achieve a biased notion of what is ideal.

His last statement, though, I think, is a perfect summary of what is wrong with the criticism of feminism. Sexism in the Philippines is tame, but not inexistent. A woman’s choice of clothing or her behavior automatically classifies her into either a tramp or a decent girl. A woman holding a high position would instinctively attract negative comments (“She’s career-obsessed,” “She’s bossy,” “She’s a power bitch”). Our country is relatively egalitarian, but it does not mean that we should stay ignorant of the fact that this is not the case with the rest of the world. We should not disregard these issues for the flimsy reason that they are not happening in our backyard.

And to be clear: feminism is not about, and will never be about, female superiority and male degradation. It wants to see the world through a gendered lens, where equal opportunity is possible notwithstanding the substantial differences between a man and a woman. It wants equality of opportunity for both genders. It wants freedom from prejudice and objectification against anyone. It wants us to realize that it is a far more dangerous world if you are a woman.

It is not a toothless claim but one that goes into the very foundation of the society we live in. Our world is one where rape is not seen as a crime but as a fact of life and the blame is often placed on the victims, where women do not receive equal pay, where some of them are denied freedom of choice and where they are constantly told to be beautiful in order to be of any value. These issues continue to be serious and relevant even for this day.

Both sexes are damaged by a patriarchal society, of course, but women suffer more from unemployment, illiteracy, discrimination, harassment and abuse than men do. Contrary to popular belief, the age-old cliché that the world is dominated by men still rings true for today: they have control over politics, economics, and even over family dynamics. Though women have been gaining more control over their own rights through employment, education, and protective legislation, a significant number of women — especially in the Third World — do not have these, and as much as we would like to deny it, sexism is a part of our culture.

The fact that almost all who oppose feminism are men, and that the mere mention of that word makes people flinch is a sure sign that we are not yet ready to embrace real equality. Or that we believe humanity has achieved a state of total egalitarianism that anyone who pushes for further rights — whether it be women, the disabled, the cultural minorities or the LGBT community — is a fool. This is, however you put it, far from the truth. All it takes is a closer and a more critical examination on what is happening today to prove it.

Gender relations cannot be separated from politics and power dynamics. It cannot exist in a vacuum. It continues to be relevant because it threatens the status quo. It continues to be relevant is because not only that people have strong views about it, it also forces us to confront the truth that most would rather not face. It subverts our long-held, traditional values. And with that, the conversation never stops.