this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on November 13, 2001.

I am a feminist.

Do I hear appalled reactions?

I wonder why some people would show indescribable facial expressions every time they hear the term feminist. Maybe it’s because of the various stereotypes associated with the word.

Sometimes I can’t help but get exasperated when people, even those who are dear to me, give wrong rationalizations for feminism. Some think that feminists are either man haters, lesbians, or contradictors: those who seem to find meaning in their lives by going against the norm, which in the case of gender is the “fact” that women “should” be subordinates to men.

Yes, I am a feminist, but what’s the big deal? Why does it have to sound so unusual?

I can’t remember how the gender issue came up while an acquaintance and I were having coffee, but I can still recall what she said about feminists. Unaware of where I stood on the issue, she said feminists were “haughty” womyn who acted so strongly against men because they “hated” the opposite sex.

On another occasion, I almost burned myself in contained anger when a stranger-a common-looking college guy I once rode a jeepney with-told his companion: “Feminist kasi ‘yang si Alma kaya palagi na lang galit sa mundo at kontra ng kontra.” How did he come up with the sweeping generalization that feminists are womyn with a grudge against the world?

And just after that bad jeepney experience, along came a long-lost friend who called and instead of compensating for my bad mood, gave me a nasty line: “You still don’t have a boyfriend? Gosh, don’t tell me your feminist ideology has gone full-blown, making you one of the boys and go for the same sex!”

Worse is a guy peer, who always blames the way I dress, the way I act, my afternoon-till-midnight job and almost every thing about me on my being a feminist and trace my being so to my tendency to deviate from the “norm.” He suspects that I have become “eccentric,” just because I don’t wear “girly” outfits and because I declined 8-5 job offers, which for him are the working hours for women.

These are some of the common reactions that sometimes turn my patience into disgust. And so for the benefit of those who have misconceptions about feminists, and for my own benefit, let me set things straight.

First, I don’t hate men. In fact, there are many among them whom I consider to be the “loves” of my life: my brother, my dad (who recently passed away), my guy best friend, and some guy peers. And contrary to what others think, I also have my own share of kilig reactions when I watch David Duchovny do his handsome acts in haunting aliens in “The X-files” or when a hunk accidentally throws a glimpse at me.

It’s about time people understood that feminists and man haters are two different things. A man hater, as the term suggests, is one who hates men for whatever reason (a failed love affair, perhaps), while a feminist believes in gender fairness and makes efforts to liberate womyn from the limited roles to which society limits them. The distinction is quite clear, so it makes me wonder sometimes why the two words are often confused. How can liberation-seeking feminists be man haters when their efforts toward equality would benefit not only themselves, but also men?

I believe men would agree that they, too, sometimes get tired of their being stereotyped, for example, as being “under the saya” if they succumb to their wives’ requests, or “gay” if they cry, or “ungentlemanly” if they don’t carry their girlfriends’ light shoulder bags or if they don’t give up their seats to ladyies. Besides, my professor once reported that more men die of heart attacks because they suppress their sad emotions, as our culture dictates that men are not supposed to cry. Under these circumstances, gender fairness will apparently be liberating for both women and men.

Second, I am not a lesbian. My not having a boyfriend since birth has nothing to do with my sexuality. The reasons is simply that I haven’t found Mr. Right. And I have no plans of hurrying things up just to ease the pressure from those who cannot believe I am still single.

I have lesbian friends and I respect their gender preference, but I must strongly belie the false theory about my sexuality, simply because I am not one of them. Just because I hate skirts and prefer to wear jeans to the office, it doesn’t follow that I am a member of the third sex. Besides, associating clothing style with one’s gender would also be stereotyping. There are lesbians who wear skirts and make-up, just as there are gay men who wear the usual male outfits.

Third, I am no contradictor. In fact, I am a peace-loving person and playing the role of the antagonist is not my style. It is true that there are cultural practices that feminists oppose, but the act is done not for the sake of contradicting, but to liberate womyn from the injustices being done against our gender. Contradictors, on the other hand, oppose things just for the heck of it. Acts such as avoiding sexist language (such as replacing the “e” in the word women with a “y”), not planning to be a plain housewife and wasting the 16 years I spent studying my ABCs, algebraic expressions, theories of mass communication; and being independent are not intended merely to go against the “norm” but simply are an exercise of freedom.

Tell me what is bizarre with womyn playing significant roles and helping their male counterparts in making the world a better place to live in and making use of our abilities as much as men do. Given the crises and the chaos that are reported daily in newspapers, it is but reasonable for womyn to go hand in hand with men in going to where the action is. If anyone sees this as something “rebellious” (and not kind and just), there must be something wrong in her or his thinking.

Knowing all this, one would therefore realize that a feminist should not be seen as someone who is “stubborn,” “rebellious,” “eccentric,” etc. One just has to remember that womyn are humans and that every human being’s right is the right of womyn as well. With this in mind, the feminists’ struggle for gender fairness won’t sound intimidating.

Being a feminist is really no big deal. Feminists are just people who have simple, logical and reasonable causes. The unresolved cases of rape that scare working womyn, the wife beating that goes on in some households, the sexual harassment that happens in some academic institutions, the forced domesticity of womyn that hampers their personal growth and fulfillment, and the double standard of thinking against womyn are just some of the practices feminists are fighting. These are obviously valid causes.

Now, do you still take feminists negatively? Given all the explanations of what we are, I bet you might want to be a feminist yourself.

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