I was talking with my ride-sharing driver once about driving in Metro Manila. I said that I didn’t drive far from my house because I was scared of how competitive our highways were. He laughed and said, “Oo nga, hirap talaga kapag babae nagmamaneho.” (Yeah, it’s really hard when a woman is driving.)
Right there I wanted to cancel my trip and walk the rest of the way home. Instead, I gave a strangled chuckle and stayed quiet for the rest of the ride. The sad thing was that when I got home, I was angrier at myself rather than the driver.
It’s so easy to preach about feminism on social media but when faced with sexism in real life, it’s a whole different story. A lot of women would rather just keep quiet than put up a fight even though they know this contradicts what they believe in.
And that’s totally okay. Because in our society, to be able to fight sexism means putting our reputation, relationships, and even our lives on the line.
When dealing with sexism from a stranger, we have no idea whether that person would react violently or not and to what extent. Women don’t even have to do anything to experience violence in our society, what more if we lash out against these people?
However, there are times where sexism isn’t that overt. It can be in the form of our male friends calling each other “bakla” as a friendly insult. It’s also present when our fellow women judge another woman’s character by how short her skirt is. We hesitate in calling them out because we fear that we’d damage or even lose the relationship.
There’s also a fear of humiliation when we live in a country that finds anti-intellectualism humorous, where phrases like “Eh ‘di wow” or “Dami mong alam” can shut anyone up in an instant. All it takes is just a few retaliations to be labeled as a killjoy or a feminazi.
It only gets worse if that sexist person happens to be a family member. From supposedly affectionate remarks about our bodies to critiques on our capability of being a good wife, sexism is normalized in the Filipino family. It’s even more toxic that it all stems from the concern for our well-being. To even question our parents or relatives could earn hour-long lectures or, even worse, a slap on the face.
The solution isn’t to train oneself to get mad at every sexist act without fear. It isn’t to lose hope and fall into a spiral of silence either. When battling with sexism in real life, Annalisa Barbieri writes in The Guardian that the first thing to consider is the method. “But if you want to change the way someone thinks, you just can’t go in all guns blazing, because it won’t alter anything—if you shout or preach (and I’m not saying you are) all people tend to notice is the method of delivery, not the information being imparted,” she wrote.
Barbieri said another way is to do reflective listening. In listening why that person thinks that way, you can question them whether or not their grounds still hold up in the 21st century. The dialog will help “get people to think about their behaviour without telling them to change it.”
Sexism is so ingrained in our country that we can’t expect results right away after a few civil discussions. We’re talking about centuries of unquestioned traditional values here. At this point in time, getting people to think about their behavior is a good start in transitioning equality outside the Internet.
Photo courtesy of Judah S. Harris