It’s true what some people say that feminism is often not taught in school. In my case, I never understood what it meant until I became invested in social media and when I started working for this website. But looking back at my days in Catholic school, it was always something I sought for with how boys and girls were treated.
From pre-school until college, I studied in dominantly Catholic institutions. When I was eight years old, I transferred to a school where girls and boys were segregated—it was called “co-institutional,” not “coed.” I was there until high school.
Apart from school activities, we were basically not allowed to talk to the opposite sex. Even when they were our friends. It wasn’t stated in the student’s handbook that it was “improper” (whatever that meant). But if a teacher caught you conversing with a boy, they would either threaten to take your ID away or sanction you with “engaging in PDA (public display of affection).” Maybe that’s also why our recess and lunch times also became segregated in high school so that we won’t see them in the canteen.
Then again, I wondered how “being prim and proper” meant being viewed as malicious when you’re just having a casual conversation. That goes with the teachers’ rules and how petty high schoolers would tag you as “malandi” if you hung out with various boys.
Dress codes were another thing I questioned a lot in high school and college. Yes, it’s a uniform and we’re expected to wear it correctly. But to shame girls (eg. Making them stand on the platform for the whole class to see. Sometimes teachers would even take them to their classes in the boys department.) who have a bit of knee exposed was too much.
Fast forward to college, there was a disparity in dress code rules, especially among girls. Guards would often scold girls who wore shorts (which almost reached the knees) and leggings. (Dresses were allowed. At least when I was still there.) “The priests might see you,” most of them would say. Meanwhile, boys could enter the premises in shorts with no problem at all.
This was my version of normal until I graduated. Thank god for social media and several online articles on the continuing discussion on big and small inequalities.
I didn’t directly learn about feminism in school because we were taught that women should act gracefully, citing the Virgin Mary as our model. We were told that women are vessels for procreation and that our virginity is a gift to our husbands. I don’t have anything against people who follow these virtues, but it’s unfair to think that every woman should be this way. That we are instantly sinful and impure if we engage in premarital activities.
Even though we’re told that all human beings are equal, these instances made me think otherwise. This is why it’s important to teach feminism to young girls, regardless of where they study, so they won’t feel inferior to the opposite sex. Young boys can also learn to respect girls and not dictate their worth. And I hope my future kids will get to experience that someday.
Art by Lara Intong
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