[Dash of SAS] The invisible double standard
I was once given the enviable assignment of writing a 4-page spread (about 3,200 words) on erectile dysfunction. The research involved interviewing urologists who were always surprised that the magazine sent a woman writer.
Before the interview, they would check if I was qualified to write the article by asking, "You're married, aren't you?"
Not having my CV on hand, I simply deadpanned, "No, I am not. But I assure you, I have more than enough experience to write about this topic," leaving to their imagination what I meant exactly.
I suppose you can say that my line of work and the topics I choose to focus on open me up to such scrutiny. (READ: INFOGRAPHIC: Where do women work?)
I wish I could say the same. I wish it were that simple.
Last week, on assignment documenting the social impact of female migration, the production crew and I were up before the crack of dawn to shoot at 4AM in the grittier parts of the metropolis.
One too many times I was told by well-meaning folks, "Ang hirap ng trabaho mo. Mabuti pumapayag ang asawa mo na ganyan trabaho mo." (Your work is hard. Good thing your husband allows you to do the work you do.)
None of the members of my all-male production crew were told the same thing.
With that one comment, my job isn't about my competency to research, analyze, investigate and write a story, it's about what other people will think if I write about erectile dysfunction or am out in the streets working at ungodly hours. My capability to do a job is cut down to being a woman.
As my friend, Neva, said, "this is the double standard that women in the Philippines have to face everyday." On some days it comes from strangers and on-lookers; on other days, from "well-meaning" family members and friends.
"Men take for granted that just because women here are allowed to study, work and wear whatever we want, that's enough. But they don't experience the daily battles we do: being judged for our civil status, what we wear, for choosing to do things alone, and many times, simply for being assertive," said Neva.
Another friend, Rej, commented, "When I got my first tattoo, people told me buti pumayag ang asawa mo. When my husband does something, do people wonder if he asked permission from me? I doubt it."
The Philippines ranks among the top 10 countries in the world for gender equality and is listed as among the best countries to be a woman. There are many facts that support that: we have had two female presidents (while some developed countries have yet to elect even one), more girls go to school than boys, many women occupy the workforce and even the coveted corner office.
These statistics are easy to quantify, but how do you measure the snide comments and innuendos posing as "good-natured" and "well-meaning concern"?
How do you measure the misogyny in a benevolent wolf's clothing; uttered as a gentle rebuke or a keen observation meant to illicit gratitude. I mean, what is a woman supposed to say when she is told that she's lucky her husband allows her to do something?
If she dares say she does not have a husband, that opens up another topic all together about how women are like bread because "they have an expiration date" and how she is "probably too ambitious and intimidating to men." (READ: Things solo moms are told)
"It has a devastatingly negative effect on Filipino women," added Neva in our virtual discussion on my Facebook wall.
It sets invisible barriers and establishes unseen but very tangible limits. It tells her that to be loved and accepted, she has to conform to certain standards - mostly every one else's but her own.
Last Saturday, Nikki Luna and I moderated a forum on gender and job (in)security where women from various sectors of society and community groups discussed how these labels and stereotypes prevented them from getting and keep jobs.
There was the lesbian who could not be hired because "we don't hire immoral people;" there were the single moms who were passed up for employment "because she'll always be absent" and many other reasons why a woman was denied a job not because of her lack of skills, but because of her life and love choices.
When women are denied jobs because of this, the well-meaning misogyny and stereotypes solidify into another form of oppression, one that prevents the achievement of economic gain and the personal fulfillment that comes from it. But maybe that is the point of all this saccharine-coated misogyny that permeates a Filipina's everyday reality– this is the way to keep her in her place despite her education and achievements in the workplace. (READ: Why many of the hungry are women)
The assertiveness and freedom wielded by an economically empowered, self-sufficient Filipina must be downright terrifying for some people. The same people who are content with using words like "gender equality" which in actuality, it is just a flaccid and limp representation of deeper unfulfilled aspirations – very much like, you know, erectile dysfunction. – Rappler.com
Ana P. Santos is a regular contributor for Rappler aside from this Dash of SAS (Sex and Sensibilities) column. Follow her on Twitter at @iamAnaSantos.