Monday, November 30, 2009

The Myth of Chivalry

Ladies, let's ditch the fairy tales. In the real world, there is no room for damsels in distress. Knights in shining armor are mere characters of glossy books and Harlequin paperbacks. As we all know, Prince Charming is often the smooth operator who runs after his booty prey on modern-day balls called clubbing.

Meanwhile, ladies first is just an empty phrase; a sign that our society has not truly veered away from the rules of machismo. Privilege teaches us to be in denial. But the fact is that women and girls remain second-rate citizens subservient to the demands of the alpha male.

Haven't we thought about why sexily dressed-if not barely clad-women often serve as the main attraction in selling men's products? Think about it. Booze, cigarettes, after shave, car freshener, underpants and the list goes on – what do they have that makes the presence of a woman in their ad a must? Why do events that cater to a male audience always have to be graced by women, still, in the same outfits?

Tell me, do they portray chivalry, if not respect for the ladies?

Back in the time when knighthood was more than just an exercise of formality, women were barred from leaving the sphere of their homes. In the same era, they were being impaled, stoned to death and burned at stake not really because they turned children into cats and planted warts to whoever had wronged them. They just happened to be too sophisticated in the eyes of a society that only knew of helpless maidens and subdued wives. Chivalry, for what it's worth, was unfriendly to Cosmopolitan. Imagine what could happen to Coco Chanel if she lived in those days.

More recent events show that Esmael Mangudadatu's only mistake was when he believed that chivalry is exercised by the knights in the Maguindanaoan fiefdom. I have nothing against him, take note. It is a shame that the Maguindanao Massacre occurred in the midst of the international celebration of ending violence against women.

Our education and good fortune may have opened us doors-where men went first-and broken us some glass ceilings. However, if we refuse to see the nakedness of the truth that greets us in every TVC shown and every rape and wife beating reported, that is, if we take these things as given, then we have not really succeeded at freeing ourselves from the bondage that we have long been in.

Honestly, I would rather carry my huge bags alone, wait in queues standing and go dutch on male-initiated dates than to take such things as they are.

Chivalry remains a myth while violence against women perpetuates.

November 25 marks the anniversary of the brutal assassination in 1960, of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, on orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Advocating Women's Rights Through Mulieris (Part 1 of 2)

My advocacy for women's rights can be traced back to my university years at the Ateneo. Back then, men were outnumbered by women who made up 51% of the population (if my memory serves me right). Since these young women had the privilege to study in one of the most prestigious schools in the country, it was assumed that they also had access to healthcare and other top-tier basic services.

However, I was not oblivious of the issues that hound our gender. Date rape, battering, emotional harassment, discrimination and unwanted pregnancy were among the most hush-hush topics that went around in various circles within the campus. I sympathized but I felt helpless.

Ironically, it was my dad who encouraged me to come up with something-an organization or a project-that will respond to the issues I mentioned. At that time, I was taking up Theology 121 during the second semester of SY 2002-2003, where a Vatican document called Mulieris Dignitatem (The Dignity of Women) was a required reading. It was there where I got the organization's name. Mulieris, in Latin, means women.

I started working on the organization's foundation by brainstorming with several batchmates including Colynn de Guzman, a grade school classmate who won Ms. Friendship in Ms. Philippines 2003; Bea Panopio, who is now a well-known jewelry designer; Tanya Ilacad, who I fondly call as "teacher by day, rockstar by night" and several others. Sadly, we were not able to come up with anything concrete and plausible during that school year.

Come 2004, I was referred by Diva Gannaban, who was then The Guidon's Photo Editor, to Rachelle San Pedro. Rache was also a batchmate who was managing another start up org called i-Ateneo. It just took one text message and the rest was history. I have to give credit to Rache for being the driving force of Mulieris, especially when adversities were taking my enthusiasm away.

Anybody who's been a member of an unaccredited org at that time would know what I mean. There are challenges on funding, membership and reservations. I remember having to shell out money from my own allowance for promo materials and tokens of appreciation for earlier speakers. There was also a time when we could not get a reservation in any of the school's lecture rooms so I had to scout for an alternative venue outside the school. On the day itself, Rache and I had to board a karaoke in a tricycle and use several laptops for our slide shows.

On its first year, Mulieris was able to come up with several talks conducted by prominent women such as Princess Nemenzo, a pioneer in the movement; Tinay Palabay, then Gabriela's Secretary General; and Icar Castro, Kythe's co-founder and JG Summit Womanity Campaign's 10 Inspiring Women, plus an exposure trip at the Women's Correctional in Mandaluyong. These activities were attended by male and female students.

Of course, our senior and junior officers and active members made everything possible. Patricia Miranda, a debater and writer extraordinaire, crafted our VMO and designed most of our promo materials. Logo included. Quino Reyes, the only guy in the group, shared great perspectives on a lot of issues. Jewel Reyes and Miam Aliwalas, both my barkada, extended support and offered logistical assistance. Andi Lacuesta, another smart woman, made great suggestions for our advocacy. Mitzi Alojipan, a talented artist, shared her compositions for our Women's Month CD and together with her friends, made our launch at the SS Foyer spectacular. Patty Miranda (SY 2005-2006 President), Charvic Reyes, Mavis Jalbuena, Chattie Osdon, Ayn Nepomuceno and many others coordinated very well for the implementation of our most attended talk, Give Way. Our adviser, Ms. Christine Bellen also offered insights and guided us along the way.

Mulieris is something worth remembering. Although it ceased to operate in 2006, I believe that somehow, our concerted efforts has made an impact on the women's movement in the Ateneo.

* * * * *
I dropped by the University Archives when I was in school last week. I found the following articles in The Guidon and decided to scan them and post them here since this is an advocacy blog.

The high-res version of each scanned article can be downloaded from the Flickr site.

Article # 1: On celebrating women's month (March 2004)
My Letter to the Editor
Click here for hi-res view/download.

Article # 2: Organizing empowerment. The cause and struggles of campus-based women’s organizations (September 2005)
Mulieris 2nd Batch Officers were interviewed; I was cited as Founder
Click here for hi-res view/download.