Friday, October 1, 2010

Gender Roles

I was listening to a news report on NPR about an incident concerning a female sports reporter in a locker room (see and recalled a guest column I had written for the Manila Chronicle. I'm not telling you when :-)  The column was called Gender and was a forum for different people to post their views.

Here it  is:


My Boys Don't Buy the Margarine Ad

Would anyone believe, when I stride along in a short skirt and high heels with my face made up and my nails painted, that I am a staunch advocate of equal opportunities for women and men?

Would anyone believe that my friend, an activist in the women's movement, would wait up till 2 a.m. to serve her husband a hot meal after he had been out drinking with the boys?

Yet neither my friend nor I am out to deceive anyone. It's just that this whole gender issue is a complex thing that can (and for me, must) be approached at different levels.

Is a certain standard of dress a correlate of sexual equality? Where does one draw the line between acts of subservience and expressions of love?

We are, after all,each in a trap, which is sometimes of our own making.

Over drinks with some friends, talk turned to relationships between men and women. (One (a career woman) started complaining about her husband not doing his share of house work. Trying to defuse what I had sensed could turn into an embarrassing situation (the husband was around), I remarked that before they go into a slanging match, couples who are having conflicts over sex roles should consider that a great part of the conflict cannot be resolved at an interpersonal level.

Who should take care of the children, for example, when both parents have careers? Internal arrangements between husband and wife are only a stopgap measure. A real solution, I argued, would require societal adjustments such as day care centers and job-sharing alternatives.

My friend retorted, "That's easy for you to say, you don't have to live with a man." And that shut me up (I'm divorced) but not for long.

My two children are boys in their teens and one of the things I would dearly like to equip them with is the ability to look at women as persons first and female only second. That task can sometimes be an awesome thing.

Only half-jokingly have I often remarked to my frineds that one of my worst fears is that I would raise a couple of mama's boys or male chauvinists. After all, quite a number of them have agreed with me that there seems to be something in Filipino child-rearing practices that spoils the boys. (And many women complete the process by spoiling their men.)

When a margarine ad claiming that growing children needed the energy the product provided showed a boy in various play situations and a girl doing chores, I wondered if the ad were influencing or merely reflecting social reality.

Knowing how much I was up against, I took my children's sexual education very seriously. One of the things I decided early on was to demystify sex.

As early as three years old (that's when he  got curious) my first-born learned the clinical description of procreation and childbirth together with the purpose of the condom. Where may parents would say "You'll learn that when you're older," I attempted to answer as matter-of-factly as I could. (Sometimes it's hard to keep a straight face, though.)

Part of this campaign was putting them in coeducational schools. The schools helped somehow in that home economics lessons were the same for boys and girls, which was not the case when I was studying.

As they grew older, I would try, without pontificating, to discuss the issue with them. My gripes against the margarine ad was one such occasion.

But to avoid the fate of the emperor who was unmasked by the boy, I had most of all to try to live by what I believed.

While I like cooking and don't hate washing dishes, I see to it that they take a hand in these things too. (It is often easire, believe me, to do te housework yourself than to convince and train boys whose consciousness is being hammered by such things as the margarine ad to do chores.)

The other side of this coin is that I can't afford to be dumb about simple electrical repairs or wait for a man to clean the drainage system.

While it may be too early to tell how they would really turn out, I think my boys got the message that women are not inferior beings to be bullied or patronized.

How can I tell?

Well, one of the women my 17-year-old admires is model Gina Leviste, who, he always points out, is a summa cum laude graduate of economics and is the marketing manager of the firm she models for.

As for my 12-going-on-13-yer-old, just a few weeks ago when we were kidding around and he was taunting me with a twinkle in his eye that men were superior, I asked him, "Now, seriously speaking, son, do you really believe that?"

And he answered, "No, I think they are equal."

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