Friday, January 27, 2017

A message to girls

published 13 November 2016
Many thought former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would become the first female president of the United States. Despite having her own set of controversies, the former first lady was seen as the superior choice over her rival, billionaire businessman Donald Trump. The debates held in the weeks leading to the November 8 polls showed that she had the intellect, the diligence and the disposition to lead the most powerful nation in the world. 
Surprise, surprise. She lost. 
In her concession speech, Clinton graciously exhorted her followers to keep an open mind and give Trump the chance to lead. She acknowledged that the campaign had been “vast, diverse, creative, unruly and energized,” thanked everyone who had helped, and expressed pride and gratitude nonetheless. She told the youth that over the course of their lives they would experience success and heartbreaking setbacks, but that they should never stop fighting. 
Most importantly, she talked about that highest and hardest glass ceiling which nobody has yet shattered. “Someday, someone will,” she said wistfully. 
To little girls, Clinton said: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
Sometime in October, at a campaign rally in New Hampshire, First Lady Michelle Obama talked to girls as well. It was just a few days after the circulation of a video of Trump bragging about how he had groped a woman. Sometime in 2005, when Trump was on his way to tape a cameo appearance in an episode of “Days of our Lives,” he told a reporter: “When you’re a star, they let you do it...you can do anything.” 
He later on apologized. He claimed it was just locker-room talk.  
Obama thought it betrayed a pattern of how Trump had treated women all his life: “In this election, we have a candidate who over the course of his life and the course of this campaign, has said things about women that are so shocking, so demeaning...this is not something that we can ignore,” Obama said, pointing out that the comments were not made in an isolated incident. 
And now this man – who behaves like a bully and a bigot, and who did not hesitate to call a woman “piggy” – is POTUS.
Obama captures well how women feel when they are subjected to terror, violation and intimidation: “We try to keep our heads above water, just trying to get through it, trying to pretend like this does not really bother us, maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak.”
And if such words are jarring to women, imagine what it tells our little girls. “What message are our little girls hearing about how they should look like, how they should act? What lessons are they learning about their value as professionals, as human beings, about their dreams and aspirations?”
Back here at home, you have a president and a Cabinet secretary snickering like naughty schoolboys as they talk about checking out the Vice President’s legs. But what chief executive talks about his colleague as though she were some collection of body parts?  
Then again, this is the same president who does not hesitate to make catcalls and who once joked about wanting to be the first, among others, to rape a woman. The point is not how pretty or not a woman is. The point is that she has autonomy over her body, her feelings, the course of her life.
The Philippines may appear gender-progressive in some areas, but remember this is still a country where, given the choice of whom to send to school, families easily pick out the sons believing that the daughters will be married off, anyway, and trained to perpetuate the cycle of keeping house and rearing children while doing nothing for themselves. There remain places where a woman has the duty of serving the man’s needs, bringing his children into the world, and tolerating his boorish behavior.
I have two girls at home, ages 16 and 22. Many years ago, they were advised by a relative to look for suitable husbands—affluent foreigners, if possible—so that they could lead comfortable and successful lives. Thank God we don’t see that relative a lot anymore these days. My girls do look after themselves and take care of how they look not because they are waiting for some boy to pluck them out like a flower, adore, validate and protect them. 
In fact, those two girls are kicking a*s and finding their place in the world on their own. They just happen to be gorgeous and confident doing so, thank you very much. 
So Trump is president, Duterte is president, and we have all these other problems in the world and in our country that demand attention. Everyone must participate in finding solutions and implementing them: everyone good and deserving and brilliant and hardworking. It just so happens that some of them, ideally half or even more, happen to be women. 
And before they are women, they are girls first. So let’s start them young by telling them there is nothing they cannot do.
adellechua@gmail.com

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