I always begin my morning with positive vibes, so I can end up my day angry-free. To maintain that optimism, I intentionally avoid negative people and situations that will possibly wreck my sense of wellbeing.
However, this doesn’t mean I am able to keep my cool all the time. Even if you see me wearing a big smile on my face, there are instances when the smile disappears just as quickly, such as when I walk down the street or ride a jeepney. The cause: harassment.
One afternoon, I was off to church in a formal dress. I had decided to walk to save some change. But, in the end, the P7 savings barely paid for the stress I had to endure after encountering five catcallers one after the other.
Once I boarded a jeepney, and someone in the passenger seat just hollered out, “Hi, Miss!” When I disembarked, another asked, “Gwapa, naog na ka?” (Ganda, bababa ka na?).
Another experience: I was eating ice cream while walking down the street, and was taken aback when a bunch of bystanders shouted at me, “Supa-a!” (a sexual term in Cebuano). Annoyed. I shouted back, “Mga bastos, eskwela mo balik!” (Mga bastos, mag-aral kayo ulit!). That’s my worn-out script when facing catcallers.
What do these people get from their actions? Do they feel more masculine? Does being rude to women boost their ego? How does it gratify them?
The street, in fact, is not the only playground for sexual harassers. The workplace can also be their preferred venue.
In my first job, the head of the department I was assigned to once called me to the conference room to help him with his presentation. We were the only ones left. As I was working on my task, he suddenly told me I looked very sexy, and asked if I had a boyfriend. He was staring at me while saying those words, in a way that makes me cringe even now. I couldn’t react; I didn’t know how to tell him off in a manner that wouldn’t jeopardize my job.
It affected me a lot. For a week, I thought about the incident over and over, asking myself if I was truly harassed or not. But deep inside, I knew there was something wrong in what happened. When I could no longer keep it to myself, I confided to our HR department. But the HR officer only told me that, because I was young and innocent, I was easily offended.
Obviously, that failed to make me feel less uneasy. Working in that office gradually became unbearable, even if I tried my best to tolerate every interaction with the department head. I felt disgusted, and I considered giving up my job, but for my sense of pride that told me to stay and stand my ground because, after all, I did not do anything wrong and I wasn’t the guilty one.
Fortunately, three months later, the guy resigned. I prevailed, but the trauma continues to haunt me.
I’m learning every day that it is hard for women like me to live in this kind of society. It seems that everywhere we go, there are predators waiting to take advantage of us, despite laws that are supposed to protect us. But then again, we have politicians and leaders providing dubious example by declaring that they respect and uphold the rights of women, but in the next breath say or do something that violates that premise.
Many people have come to normalize and accept sexual harassment in their daily life. But not me. It is simply barbaric. All of us deserve a harmless environment where we can feel safe anywhere we want to go, or however we dress or act. And that can only happen when guys learn to bite their uncivil tongues and respect the women they see before them.
Kim Namocatcat, 22, is a graduate of University of the Philippines Visayas.
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