To the woman my 16-year-old sister is becoming
You are not now — nor will you ever be — any less of a person because you were born a woman. Your actions are no less impactful, and your ideas are no less capable of taking the world by storm on account alone of your gender. Many will try to convince you otherwise, among them people you least expect, relentlessly and often driven by the misguided conviction that they have your best interests at heart. You will falter in your resolve some days and be unyielding in others, but you will — and you must — never apologize for your strength.
You will fall in love, sooner than I will ever be ready for. I hope you bare your heart to a boy who sees you as more than just pretty or popular, because you are so much more than that. I hope the first boy you will ever love knows that you are extraordinary, because your soul sings kindness and your bravery empowers other girls navigating the labyrinth of early womanhood to see themselves as more than just what they were born with.
I hope he is proud of, and not threatened by, your intelligence and hard-won accomplishments, your grit and, above all, your fiery desire to see, know and be part of a world that affords you opportunities and privileges that the women who came before us could only hope to have but paved the way for. I hope yours is a love that allows him, at a point in his life when he is taught that manhood is antithetical to showing emotions and achieved only by the brusque, to be vulnerable and tender.
Fall in love with a boy who knows you are limitless, who believes there is nothing he can do that you are incapable of. It may not last, as young love rarely does, but there is much the world can learn from a love that is freeing and accepting.
Your body is beautiful and completely, without qualification, your own. It will change in ways that will surprise you, but I hope you are never ashamed of all the forms it will take. You are not too thin or fat, too dark, too tall, too rough-skinned. You are a girl who basks in the warmth of the sun because it mirrors your vibrant spirit. You stand tall because you can hold your own in any crowd. Your scars show that you run, climb and know your strength. The true measure of a woman is not how much she weighs, but how confidently she takes on the world.
Choose environments in which strong women thrive. Surround yourself with them and learn from them. They will make no excuses for you and they will test your capabilities without reservation. When I chose to go to law school, I was told one too many times that I am choosing a profession that favors men. I was told I was too gentle for litigation, that corporate clients prefer strong, decisive men to wage their boardroom wars.
Today, I work with women for whom winning is par for the course, whose decisions close transactions that will shape the country in the years to come—while being among the best of mothers, wives and daughters. I am reminded on a daily basis that it can be done. Find a way to be reminded every single day that you alone can decide your limitations.
If your teacher tells you that an activity is “for boys only,” ask why gender is material to the task. If a classmate judges another as “malandi” for wearing a short skirt, ask how her clothing impacts her personality. If you see someone catcalled, ask the catcaller how he’d feel if you loudly and publicly made invasive remarks about his body. If you are told that you cannot aspire for something “kasi babae ka,” tell them it is precisely “kasi babae ka” that you must make that aspiration a reality. Make “kasi babae ka” a mantra, a reason for being and reaching, instead of a limitation imposed by people who do not know better.
At 16, I was told I was too much of too many things—too opinionated, too intimidating, too competitive. I regret to say I listened. I changed the way I dressed, spoke and behaved. People often confuse conformity with charm, and I learned to wield it well, thinking it was the only way to get ahead. It took a while for me to realize that had I been born a man, I would not have been told that I am too much.
You are a force to be reckoned with, a woman coming into your own in a society that remains sorely limited despite the inroads that have been made by generations of women who were, once and very fleetingly, 16 and brimming with doubts about themselves but who made a mark, just as you will. You are too much—and that’s okay. The world better be ready.
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Pauline Marie Roque Gairanod, 28, is a corporate lawyer. She obtained her law degree from the University of the Philippines. She is a world moot court champion and top oralist. Her sister, Pamela Marie Roque Gairanod, inspires her every day.
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