Growing up a girl
I was 10 when my sister’s 13-year-old male friends started to notice the changes in my body. My sister’s tone was accusatory when she told me her friends had noticed that my breasts were bigger — as if it was my fault that puberty had hit me and boys were now taking notice.
But, while my body might have changed, I remained 10 years old in my mind. It was also around this time that the boys in my class started looking at me differently. I had to stop playing outdoor games, because I was suddenly too old for that. I had to worry about boys looking at my breasts instead of my face while they chatted with me. I was old enough to know I had to be cautious, but too young to understand why.
I was 12 when some boys in class ranked the girls according to their breast size. They passed a sheet of paper around to collect votes, until it ended up in my hands. I was embarrassed and angry, but I kept my mouth shut, not fully understanding why I felt wronged.
I was 16 when I posted a photo of me with my tongue out; what I thought was a cute and wholesome photo caused boys — 18-year-old boys I had known for years in high school — to send me a message, asking me whether I was up for “some fun” because my childish photo was apparently “asking for it.”
A trusted male friend, who even warned me to stay away from the bad guys, asked me if I wanted to fool around without his girlfriend knowing.
At 18, I constantly had to deal with catcallers anywhere I went. It didn’t matter what I wore; I wore a plain white shirt and faded blue jeans and still got catcalled. I wore a shirt and simple black shorts to the supermarket, but apparently it was still tempting enough for men. I didn’t know how much I should cover up just to be safe on a daily basis.
At 21, in my first job, I realized I didn’t have the privilege to wear whatever I thought looked good on me, because it could be a temptation to men.
My mother, a conservative and traditional Filipino woman, would chide me when I wore skirts and dresses above the knee. She’s one of those people who believe women should be held accountable for men’s lack of control.
I couldn’t understand why I had to wear clothes considered “safe” before leaving the house. I couldn’t understand why I should be blamed for a man being unable to keep his hands to himself.
Getting home safe at night seemed to be a privilege at a time when a woman could get harassed because her clothes are “asking for it.”
I had to wear earphones every time I walked just so I wouldn’t hear the catcalling. And even if I heard the nasty remarks, I pretended not to, because fear would bubble up inside me, telling me that a confrontation could take a turn for the worse. There’s a constant fear of my complaints being brushed off, and I simply lived with that fear.
There was a time when I was with my 7-year-old nephew; we were on our way to the mall when a man wolf-whistled and called me “sexy” as we walked past him.
My grip on my nephew’s hand tightened as I ignored the man’s remark. My nephew looked over his shoulder then asked me, “Tita, why did he call you sexy even though he doesn’t know you? Is that okay?”
That’s when it hit me: No, it’s not okay, and I don’t want children to grow up thinking that catcalling or any form of harassment is normal. I don’t want my nephew to normalize catcalling someday just because we live in a patriarchal society that says, “Boys will be boys.” I don’t want my niece to grow up thinking boys have the freedom to disrespect her in any way.
Every day, I see anecdotes of women on social media — stories of how they would get catcalled in public transportation, in school or in places they thought were safe.
There are women who are not afraid of speaking up, but, unfortunately, there are people who ridicule these women who use their voice to defend themselves. There are also women who are scared of speaking up, scared of the inevitable judgment by those who hear their stories.
I used to be one of those women. I was scared of speaking up and talking about my experiences. But, slowly, I’m finding my voice. I have learned to speak up when I feel threatened, and I have gained the courage to let my voice be heard.
I’ve realized it isn’t that easy to find your voice when you grow up in a society that puts more value on a man’s word. It’s the same society that normalizes the objectification of women from a young age. But I hope that, someday, I would be able to live in a society in which a woman can safely walk anywhere she wants without fear.
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Madge Resurreccion, 23, is a content specialist at VXI Global.
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