When you’re taught to ‘behave’ but never to fight
During the 11 years I spent studying in St. Theresa’s College (STC) Quezon City, an all-girls Catholic school, I felt that I was programmed to function and think in a certain way.
Even during my developmental stages, I was told that I had to think, behave, and interpret my surroundings in ways that made me believe it would be beneficial for my future.
I was told a plethora of reminders about how to “behave like a lady”: Your skirts must fall 2 inches below the knees; anything shorter is indecent. Don’t even think about cutting your hair shorter than necessary; you are a woman and your hairstyle should be as feminine as possible. Keep your hands in a prayer position and don’t put them down until the Mass is over; you’re a Catholic.
I never thought there was anything wrong with what I was taught for nearly half of my life, because I was made to think that I would be a disgrace to society if I didn’t follow the rules.
Because I was a student in an exclusive school that has produced hundreds of successful and influential women, my teachers drilled into my mind that in whatever way I behave, I would be carrying the “good image” of my alma mater.
But I have regretted bowing my head in surrender, never thinking for myself and realizing that I was a victim of an abusive institution that remains in power.
In elementary, I remember standing under the heat of the sun, listening as a priest lectured us about the message of that first Friday’s Gospel. I did not remember what the homily was about, but what my memory replays so clearly is the voice of one of our religion teachers who appeared to resent the behavior of our upperclassmen.
She looked at us, eyes stern and with a burning desire to punish anyone who would object, and said: “Don’t be like your Grade 6 ates; look at them complaining when they’re supposed to be fervently praying.”
At our grade school graduation ceremony in 2009, we were so eager to embrace one another as a form of congratulating ourselves for reaching another milestone in our lives that we could not wait until we were formally dismissed. In front of hundreds of parents, one of our superiors told us that we did not deserve to graduate.
In high school, I remember students who had to hold hands in secret and keep their interactions to a minimum because we all knew that even a hug that lasted for a few seconds more than what was “acceptable” could mean sanctions and shaming.
We were often shamed if we did not do well in class, and some of our grades were based on how fast we could get a computer program running.
We were built to function as mechanical humans with impossibly high IQs, and this affected the way we lived and worked for years. Some of us haven’t even recovered.
During my senior year, a report surfaced about how a student from STC Cebu was barred from attending her graduation ceremony after the administration found photos of her wearing a bikini online, saying that she had violated a rule in the student handbook that bans posting pictures that show “ample body exposure.”
I found myself enraged that the school would meddle that deep just to maintain an image that was already tainted by the people in power. Didn’t they teach us to freely express ourselves?
But I also found myself doubting: Am I supposed to be mad at them? Am I supposed to fight this obvious display of power-tripping?
We were taught to behave so that society may gaze at us and think that we have grown into women who deserve to be recognized, but never to fight the institution that brainwashed us into thinking that we deserved to be punished for thinking differently.
I sometimes blame myself for not realizing that we were in an abusive environment that promoted victim-blaming and rape culture and instead accepted that this was how things were supposed to be.
Students were to be punished for behaving the opposite of what the student handbook dictated, while the very institution that was in power was to remain supreme and unharmed, and allow abusers to walk free and guiltless about the trauma they had caused. I didn’t know then that we were living in a miniature version of “the real world.”
But STC needs to know that its successful alumnae were not products of their Catholic school education alone. They have greatly influenced the younger generation precisely because they had their own beliefs that did not necessarily agree with the school’s values.
To my upperclassmen who insist that this was “not the STC they grew up with,” we need you to understand that the times are changing and that loving an institution does not mean that you disregard its flaws and allow it to operate in a continuous cycle of abuse.
To my underclassmen who spoke up about cases of sexual harassment and abuse, I admire your relentless courage and how your collective voice has exposed a culture of hypocrisy and is now pressuring STC to do better.
I am glad that we grew up to become the opposite of how we were taught to behave, and that there is no absolute “handbook” that will ever dictate that we must cower in fear.
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Meg Adonis, 23, is currently obsessed with true crime documentaries. Any recommendation will be highly appreciated.
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