I epitomize the quasi-independent woman in our conservative society. Quasi: such a highfalutin term and yet I cannot think of any other to describe my state of being. It alone will suffice.
Ten years ago, my folks sent me to Miag-ao, Iloilo, to study at the University of the Philippines. I went, armed only with a few Hiligaynon words, hoping that my shy self could survive whatever UP had to offer.
At UP, the first thing one has to overcome before those infamous long lines is the physical exam. It did not feel right, but certainly it was not wrong either. No big deal happened except that I started thinking how the doctor would perceive my body. Would she be flabbergasted by my flab, stretch marks, and the other imperfections that I hide? Would she laugh?
I know that doctors follow a code of ethics, but we should admit that our society dictates what a woman should be. She can’t be too skinny, too short, too tall, or too fat. Just look at the billboards on Edsa.
Still, UP shaped me into what I am now: someone who insists on what she thinks is right, who is talkative enough to be the life of the party, and a quasi-independent woman who yearns to be finally considered an independent woman.
I got the first shock of my life as a UP student during our midterm exam in political science. My classmates and I studied hard, as if it were the last exam in our life. We borrowed books from our upperclassmen, spent countless hours in the library, and memorized all the passages we thought would be crucial in the exam.
It was just an exam. We had passed the UP College Admission Test, after all. There’s nothing wrong with flunking one exam. But deep inside, we knew that failure was not among our options. When our professor handed out the questionnaire, I suddenly became Mad Eye Moody when I read my question. Who wouldn’t be? My midterm exam was just that—no more, no less: “Explain if there is politics in sex.” Sad to say, I’m not a storyteller.
Just like that, I flunked my first ever exam that tackled the disposition of man and woman in our society. How do you expect a 16-year-old to respond to that? Sex is known to be a taboo topic. I grew up thinking that sex was only for married couples, and sex as a topic was only for medical practitioners. But there I was in my seat, wondering what my professor was thinking when he formulated the question. Was he trying to demoralize his students? Or was his life so boring he needed an outlet? I never knew. We never knew. But one thing was sure: He somehow prepared us for the next four years of our life in UP. For that, I’m thankful.
After that exam, we went on with our lives. But UP was just starting to show us freshmen that the university was not just about militant students and protest rallies. There was so much more. A year later in psychology class, we were required to watch a movie. That meant no class. It turned out that the movie was X-rated for our eyes. Our professor understood our dilemma and allowed us to go out, but we still had to submit a reaction paper. So the new students remained, eyes glued to the screen. There was an occasional “Eeww!” but we finished the movie. UP had stripped my eyes of innocence.
My stay in UP was marked with semester enders’ “ma-oy” (due to flunked exams)—overflowing booze, late-night parties, truth-or-dare activities, and X-rated discussions. These were normal, in vogue. In fact, my stay was pretty conservative compared with that of others (some even younger) who were locking lips with random strangers in one party on campus. Again, maybe that was also in vogue.
Despite claiming that my experience in UP was conservative, I have to admit that I am not a saint. I also had my fair share of curiosity and stupidity, but I was able to maintain my sanity. We adult people know what I’m talking about here. Now you know why I call myself a quasi-independent woman.
An independent woman is in charge of her life. She makes her own decisions. She tells her parents about her plans, but not to seek their permission, only her way of showing respect. She makes her own money. When going out, she offers to pay. She goes on trips with or without a travel buddy. She doesn’t let anyone ruin her plans. If a friend cancels, she will still go. She is not afraid to eat alone in a restaurant, or to voice her opinion even if it means standing up to the boss. She is not afraid to be persistent when she insists on what is right, supported by facts. She is not afraid to speak her mind during discussions. She knows her flaws. She knows when to accept defeat. She is not afraid to praise her competitor when the situation calls for it.
An independent woman knows what she wants. She will settle for nothing less if she can have the best. She maintains her standard and will not lower it just so a man can fit. She will not enter a relationship just because all her friends are taken. She will rather be single than be involved in a taxing relationship. She knows how to take risks. She does not compromise; instead, she negotiates. She is confident to embrace her sensual side and will not care about society’s opinion as long as she is not hurting anyone.
And that is the reason I cannot call myself an independent woman. I do not have the confidence to embrace my sensual side. I am that coward lurking behind my collection of X-rated books and that frustrated writer trying to write erotica a la E.L. James but not succeeding.
I am that woman trying to be confident in discussing “The Politics of Orgasm” and yet does not know what she is talking about. I am that literary fan reading “Delta of Venus” and “The Vagina Monologues” and yet still curious about what these women were up to. I am that book hoarder who makes it her business to go to every book fair just so she can have first dibs on X-rated and banned books. I am that art enthusiast who longs to go to galleries showcasing erotic paintings and sculptures and yet cannot fathom the artists’ objectives.
Most of all, I am a woman who is afraid to let the world know that, yes, I have a sensual side, too.
Nuelene N. Gallos, 26, is working on her master’s degree in Asean studies at UP Open University.
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