Growing up in a house of women, I had someone I could look up to, benchmarks of who I wanted to be as a woman.
Growing up, I was an only child in a house virtually inhabited by women. I lived with eight other people — my mom, my dad, and my six other aunts. It wasn’t that strange of an arrangement: other kids my age lived with their grandparents, perhaps some aunts and uncles — though admittedly, I must’ve lived with more women than my peers did.
I didn’t see Dad often since he was based in Manila, a two-hour drive from our province, so for the longest time I grew up in a place where only women existed. There always seemed to be a sense of collaboration within this small community of ours; of me, my mom, and my aunts. I would remember waking up to the smell of food wafting down from our kitchen, my aunts and mom abuzz as they worked their own portion of the meal. Then mealtime would come, where I was often doted on, teased, or interrogated — sometimes, a mixture of all three. After that, they would clean up the house with the same diligence, the same collaborative spirit, before tending to their personal business.
I often thought the outside world was also full of women — a world where bedtime stories and hugs were rampant, where life was a creative adventure, where people cooked you food to tell you they loved you and where everybody got along, no matter what. Then, I was old enough to go to school, and everything changed.
The first time I encountered the opposite sex was when a boy my age pushed me on the playground back in nursery school. This was a wake-up call for me — no, the world was not full of kind women. There were also smelly, icky boys who had an unreasonable penchant for violence, and the only woman figure I could’ve relied on was our homeroom teacher who yelled at me on a regular basis. I would go home crying, looking for the arms of the women who raised me, wondering what kind of world would allow this cruelty. But they too told me that I had to face this eventually; and as all children do for the people they love, I obeyed them.
I was a child again, entering a world that I was not accustomed to. And like children, I was naturally questioning: How were the other girls able to act around boys? Why did girls act meanly to other girls? Why did boys like to hurt people? I felt like an alien in this strange new frontier, so in an attempt to comprehend, I kept to myself and observed. Without me knowing, this state of observation granted a new perspective — one where I not only understood the world around me, but where I also realized things about myself as well.
Growing up in a house of women, I had someone I could look up to, benchmarks of who I wanted to be as a woman. But because I grew up with women, I didn’t see how being a woman was different from being a man. Strangely, with this arrangement, I held everyone in equal regard, the same way my mother and aunts split the chores.
However, outside the little bubble I lived in, I realized this was not the case for everyone — certainly not the majority of the population. We are all, I guess, a product of our own upbringing, in ways indiscreet and unintentional, a reality that may take a while to understand. But even in this light, living with women taught me this: that even with all the inequality in this world, there will still be room for kindness, for tenderness, for hugs and home made meals.
So until then, perhaps all I can do is to live out what my mother and aunts have taught me, if only to remind other people that there is still good in this world.