03/20/2015

Tell me who your friends are

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I used to be afraid of girls. At a certain point in my youth, I had trouble fitting in. I liked music more than shopping and I didn’t care about what most girls at school liked.

So I cut out the effort, gave up, and decided I was better off making friends with boys because they didn’t seem as complicated, alienating and threatening as when girls bond together against one another— and there’s no point in denying this. We can all be as vile as we can be the sweetest to each other.

It was a struggle coming up with what to write for International Women’s Month, until I checked my list of friends. Some I’ve met not too long ago, but have made such an impact in my life. Meeting them and getting to know them has taught me one thing: never judge until you have walked a day in another’s shoes.

These four women I’m about to mention are incidentally those I have been seeing and speaking to in the past month or so. It is just right I share with you who they are and why their lives are worth celebrating.

The Single Mom

“My son is my world. I could survive with a part-time job, but I would gladly give all of my time for my son to have the future my parents had wanted for me,” she says. “There are biases that work against us single moms especially in a society where some of us are unmarried and the legitimacy of our child is questioned. But to me, my son and I are one. He has my life in his hands and I couldn’t be happier doing everything in my power to give him a good life.”

She has a four-year-old son, is currently finishing her master’s degree in one of the most prestigious universities in our country, and works in between classes. Not having seen each other for over four years, we caught up quickly. She was the same woman I knew, funny and smart, but also wiser now. There was something about her that changed — there was a temperature she held together, she seemed content and happier than when I first met her.

What struck me was that she didn’t seem to have lost her vibrance, and even having asked in different ways what it was about being a mother that changed her, all she could tell me was, “It’s just different. Now you live for someone who is dependent on you, on all you do. You want to do all the good things, the right things so that when your kids grow up, they’ll be proud of who you’ve become. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing my son after a long day. That’s all I look forward to. It might help to find a partner in life, but I’m okay the way things are. I couldn’t ask for more.”

The Single Woman

Unlike some single women we know, there are also others who are agreeable to the setup. For over 20 years, it never really bothered my friend, 46. She often wonders why it doesn’t sink in to others as they always seem surprised or feel sorry for her. But she is on top of what she does and is in no need for validation elsewhere.

“In my 30s, I began to see that being single and being independent is where it was for me. It is where I was and am most happy and fulfilled. It is a choice I made many years ago but I consciously choose to remain that way.”

“The stigma to being single has always been one-sided. There are people who are made for other people, and there are those who function better alone. If there are team players and loners at work, I don’t see why living and being alone is so hard to believe for others. Nobody believes it could be a personal choice and that shouldn’t make you reflect as a terrible person just because you choose to be by yourself.”

The Transgender Woman 

“Though born in male bodies, we identify as women and make special pains even to achieve this externally: dressing up, taking hormones, shaving facial hair. Many Filipinos however, feel that a transgender woman is essentially a gay man. But because Filipinos tolerate the bakla, transgender women are also tolerated. However, the transgender woman is still not celebrated as a woman. And it includes insidious discrimination, which sometimes denies transgender women the same opportunities as women (and men),” she says. “Although that isn’t always the case, we are far from being understood and accepted fully, which is quite an irony considering that the pre-colonial Philippine society was kinder to transgender women. We have that openness and acceptance with our families and friends now, but perhaps in the years to come, other views about us would change or rather flatten out, then we can see equality for what it truly is.”

One time at a restaurant, the waiter addressed my friend, as “Sir” while we were ordering dinner. While I couldn’t help but think about how she must’ve felt, she beat me to it by telling me it didn’t affect her as much as it used to. Having known her for more than five years, I saw this as a step to also slowly—if not confidently—reinstate the quiet strength that the transgender women have possessed all these years, being put to the test constantly. It is precisely being put under that kind of social pressure that which makes them stronger.

The Stepmom  

Not all stepmothers are “evil”; some of them are only in their 30s and are part of blended families where they also have children of their own, on top of being stepmothers of their husband’s children.

“Yes, I knew having stepkids was part of marrying my husband but nothing could have prepared me for the challenges of being a stepmother as it is a double-edged sword,” she says. “It hurts every time I do my best to be a good mother figure, but I am not really acknowledged for everything. Especially when the kids fall short, the blame finds its way to me. One of the things that makes me happy though is that my daughter and my stepkids get along fine, and it has kept everyone together and has made us a stronger and happier unit.”

“That goes without saying I love my stepkids like I love my daughter, and I don’t think it is right nor is it quantifiable to try to deduce love. There is no limit to love, or should there be any, it would be more of doing something that shouldn’t compromise their growth as people. I get hurt sometimes but I am hopeful that one day when they grow up, they could take from what I have shared with them, perhaps that will vindicate all stepmothers who have loved their stepchildren greatly. I hope to see the day they become loving and nurturing people regardless of heritage and circumstance.”

* * *

Having known these four women and having them as an example and as friends have taught me so many things. These women I look up to aren’t on this list just for the face value of it all because they’ve become friends of mine. To me, these are women, people like us all, who have made certain choices in their lives that they so willingly portray with care and conviction. They have stepped up from the norm and careen with the roles that are limited and confined by society.

It is risky for them in many ways and yet they still do it that if it isn’t to take inspiration after their spectrum as humans, let this serve as a reminder that says there’s so much more to us women and that we need not be told who we should be, we are free to decide who we want to be and what we want to do with our lives. I may have feared girls (and maybe I still do), but how I love being a woman around other women these days more than ever; I know I’m in good company.

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