pop goes the world: a feminist manifesto, with popcorn v. 2

I was so swamped with work I wasn’t able to write a “Pop Goes…” column from scratch for the August 5 issue of Manila Standard-Today. Instead, I asked my editor to use a ‘reserve’ article I’d originally written for this blog, adding a few more paragraphs containing details not in the original.

Click here to read the piece at Manila Standard-Today Online.

UPDATE, 7 Apr 2012: MST recently revamped their website and the link is lost. Here’s the column in full as it appeared in print:

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  5 August 2010, Thursday

A feminist manifesto, with popcorn

Some three years back, an engineer I knew sat me down at a small cafe at the place where I worked at the time, ordered popcorn, and told me he was going to give me an “important talk”. Advice of the unsolicited sort – actually, any kind of information – intrigues me.  So I sat and waited for the popcorn.

The engineer spoke in a sympathetic manner, like he really wanted to help, like he knew what was best. He was aware my ex had bailed years ago to be with someone fifteen years younger. “We need to find you someone else,” he said, “but men find you intimidating. That is why you have admirers but no serious suitors.”

“The popcorn needs salt,” I replied.

“We talked about you,” he said, “and we all agreed you’re smart, good at what you do, and pretty. You could even be a real stunner if you lost a few pounds and were a few inches taller.”

“Popcorn’s better with butter. Hey, alliteration!”

He moved the bowl of popcorn away from me. “You’re too intellectual. Everyone is afraid that they won’t be able to hold up their end of a conversation with you.”

As if I were going to deconstruct Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or debate the merits of the Reproductive Health Bill on a first date. I do have some social skills; that kind of thing is appropriate only on the second date. (Heh.)

“Pay attention to this. You’re not getting any younger. And you have to lose weight,” he added. My fingers were curled around the edge of the popcorn bowl; he rapped them with a spoon.

I rubbed my knuckles and mused over what he said. What struck me most about our talk – other than that he kept taking away the popcorn and that the waiter never did come back with salt and butter – was his matter-of-fact assertion that because I was short, plump, of a certain age, and, worst of all, possessed of a functioning brain, no Filipino male would be attracted to me. It was the most absurd drivel I had ever heard.

Yet it was an honest thing he said. Because that is the reality in this society, and that is how many Filipino men perceive women – as sex objects for whom youth, big breasts, and a tiny waist are assets while maturity, a mind, and an independent attitude are liabilities.

Apparently, to gain the attention of a man, I have to lose weight, wear high heels, dumb down my conversation, and fake my age or turn back time.

Some from other cultures might think differently. An Australian male friend once asked why I remained unattached. With us was another friend, a Filipino male – a lawyer – who said bluntly, “Filipino males do not find her attractive. She’s over thirty and has two children.” The Aussie said, “But she’s smart and pretty! And her kids are wonderful!” The lawyer shrugged. “But she’s not young. It’s not her – it’s our culture. Her best bet would be to find a foreigner.”

He was telling the truth, though it did not speak well of his fellow Filipino males. A couple of years later I saw him one late night, holding the hand of a beautiful woman much younger than himself as they crossed the street.

I’ve asked many male friends of all ages and from all walks of life, why the Filipino male predilection for the young and intellectually immature. Their reply? “Take our word for it. Ganoon talaga.” That’s the way it is. The phenomenon is not confined to Filipino culture – how many elderly non-Filipinos have we seen around with giggling twenty-somethings on their arm?

What a sorry state this society is in when it comes to male-female relationships. It is this crooked mindset that causes cosmetic surgery clinics to thrive, marriages to crumble, and some women to feel demeaned, miserable, and used while others take advantage and do the using, digging what gold they can, all this further reinforcing a cruel cycle of gender dynamics based on economics, power, and lust.

It is sad that four hundred years of organized religion in this country has not made any headway into changing this state of things. Instead, it has been entrenched in the culture – a far cry from, say, the 16th century, when some Filipino tribes decreed monogamy and possible execution for adulterers of either sex.

Will Filipino men ever change the way they treat women? Will we Filipino women realize that we are partly to blame in the way that we raise our children with this same mindset?  When will we say, “Enough!” and realize that we deserve to be treated better? ‘Equal’ would do, for a start.

For my part, I will always rebel against the chauvinistic norm of this society and instead of forking over my money to a cosmetic surgeon for a liposuction, I will finish my graduate studies. I will grow my brain instead of my breasts, and shrink my ignorance rather than my waist. And if I have to walk this world alone, then joyfully will I make the journey, for I would rather be free than a slave.

But if someone wishes to make the trek with me, with complete acceptance of my children and who I am and all that I do, I might accept his company, for the road is long and it goes ever on.

He can bring popcorn and I butter and salt, and we will talk and he will not be intimidated by my references to obscure books and theories. He may be of any race or age, as long as his mind and heart are as free as mine. He will put the bowl of warm buttered salted popcorn in my arms, and feed himself and me as we walk in love and laughter till journey’s end. ***

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