A couple years back, an engineer I knew sat me down at a table overlooking the racetrack 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 watched the horses parade 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 told me that men found me “intimidating”.
“And that is why,” he said, “you have admirers but no serious suitors.”
“The popcorn needs more 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 proposed Reproductive Health Bill over arroz caldo on a first date. I do have some social skills; that kind of thing is appropriate only on the second date. (Heh.)
Seriously, I’m a geek, not a genius. The engineer was much smarter than I am; he could calculate horseracing payoffs in his head in seconds while I can’t even divide six figures by two to come up with the live wagers.
“And you should 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, 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 most 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.
I once asked a male friend twenty years older than myself, who claimed to have slept with fifty different women, why and wherefore the Filipino male predilection for the young and immature. He shrugged. ”I don’t know. That’s the way it is.”
I put the same question to two of my graduate school classmates, both professional men in their mid-thirties. They looked at each other. “How do we explain it to her?” said one. They tried, but their reasoning made no sense to me. Finally they gave up. “Take our word for it. Ganoon talaga.”
That’s the way it is.
Apparently, to gain the attention of a man, I have to lose weight, wear high heels, dumb down my conversation, and fake my age.
Listen: I need no one else to define me or shape me or tell me who I am in this world or what to do or what to live for.
Contrarian that I am, feminist that I am, aktibistang taga-peyups that I am, I will always rebel against the chauvinistic norm of this society and instead of forking over my money to Doctora Belo 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 by my side, in free and complete acceptance of who I am and all that I may be, I might accept the 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 dead philosophers nor fazed by my ADD.
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.