In most civilized nations, women are already recognized as equal to men. Thanks to the many courageous women (and yes, men too) who fought, and still fight, for gender equality, we are now accorded equal rights with men and are entitled to the same fundamental freedoms that men enjoy.
But, as much as I, as a woman, am grateful for these rights and freedoms, I believe that there is still much that need to be done before we could claim that equality across “all genders” really exists and that women are fully empowered to take on the world as their male counterparts are.
As long as that does not happen, though, there would still be moments when I wish I were not born female.
- Breasts. This pair of soft, protruding glandular organs on a woman’s chest over which men could go gaga is a cause of torment for pre-teen girls. I was a bit of a tomboy growing up, so imagine my reaction when my chest started to change when I was in fifth grade. Playing Chinese garter and jumping rope and all the other activities that would involve running became a no-no for me and my girlfriends lest we risk the possibility of having all the boys staring and leering at our bouncing lumps instead of concentrating on their respective games!
- Menstruation. Having a stinky, bloody vaginal discharge every month could be gross, uncomfortable and irritating. And as if that isn’t enough inconvenience, a girl needs to be aware of the schedule of her monthly visitor so that she would know when to totally alienate herself from the world. Trying to communicate with a girl suffering from PMS (or worse, dysmenorrhea!) is akin to offering one’s head to be chewed off into tiny, unrecognizable pieces. It’s a good thing I’m already nearing my menopausal stage. But it’s gonna be a whole new battlefield altogether, I heard.
- Body hair. I simply don’t understand why it is acceptable for boys to be parading around with their bodies heavily covered with hairs, while it’s a taboo for girls to be seen with hairs in their armpits or on their upper lips. Tweezing, shaving and waxing – these are the types of torture that a girl has to experience on a regular basis. Doubly so for a hairy lass like me.
- Courting game. In a relatively conservative society such as ours, it is the men who are expected to make the first move in the game called courtship. A girl may take matters into her own hands, but she is risking the possibility of being tagged a “cheap and easy chick” and of not being taken seriously by the guy. Girls, therefore, don’t have much of a choice but to wait for her dream boy to eventually notice her. If that doesn’t happen before she turns into a spinster, though, she’s doomed to settle for whoever she deems is the best among her pool of suitors. That sucks. ‘Am lucky, then, that my husband has turned out to be a relatively nice catch.
- Pregnancy. Men, does the term IE even ring a bell for you? Because for us, women, it’s synonymous to extreme humiliation. (The mere thought still makes me cringe – and my last prenatal IE happened more than 17 years ago!) It’s opening up (literally!) your most private and intimate body part for vaginal and pelvic examinations during a prenatal check-up. On a woman’s first trimester of pregnancy, she also has to endure the dreaded morning sickness, and a total bed rest for those with a delicate or critical pregnancy. Food cravings and/or aversions, fatigue, frequent trips to the bathroom, penguin walk, and a total change of wardrobe are all part of the package, too. Mood swings that could make us feel alternately elated and miserable, cranky and terrified, make us likely candidates for handcuffs, straitjacket or a trip to a mental institution.
- Labor and delivery. I assure you, a pregnancy labor is not called a “labor” for nothing. On average, it lasts from 12 to 24 hours. It is uncomfortable, to say the least, and extremely painful for most women. It was while labouring for my first baby that I was alternately calling for all the saints I could think of and furiously cursing my husband for putting me through hell. My thought then was, “We did this together, so why am I now suffering alone?” I’m telling you, people are not exaggerating when they say that a woman giving birth has her one foot in the grave. Statistics say that approximately 830 women around the world die of pregnancy or childbirth-related causes every day.
- Postpartum issues. If you thought that, after nine months, a woman’s ordeal would be over, you thought wrong. Regardless if it’s a normal or a C-section delivery, a woman who just gave birth experiences physical pain and discomfort during the weeks following childbirth. Noticeable changes in her body – unsightly stretch marks (Mine are like cobwebs trying to spread across my entire midsection!), persistent baby bulge and sagging breasts – may make her feel ugly and undesirable. Postnatal depression or postpartum blues is another challenge that a woman may have to battle.
- Difficult choices. When a woman becomes a mother, her priorities inevitably change. If she opts to be a stay-at-home mom like me, she might, later on, feel like an empty vessel. With no professional career, no money of her own, no intellectual stimulation, no reason to dress smart and no constant grown-up interaction, she might eventually lose herself altogether. If she opts to be a career woman, on the other hand, she will have Guilt, Worry and Doubt as her constant companions. She might also regard herself as an unfit mother.
- Child-rearing or parenting. The responsibility of raising the children falls heavier on the shoulders of the mother. From diaper changing and feeding, pedia visits, potty-training, driving the kids everywhere, instilling discipline and after-school tutoring to dealing with the terrible twos, childish tantrums, juvenile mischief, teenage drama, adolescent rebellion, young adult’s hunger for independence, and even baby-sitting the grandkids – all these (and more!) are tasks that a woman is expected to tackle. With all my kids already in college, I think, my job is almost halfway done. Yay!
- Home-making. It does not matter if a woman has a demanding career, she is still expected to run her household efficiently. She hops out of bed before the break of dawn, feeds her family, dutifully sees them off to their respective destinations for the day, runs a myriad of errands, and has to make sure that the fridge and pantry are always fully-stocked, that the house is immaculately clean, that the clothes are neatly folded in the closets, that the floor is clutter-free, and that the pets and plants are well taken care of. Phew, writing all these down is already tiring me!
- Monsters-in-law. ‘Nuff said. My husband might be reading this.
- Budgeting. Women are the ones who hold the proverbial purse strings. From experience, I know how hard it could be to manage the family’s finances. With three kids in college, monthly home loan mortgage, my husband’s anti-rejection medicines, numerous monthly bills, provision for the regular necessities, and savings for miscellaneous/emergency incidences – there are days when I really want to turn this chore over to the man of our house!
- Vanity. Men always wonder why women take forever to get dressed and to groom themselves. Apparently, some women would do anything to look fabulous because they want men to admire them and women to envy them. They can’t go anywhere if their bags don’t match their shoes, and their accessories their dresses. Their faces must always be impeccably made up, their nails prettily painted, and not a hair out of place. They walk with poise and confidence and virtually feed on flattery. For ordinary powder-and-lipstick gals like me, though, the greatest challenges would be wearing high heels during special occasions, struggling with unmanageable hair on a daily basis, and trying not to bite all my nails off while watching my favourite suspense TV series.
- Fragile friendships. Considering that a woman has tons of pressing duties and preoccupations, it’s harder for her to maintain lasting and close friendships. When my kids, for instance, were still in preschool, I was able to get to know and regularly bond with my fellow hands-on moms in that school. But when my family moved to another city and had the kids transferred to a new school, I made a fresh set of friends. Because of proximity issue and lack of time and common interests, I soon found myself detached from my old friends from the kids’ old school. Each time the kids graduate and change schools, the same thing happens to my friendships. We still get in touch sometimes but the depth of the relationship is no longer there. From close friends, we now consider each other mere acquaintances.
- Discrimination. Since time immemorial, girls have to work doubly hard to prove their worth and to earn people’s trust and respect. Today, in an age when women have already penetrated almost all the fields and arenas that were once available solely to men, discrimination against women continues to persist. Many careers and industries, especially those where competitions thrive, are still dominated by men. In the Philippines’ 16th Congress, for example, only 6 of the 24 senators and 64 of the 234 district representatives are daughters of Eve. In my case, I always feel discriminated against when I’m on the road, driving. Male drivers don’t think too highly of women (especially of 4’9” women) behind the wheels. But when they see that I’m no pushover – that I could drive like the Demon himself is chasing me and I could curse like a sailor or stick up my middle finger as a knee-jerk reaction to driving jerks like them – well, they couldn’t change lanes fast enough.
- Mammogram and Pap smear. All female adults are advised to have a regular mammogram and Pap smear to screen breast cancer and cervical cancer, respectively. Both screening procedures are basically painless, but are extremely uncomfortable and humiliating. And, as a woman in her forties, I now have to subject myself to these every year. Ugh.
- Menopause. The average age of women reaching the menopausal stage is 51, at which time, they could experience these most common symptoms: hot flashes, mood swings, fatigue, stress, and vaginal dryness and itching. Should I be rejoicing that I still have 9 years to prepare for this?
As much as these disadvantages may be disheartening for us, ladies, there are also many advantages and perks to being a member of the “gentler, fairer, softer sex”. (However, you have to wait for that list a little longer. I’ll work on that article soon enough.) Heads up, though: The secret to fully enjoy those benefits lies on our ability to recognize the immense power that we hold in our hands and to wield that power not just to further our advocacy, but to take on the world.
Finally, if you have experienced and conquered any or all of these inconveniences and drawbacks to being born female listed above, my hats off to you. You are no wimp. Athena’s blood is coursing through your veins!