I was bullied when I was in grade school. I was fat and had acne. In contrast, some of my female classmates had waists that were getting smaller and bust lines that were getting bigger. The thinking was (and still is) that if you’re thin, you’re pretty. I have never been “thin.” What does being “thin” mean? Does it mean having a thigh gap or a firm jawline? Wearing a size zero? All along, I thought those were the standards for beauty. Now, I realize I don’t ever want to be a size-zero, jawline-popping, thigh-gap-loving woman. Nonetheless, because of the bullying, I had self-esteem issues until college; sometimes, they still bother me.
Tyra Banks changed my life; she helped me get through the awkward phase of puberty. She used to be a Victoria’s Secret model. She had been rejected many times by modeling agencies until she had the opportunity to model in Europe. After that, she became big in the modeling industry. But back then, being thin was in, and those days were not her shining days. Yes, she was appearing in big modeling shows and on billboards. But people, most especially women, admired her more when she started her show, America’s Next Top Model.
Tyra started fighting for women’s rights. She told stories of how the modeling industry was pressuring her to be thin. On the way to becoming a household name and big TV personality, she empowered women and showed them that being a size zero wasn’t necessary to be beautiful. On Instagram, she asked women to remove their makeup and send “smize” (smiling with your eyes) selfies. She posted these selfies and told the women that they don’t have to try too hard to look pretty.
Tyra has been through abusive relationships. According to her, the worst one was not about physical abuse but emotional abuse. She says she has become stronger since then.
Now you can see different sizes and body shapes of women modeling and empowering each other. I am not a fan of the Kardashians, but they sure know how to carry those large hips and still manage to walk in high heels while pregnant. It’s a good thing that women of my generation are fighting more. Sure, we still lack push especially here in our country, but we are definitely making our voices heard. One issue we should address is sexual harassment.
In 2016, Quezon City became the first city in our country to penalize street-level harassment of women with its Anti-Catcalling Ordinance. Thus, people who stalk, make offensive gestures (whether with their mouths, hands, or bodies), or greet women on the streets with comments such as “Hi, ganda!,” “Uy, sexy!,” or “Smile ka naman, ate,” can be penalized with fines or jail time.
This law complements national laws that protect women, including the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, which is defined as “committed by an employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainor, or any other person who, having authority, influence or moral ascendancy over another in a work or training or education environment, demands, requests or otherwise requires any sexual favor from the other, regardless of whether the demand, request or requirement for submission is accepted by the object of said Act.” We also have Republic Act No. 9710, or the Magna Carta of Women, which recognizes, protects, fulfills, and promotes women’s rights.
The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 is limited to workplaces, schools, and training environments. However, sexual harassment cases can happen anywhere. Thus, Senator Risa Hontiveros last year filed Bill No. 1326, or “An Act Defining Gender-Based Street and Public Spaces Harassment, Providing Protective Measures, and Prescribing Penalties Therefor, and for Other Purposes.” The bill contains provisions for harassment in schools, streets, public-utility vehicles, and privately owned spaces that are open to the public.
However, despite the number of laws enacted, preventing harassment should start at home — and in school.
After having watched a series of #ThatsHarassment videos produced by Friends actor David Schwimmer, I believe that women still do not have enough knowledge of sexual harassment and do not have enough courage to act on it. I myself didn’t know that “small” acts of harassment are still indeed forms of harassment. Anything that harms a woman physically, mentally, and emotionally is wrong. We should eliminate our trait of being matiisin, of suffering in silence. We should realize that we have the power to speak out.
I work in a university, which has rules on harassment. I should ensure that these rules are strictly implemented so that the employees and students feel safe in what most of them consider as their second home. And starting this National Women’s Month, I commit to advocate through our social media accounts and university website the need for our students to respect women and indeed, both genders, so that they can become good leaders.
Abegail H. Cayco is an MBA student at the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. She is the assistant to the Vice-President for Marketing of Arellano University. She wrote this essay for her class in Lasallian Business Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Social Responsibility during her first term in the MBA program.