I consider myself a feminist, but I’ve always looked at feminism in the grander scheme of things. I usually don’t hesitate to share my opinions about gender inequality, and I would sometimes even call out instances of casual sexism, but I’ve never bothered to reflect on the events that led me to become a feminist until I watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk called “We Should All Be Feminists.” In this talk, Adichie spoke about her experience with sexism in the context of her African heritage, but I found myself relating to a lot of these scenarios, which made me wonder whether these experiences are also common for other women in Chinoy families.
All this self-reflection stems from Adichie’s anecdote, where she talked about how her friend Louis doesn’t believe that things are still hard for women because sexism isn’t as bad as it was before. This is true to some extent, especially in the context of Chinese culture, since women in Ancient China were regarded as inferior to men. They didn’t enjoy any rights (like many other women across different cultures during that time), they were constantly objectified, and they were automatically expected to obey their fathers and husbands. Although the situation of women has improved drastically since then, there are still some traces of the “women are inferior” mindset littered throughout the present.
There are a lot of women in my family. My father has three sisters, and my mother has six, so I don’t exactly have a shortage of anecdotes about the experiences of Chinoy women during the 60’s and 70’s. My mother always talked about how my grandmother was ridiculed by her friends every time she gave birth to a girl. Apparently, they believed that my grandmother was a terrible person in her past life, which was why she was being cursed with daughters instead of sons. My father also mentions how he is the only one in his family to graduate college because his parents didn’t think higher education was necessary for his sisters when they’re only going to be housewives. I’m glad that I’m not viewed as a curse because I’m a girl, and I’m also glad that my education has never been questioned, but there are times when I feel the remnants of sexism in our culture.
I’m an only child, so I’ve never felt a lack of love from my parents. But whenever my parents tell their friends that I’m an only child, the first thing they usually ask is: “Don’t you want to try for a son?” I know they mean no harm, although I can’t help but feel saddened by this question because it’s a reflection of how the Chinoy culture still values sons over daughters. It’s always assumed that the sons will be the one to take over the family business, and even though there are already a lot of examples of Chinoy businesswomen breaking barriers, the daughters are still usually the second choice by default. This isn’t even a matter of my parents having traditional-minded friends. Some of my own friends also said their parents ended up having more children than they originally planned because they kept trying for a son. It’s understandably difficult to undo centuries’ worth of cultural beliefs, but this is proof that sexism still continues to persist today, and saying that “things are not as bad as they were before” only impedes the process of achieving equality.
In her speech, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie also talked about how girls are raised to feel a lot of guilt–a point that I think most Chinoy women would resonate with regardless of their age. In my case, I was fortunate to not have parents that care too much about gender norms, and yet I was always subjected to the scrutiny of my aunts while growing up. They would always make me feel guilty for “not acting like a girl” whenever I laughed too loud or climbed up high places or sat down without crossing my legs. They would even criticize me for something as simple as wearing the color blue because “it was not a girl’s color.” This is why I rarely felt empowered despite being surrounded by women, and yet I don’t really fault my aunts for that because I know they had simply inherited traditionally sexist teachings without even realizing it.
For other women, guilt might look different. They might not have aunts who criticize their every move while growing up, but they might have parents or grandparents or other relatives who make them feel guilty for prioritizing their career over marriage. This is something I haven’t experienced yet myself since I’m still a student, but I know some women in my life who are only in their late twenties and yet are constantly being asked why they aren’t married yet. This gives me the impression that women can study whatever they want and pursue whatever career they want, but it comes with a time limit because they are expected to give it all up to start a family once they’ve reached a certain age. If they don’t, then people will start to pull the “we already got married when we were your age” card or the “don’t you want your parents to have grandchildren while they’re still alive?” card. This constant guilt-tripping not only invalidates the achievements of women, but it also makes it seem as if marriage is the highest thing women can aspire for, which is no better than in ancient times.
Some might argue that women are still free to do whatever they want after they get married, but based on my experience, the women in my family are always the ones who give up their careers to care for their children. That’s sadly the norm of our society, so maybe not all women are willing to make that sacrifice. But even if they wanted to, only they have the right to decide when they want to move on to the next step. The fact that women are still being shamed for putting their career first is evidence of the inherent sexism still present in our culture.
I’m not saying that everything I stated above is true for everyone. These are just some of the reasons to why I became a feminist, and I’m sure other people have their own reasons as well. I’m just sharing my own experiences because I feel like we as Chinoys don’t talk about sexism enough. Granted, sexism happens regardless of culture, but staying silent only gives the impression that there’s nothing wrong. This could allow traditionally sexist attitudes to be passed down from generation to generation, and the only way to break this cycle is to talk openly about our experiences. It might feel too much like whining at first, but it would allow more people to see that there’s still something wrong with the way our culture perceives women, which could in turn help set a course for change. This is why we should talk about sexism, and this is why we should all be feminists.