Thursday, October 30, 2008

Feminist Counseling at Work

In my sharing of FC practice, I began with the issues I encountered in the counseling room, notably 'bipolar disorder', abortion, wife battering and sexual identity issues. These issues precisely define why FC is needed. But more than that, my take are the principles I believed in why I go into FC. First I knew that those frameworks I have learned from college were not empowering women. So, I read about Gilligan (a different voice), Jean Baker Miller (women's strengths) and Chodorow (relational qualities of women). These are the principles that I envisioned would be the core of FC. Aside from these, some instruments were already developed to measure women's empowerment like the FIDS (Feminist Identity Development Scale), the "Stages of Women's Awareness" (Judith Palmer) and the "The Feminine Cycle" (Joan Borysenko). Interestingly, Borysenko noted that unlike boys, girls developed both the right and left brain (for concrete operations and emotional intelligence) at ages 7-14. And the rest of her stages of 'feminine cycle' were empowering compared that made by Erik Erikson. The reactions to my presentation were significant: one participant was hesitant to approach a counseling room if she is not sure that the counselor is an FC, she admitted that she is a bisexual lesbian. Another participant shared her difficulties in counseling lesbians in violent relationship. So, I told her, one should also used the 'power' factor in a relationship and also rescue the 'batterer' in that relationship.

More importantly, I also shared the reasons why I prefer FC. Primarily because of the challenges posed by two significant people: one GC commented: "there is no such thing as FC!" and the keynote speaker below that I mentioned who is also at the topmost position in my profession. Oh I wish we can talk face-to-face and learn from each other why FC is more important for women more than any other framework. Despite all those obstacles, I wish all (probably rare and few) FCs more power and love in their life...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sexist jokes at the Conference

The last plenary speaker, a male, may not consciously knew it or may deliberately uttered those sexist jokes. But he must be held 'unaccountable' in whatever way to the damage he has done to the may women participants at the Conference. One joke was 'the woman (married) kept on studying that she neglected her husband; eventually the husband found another woman (mistress). Another repeated joke was 'being loveless' makes one a 'matandang dalaga' or a woman becameangry because she was 'loveless' for a long time. Though there are some 'truths' in his jokes, other 'truths' may be more liberating to women. Jokes when unconsciously absorbed become more detrimental than deliberate lectures.

Also, he presented a framework of counseling philosophy but never mentioned that "needs" are also created by one's context. That woman in his example (married woman who kept on studying) was also a product of her historical context that valued realtionship with a man as 'central' to her life. Pretty good if she was able to live without a man or neglect her husband because it contributed to getting a degree. But the speaker ended with a more disgusting comment: 'why is it that the woman realized too late that she wants her husband so badly that she had to get a degree to impress him'. Why can't the speaker realized that the woman acted on her own 'need' and not inspired by 'the husband'. The remark on 'matandang dalaga' was another assumption that a woman cannot choose to become a woman (alone) for the rest of her life. And that getting angry is part of being a human, not related to one's status (marital) in life. The speaker must also question his assimptions before concluding on women's choices.

My philosophy rests primarily on women's empowerment and I believed those sexist jokes is one of the processes that disempower women. It must be curtailed. Unfortunately, we were not given time to react. Though the president of the association interrupted him saying, "dalaga ako".

Sunday, October 12, 2008

children's wisdom

we conducted a validation yesterday regarding 'children exposed to violence in the homes'. it was wonderful to hear children elaborating, clarifying points and 'rejecting' adult interpretations of their life stories. these children ages ranged from nine to sixteen. one of the young participants articulated that she need not consider the material things that her father bestowed on them. she only weighed on the virtues that she learned from her mother and from the violence that she saw when her father inflicted pain on her mother. so, she eventually sided with her mother.

another wonderful moments with youth was yesterday when i conducted a sort of gender sensitivity training among young women survivors of violence at the RGS. i was delighted when one of them came up with the terms "ninakaw", "inagaw" and "binigay". these Filipino terms refer to the concept of virginity. the young woman elaborated that virginity (the physical hymen) can be lose either through the use of force or through one's choice. yes, truly children's wisdom abound. we need not look for various review of literature to explain what they think because the themselves can articulate it very well.i believed hearing children speak their voices can make adults, like me, reflect and realized that children and youths really know what they want in life. the 'soul' of children and youth are much more in them than we thought we have. they can really be good decisionmakers of their own lives, if we give them the time to speak and the space to realize what they want...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Why can't they call it sexual harassment?

I attended an organization's GA yesterday. It was attended by about 36 active members and about 10 applicants. One of the agenda was to hear and vote on a case of sexual harassment. I was there together with another staff from another UP unit. The president presided the meeting. Then, he started with:"the EB decided that this case does not constitute sexual harassment". The whole GA was supposed to have read the case via e-group. And then the votation went on: "those who are in favor of the GA's resolution, raised their hands and those who want to abstain can abstain in the assumption that they have not read the case" (6 abstained, all men and mostly matured looking). The decision of the EB was upheld. Some protested for the 'reprimand' proposal, they went for a higher penalty which was suspension. The member argued: "we had a case of violation of the 'leave no trace' pithaya principle and he was expelled, why can't we expel this one". Another said:"There was also a case of 'eating guavas' and that member too met a stiff penalty". A woman member was still asking "has this been proven (SH)?"What infuriated me was the reiteration of the president "the EB decided that this does not constitute a case of sexual harassment." Why can't they name it SH?

Earlier before the meeting, we talked with their EB-lawyer. She said the three elements of SH must be fulfilled before it can be regarded as an SH case. Then, she remarked that perpetrator was not anymore under the jurisdiction of the law because he is already an alumni. We insisted that the case fell under number 3 element (the victim's feelings of being humiliated, etc.) and it was an "or" clause, not. She said having interviewed other members who were present during the applicants' party, only the version of the complainant was 'unique'. She said, the complainant narrated she was boxed in by the harasser. But based on the others' testimonies, the man was sitting beside the girl. Later, we learned from the EB, that the girl even hugged the man prior to the SH incident.

I told them the continuum of abuse in any sexual harassment case must be looked it. Yes, it was true the girl hugged the man prior to the SH because it was a friendly gesture and she did not feel anything wrong about that. Perhaps, it showed that she was not thinking of anything ill about the man. That gesture must be appreciated. But when did she feel sexually harassed? It was when the man mashed her breasts and her back. She was resisting mentally during taht time but cannot react because she was still feeling her way (as one can see she hugged the man earlier but did not feel any violation, but at this point she felt there was something wrong but cannot yet name it). So,when somebody asked her 'binabastos ka ba'? She even said, "matagal na" (perhps with reference to the text messages he sent him way back when). This question affirmed her initial feelings. This somebody who pinned down the man on the wall allowed her to name her feelings (the EB said she was ranting afterwards).

Yes, the organization was surely right in pinpointing that aggressive act of 'pinning down' another person on the wall was a violation of the 'pithaya' principle. But did they not see the act of the man (SH) prior to the aggressive reaction of another man? The EB told me,"meron na pong galit yung isang lalaki dun sa isang lalaki" (the two had an initial conflict).

The feelings of the girl were resistance on her part. It was clearly voiced out through the help of another man (the one who pinned down the harasser) . All of the parties in the complaint were inebriated at some levels. But this state of body/mind also helped the girl to be more in tuned with her feelings (in a way allowed her not to be inhibited). The harasser was also under that state of intoxication and perhaps he too was 'aroused' (in that inebriated state). (Perhaps...) But all those psychological states need not intervene to let us see (outsiders looking in) that the mashing of the breasts and face-to-face talking with the girl constitute acts of sexual harassment (added to that the earlier versions of text messages amounting to verbal sexual harassment---e.g. "sana next time na malasing tayo ay mangyaring 'kababalaghan'; and "nakahawak ka na ba ng 'balls'). Nobody can attest to the acts; no one had uttered they had seen it; only the girl testified for her part of the truth.

I was there to appreciate the organization's process. But I realized an 'impartial' body is needed to see the case for what truly it is. The culture of 'a party' clearly allowed those 'friendly banters' and 'inappropriate acts' to happen. It so happened that a girl was harmed psychologically and emotionally (abuse of personal space). If the organization truly upholds the pithaya principles, perhaps they can see that the 'the essential is not always visible to the eyes'. The aggressiveness is a very visible thing to look at as violation of another's space. But SH is more of psychological transgression that only a victim can sufficedly identify.

I hope justice will illumine the organization and that the girl's aspirations to become a mountain lover will not be compromised nor undermined because the girl was braved enough to stand her ground (the harasser was not present during the GA).