What would you do if you woke up one day as the opposite sex? A SISOH Discussion on Gender

November 15, 2018
A Socially Involved School of Humanities (SISOH) discussion on gender was held on November 11, 2018. It was attended by faculty members Justin Badion, Jan Belmonte, Bernard Caslib, Noel Clemente, Smile Indias, John Lenon, Mayel Martin, Diane Oliveros, Trish Lambino, Aaron Reyes, Raoul Roncal, Rae Sanchez, Francis Sollano, and Louie Julian, in conversation with students Dasha Uy and Angel Encomienda, and Katipunan tricycle drivers Alejandro Fajardo and Charlie Asak. The session was facilitated by Dr. Jean Tan, chair of the Philosophy Department.
 
After a round of introductions, the participants engaged in an imaginative exercise wherein they tried to picture what their day might be like if they woke up as the opposite sex. They broke into small groups to talk about their thoughts and then shared their ideas during a plenary session.
 
 
Some of the women participants shared that they would probably feel freer if they went through their day as males. They would be able to commute without having to fear for their safety and would be less wary of the risks of interacting with others. They would be able to confront catcallers, talk to fellow men about respecting women, and be taken seriously. They would probably also be able to do more intense physical exercise. Many of the pressures that women contend with on a daily basis would probably disappear. They would likely not have to be too conscious of their body image or be pressured to marry and have children because of social expectations or because of a biological clock.
 
However, some also felt that they would have to adjust their behavior to fit different social expectations. Ne vertheless, there would probably be some aspects of the participants’ lives that would remain the same regardless of their sex. They would continue to work and care for their families. 
 
On the other hand, some of the men reported that they would probably feel shocked if they woke up as females and would not initially know what to do, so they would try to copy the women they know. They would probably go about their day comparing this new experience to the experience of being male all their lives, which they already regard as comfortable. Some felt that it would be a hassle to have to fix their hair and put on make-up every day as women often do. They would probably encounter limitations to how they could act. They would not be able to move as much because they would be carrying handbags. They would not be able to hang on to the backs of jeepneys. They would probably be treated differently. Social expectations of males would also not apply to them anymore. For example, they would not be expected to court potential partners.
 
The facilitator asked the participants about how they felt during the imaginative exercise, whether or not the description of their own sex was accurate, and whether or not they learned anything about themselves as either men or women.
 
Some of the common ideas that arose from the subsequent discussion include: 1) different feelings regarding the activity, 2) stereotypes and gender expectations, 3) cultural heterogeneity, 4) experiences of sexual harassment or abuse, and 5) possible solutions or responses to gender inequality and sexual abuse.
 
 

 
First, the men and women participants reacted to the imagination exercise differently. Many of the men felt shocked or uncertain while many of the women felt excited about imagining themselves as the opposite sex. Some of the women said that this difference may be due to their different experiences caused by living in a patriarchal society. The experience of going about their day, thinking, “If only I were male, this would probably be easier or possible,” is already familiar to them. However, because many of the men already feel comfortable with themselves, they stated that thinking of what their lives would be like if they were woman is not something that normally crosses their minds. Some of the men said that they would not really want to become women and that they would think of ways to somehow get their bodies switched back.
 
Second, despite having differences with each other, individual participants agreed that many of the descriptions that were shared about men and women did not apply to all members of each sex. Women can also do things that were initially described as masculine. For instance, they are capable of shouting at catcallers and they can also carry backpacks instead of handbags.
 
Some of the men also shared how they felt that they did not always fit the masculine stereotype. Some men can do intense physical exercise while some cannot. Moreover, they explained that most of these stereotypical traits, which are patriarchal constructs, are also oppressive to them. The idealization of the alpha male figure has led to toxic masculinity. Contrary to the impression shared that men are not conscious of their body image, a participant said that he felt pressured by the muscular body image. He surmised that that more and more men are now going to the gym because of this (although another participant suggested that perseverance and kindness could compensate for lack of good looks when it comes to attracting women). Some women felt that they were trained to be competitive. Another man shared that people tended to judge him because he liked to cry while watching romantic-comedy movies.
 
Third, the discussion of particular differences led to a realization that culture changes and that there are also differences between various sectors in society. There were some participants who mentioned that many social norms have already changed for today’s youth. A woman pointed out that traditional expectations that men ought to be “macho” are no longer prioritized by younger generations. Many women stated that they appreciate “soft boy”-types who like romantic comedies. On the other hand, young women today can pursue the men they like but they are now expected to also pay for food when they go on dates. Another participant commented that, while others are still judgmental of paglalandi (flirting), becoming polyamorous is now becoming more acceptable.

 
Another participant opined that some sectors tend to be more “woke,” while other sectors tend to be more “backward.” Participants from basic sectors expressed more concern about being men with families and about life’s difficulties, rather than about new, emerging social norms. They also mentioned later on that there is much more going on outside academic institutions that academics and scholars do not necessarily understand.
 
Fourth, many of the women participants talked about their own experiences of sexual harassment or abuse. One woman mentioned how she almost fell victim to a date rape drug at a certain bar. Some women have experienced being catcalled while walking along Katipunan. They felt frustrated because the men they confronted did not take them seriously, even when they clearly expressed their anger.
 
Fifth, the group also discussed ways through which gender inequality and sexual abuse may be responded to. Many women are still looking for effective ways to solve gender problems. They feel that they are often dismissed or judged as “crazy” when they become angry, while angry men tend to induce fear. Some men had experiences of telling or reminding other male friends to respect women. One admitted that he experienced being called “kill joy” or “corny” when he tried to correct fellow men. Another found that reminding other men of their own mothers and sisters is an effective way to invoke a sense of respect for women among men. A man from a basic sector later commented, however, that the status of the man speaking also has to be factored in. He said that there is a better chance for a male professor to be listened to in a particular situation, compared to an ordinary driver in the same situation.
 
 
In addition to reflecting on strategies for speaking up, participants also touched on value systems. Some of the participants expressed that it is important for women to be respected not just because they are mothers or sisters but because they are people. One participant questioned whether there should also be limits to empowerment, in light of contentious assertions such as “my body, my choice.” Another participant proposed that there should be a shift of emphasis from moral uprightness to the boundaries of consent.
 
 
Finally, the discussion ended with a round of insights from the participants. Some reiterated the importance of listening, of intersectionality, and of equality. Some of the men realized that they have much to change about themselves, that they owe women an apology, and that women are more often victims of social pressure and discrimination. Some of the women realized that men are also burdened by a patriarchal system. Some noticed that, while there are differences between men and women, there are still many commonalities that are admittedly difficult to typify. However, many members of the group concluded that gender equality is everyone’s concern, and not just women’s.