Breaking Society’s Rule: Becoming a Woman Without Becoming a Mother
It was spring, and the kitchen, by far the favorite place in a Filipino household, was bustling with energy. Family and friends were catching up while enjoying a lunch feast, some were busy preparing, others were entertaining guests. I was indulging in my meal — pancit (traditional stir-fried noodle dish) and puto (steamed rice cake) — when all of a sudden, I was in the limelight.
“Hey! How old are you again?” asked a family friend.
I made sure I had swallowed my food when I politely and proudly said, “I’m 30.”
It was quickly followed with, “And you are still single?”
Of course, my “Yes, I am,” came as a surprise to some.
"You are not getting any younger," was the response, before adding that it would be harder for me to bear a child, so I should consider settling down with someone sooner rather than later.
“I am not sure if it is something I want,” was my honest response when asked about my childbearing plans. I went on to share ideas about adoption. However, in return I was lectured about the complete essence of being a woman.
“That is sad. The journey of a woman is never complete without bearing a child and being a mother, hija,” I was constantly told.
Owning your authentic self is not always easy. This is especially true for a woman from a Filipino household whose relatives’ predispositions remain old-fashioned.
I am aware that every culture and religion is different. I understand and respect that each one has unique beliefs for women. Growing up, I was always reminded how a girl should act, speak, and think. While my clothes and hairstyle represent my freedom of expression, it’s always been a struggle since I get policed — mainly because being a girl means upholding specific standards set by society. Having two younger brothers made it easier for me to relate with boys, and I received a constant reminder that I must surround myself more with girls. At that time, I understood why it was expected of teen girls to watch how they carried themselves around teen boys. But, I also know what they meant when they said I was only being “looked after.”
It is a common yet toxic habit among the elders to pry and meddle in the personal lives of relatives, particularly those of the younger generations. When I was close to hitting 30, I knew no one would go easy on me. I started getting badgered about my relationship status, followed by their unsolicited advice on the importance of a woman having a partner and that being alone is sad and not exactly a good thing.
I strive to normalize that fact that there is more to being a woman than just being defined and dictated by our culture, a crucial message in this day and age.
I am a single woman in my mid-30s whose brothers are both married. The elders' subtle “curiosity” as to why I am still single and whether I have plans of settling down leads to lectures about my ticking biological clock, so I do not even try to bring up that I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Sure, none of this is new to me, but I still do not put up with such things. I often turn a deaf ear on the petty stuff — but not when I’m told how I should live as a woman. This harmful habit of putting women on a certain path or in a box will continue to be a toxic cycle as long as we remain silent. I make it a point to speak up softly and carry a big stick because I will not give anyone the power to tell me who I am and why I exist. I strive to normalize that fact that there is more to being a woman than just being defined and dictated by our culture, a crucial message in this day and age.
I remind myself: I am a woman because of my choices. I am my own boss. My favorite color is not pink, purple, yellow — not what society tells me a girl’s color should be. My chosen color is a part of my freedom of expression regardless of my gender. I break the bias.
I was often told growing up that I did not act ladylike just because many of my friends were boys. Even as adults, some of these boys continue to be my good friends.
I struggle with weight gain. I am petite with a medium to tan complexion. I have always been athletic and continue to be. I wear a pixie cut during summer, sometimes shaving the sides of my head — even when my mom or someone else tells me it is inappropriate. I’ll flaunt my long locks despite often being told to straighten them. I see nothing wrong with being unapologetically me, despite the traditional Filipino concept of beauty — having long straight hair and light skin, features resembling the West.
I have friends who I consider family, and nephews and nieces with whom I share an abundance of love. I find joy and a great sense of fulfillment when I devote my time to things that matter to me — whether putting my effort and time into myself, the people around me, or our only home, the world. What I allow in my life is my choice, which is vital to the life I create for myself.
Self-discovery is a journey and each day is an opportunity to embrace new things.
"Being single is lonely," they tell me. I say I can also be with someone yet be miserable. Being alone means having time to myself. It is empowering. I will continue to indulge and enjoy my solitude until someone comes along to complement my life in a way that makes things better. Self-discovery is a journey and each day is an opportunity to embrace new things. I am single and happy, and I like meeting people a lot. I also know better than to rely on another human being for my happiness or identity.
A few of my cousins and friends are settling down, expecting babies, and planning parties for their kids. More often than not in our culture, this is a big thing that older people will use for comparison. I couldn't be happier for these women in my life and their achievements. At the same time, I am equally proud of who I am and where I am. There is no single path for a woman's journey — it is neither linear nor identical, and it is not supposed to be. It is not a race. I, and we, have our own pace. My mother's, or any other woman's, journey is not mine, just as mine is not theirs.
Being a woman means owning who I am and the choices I make. I am a woman because I am strong-willed. I am entitled to my own opinions, and I set an example. I am a woman, a valued unit of my community, of society. Being a woman means unapologetically expressing myself, my needs and wants, and being heard without being questioned or judged — like any other human being.
I am a woman who continues to inspire the people around me and refuses to stay within the boundaries of our culture, to be a victim of double standards set by society. I am a woman because of my achievements, my struggles, my joy and my pain, and my rights. I am a woman, a work of nature, and I am enough.
And so, in response to that springtime questioning from a family friend, I asked, “If the complete essence and definition of a woman relies on having to bear a child and being a mother, are those faced with fertility struggles considered less of a woman?," followed with a good bite of my soft, fluffy, and moist puto.