Published in Manila Standard Today on 21 April 2012
By Elizabeth Angsioco
CLOTHES and shoes are two of my pleasures in life. And, I am a feminist. I believe that wanting to look good does not necessarily mean embracing society’s dictates on me, as a woman, on how to look, act, and behave. Let me explain.
Recently, transgenders—or persons who define themselves as belonging to the opposite sex—made news. One is the first transgender Student Council President of the University of the Philippines Diliman. The other, the decision of Miss Universe beauty pageant’s organizers to accept transgendered candidates.
I stand for equality of all persons. Pursuing this has been my vocation for the bigger part of my life. One of the best manifestations of equality is in terms of opportunities. I am a firm believer in human rights as espoused by various international instruments, most of which have been ratified by the Philippine government, and thus, have become State obligations to implement.
I go against discrimination. No person should be discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, political affiliation, economic status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other distinction. A person is a person is a person. That’s the only thing that counts.
Thus, I welcome transgenders as persons with equal rights. Like you and me.
A transgender heading the UP student council is a significant political statement. It means that UP’s bigger student voting population has learned to look beyond the stereotypes of a leader and that sexual orientation/identity is a non-issue for them. Surely, the campaign was a struggle, and winning, while sweet, does not end that struggle. We can expect other challenges to be thrown at her caused by being a transgender.
Working for equality naturally entails going against norms, structures, practices, and mindsets that perpetuate inequality.
Culturally, between men and women, it is us, women, who are expected by society to be beautiful and sexy. A woman’s looks defines her and opens or closes opportunities available to her. Often though not always, perceptions about what a woman is capable of doing, or eligible to do, is directly related with how well she looks. For most, being Miss Philippines is way above being a doctor, an engineer, or an architect. That is the hierarchy.
A pleasing personality is shallowly equated with beauty when personality should be much more than appearances.
How does this expectation of beauty affect women? Ah, we try to fit in. We try to please society and conform to its expectations. Because our present norms of beauty dictate that one must be young, fair-skinned, and with body measurements of 36-24-36, we consume tons of skin whitening and age-defying beauty products, go through breast augmentation procedures, body sculpting, and facelifts. We let ourselves be defined by expectations of beauty rather than by who we are as persons.
Does society expect the same from men? I say no. While being good looking is a plus factor, men continue to be defined by what they do. Their professions, their achievements. Being a sexy man doesn’t necessarily mean being a hunk. Often, it is being smart, successful, being a leader.
Thus, I say, there is inequality in defining what a woman and a man is. My point is, whether one is man or woman or transgender, one is a person and the same standards should apply.
I see beauty pageants as among those that perpetuate the unreasonableness of defining a woman primarily through beauty. Though some changes have been instituted partly because of protests by women against being seen as just beautiful faces and sexy bodies, pageants remain primarily BEAUTY pageants.
I wish that they will give more weight on the substance of the women that join so that these pageants can really be more empowering.
Therefore, whether transgenders should be allowed to join beauty pageants or not on the basis of equality to me is NOT the issue. The problem is that beauty pageants themselves reinforce the inequality between men and women.
Lest I be accused of being anti-beauty, I say, no, I am not. I like clothes, shoes and looking beautiful to please NOT others, but myself. I do as I choose not because of expectations of others. I embrace beauty but refuse to define and measure people based on appearances or any other distinction.
I like beauty and I am a feminist.
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