Thursday, October 27, 2016

Is Femininity Dead?

Is Femininity Dead? 

Originally Published on Thought Catalog

It’s been a while since I heard the word femininity. In writing this, I immediately thought of its twin sister – feminism. As femininity sits in her quiet confidence, feminism continues to draw attention to herself. Feminism is as loud as femininity is quiet. Plastered across Facebook and Instagram are role models for the new brand of feminism that rebels against male standards and a male dominated world… a battlecry that advocates freedom to “do what you want” without much regard for consequences. We see this in the manner women dress, speak and act – where naked seems to be the new normal and filters seen as the new authentic. 

Fragile Beauty (Bali, Indonesia)

Don’t get me wrong, feminism emerged from the mentality that men and women deserve the same rights – and this movement has given women in most parts of the world the greatest gift of all – the power of choice. Fast-forward to this century – now that we are reaping the rewards of this choice, are we using it to elevate women or are we creating more dissonance amongst ourselves? Are we using it to promote a healthy coexistence with men or are we turning into men to try to beat them at their own game? Have women in the public eye been using this responsibly? 

As this modern brand of feminism gains momentum, the classic definition of femininity is shunned to the sidelines. Are the days where strength in silence, grace in adversity, beauty in authenticity really gone? Has Audrey Hepburn been replaced by Kim Kardashian? 
Role models are seen as beacons that represent the desires of a generation. Perhaps centuries ago, the classic image of femininity – being prim and proper, speaking only when spoken to, being conservative in dress and manner, even putting a premium on motherhood- these were what encompassed what being a woman was all about.

At the time feminism was at its birth stages, we remember the tragedies that became the fate of Anna Karenina, Madame Bovaryand Edna Pontellier, where these women decided to act on their desires and disregard social conventions. This was a time women didn’t have many options and weren’t blessed with the power of choice as a birthright. 

So what about now?  Has the meaning of femininity been lost or has it just evolved? 

For me it all boils down to the gift the women that preceded us gave us – the power of choice. Femininity nowadays is no longer limited to its classic stereotype of being “prim and proper”, or the traditional roles that surround it – motherhood, or marriage. With more options comes more responsibility. With freedom, comes consequences. With conflicting images in media and society, comes a call to examine one’s conscience. Exercising freedom with no regard for present day realities is not feminism, but rebellion. In fact, femininity is not a concept so separate from today’s modern woman, because it already exists within women regardless of what generation she belongs to. It’s a call to humanity, more than anything. It’s choosing love. It’s choosing authenticity. It’s choosing joy. It’s choosing peace. These are concepts that transcend gender, and fall into the realm of what it means to be human.

Don’t get so lost in the labels and mixed signals we pick up from society or the media. 

Just be the best human being you can be. 

Just be what you already are.

Here’s My Problem With Modern Feminism (From A Self-Proclaimed Feminist)

Here’s My Problem With Modern Feminism (From A Self-Proclaimed Feminist)

Originally Published in Thought Catalog


It’s something that scares men away, and divides women. It’s something that is used so loosely nowadays its value diminishes. Its origins stem from inequality between the sexes in a patriarchal society. Fast forward to today, most first world nations have taken steps in the right direction. Canada being at the forefront of a feminist-centric movement through equal gender representation in its government, a movement advocated by its male prime minister. All over the world women are recognized, even put on a pedestal for “having it all.” We toss these names all over our newsfeed, our modern day Amazonians – Hillary Clinton, BeyoncĂ© Knowles, and other figures than may have not made it in mainstream consciousness but have become movers and shakers in their own fields, male dominated or not.

Despite these developments, I think this generation has gotten feminism all wrong. 

With the advent of social media, I find it so alarming that the likes of Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus are seen as icons of the modern feminist movement. I find it alarming that “Free the Nipple” and “My Body, My Choice” are battle cries breeding a generation of women that is so blinded by freedom, it forgets about consequence.

It’s one thing to be free to choose. Most, if not all human beings have that right. But where the conflict lies is how empowerment is seen in the act of free choice, without considering the consequences of that choice. It’s a fine line that separates empowerment with narcissism. If you get up on that bar top and take your bra off, that is your choice. But you need to be able to own up to the consequence of that action, or the worst-case scenario. In this case it could be as mild as heckling and as bad as sexual harassment. In an ideal world, men should respect you and your decisions. In many parts of the world, this is not reality.

And to be a true feminist, we need to understand that before getting blinded by narcissism in the disguise of empowerment.

The trap of modern feminism is thinking it stops with free choice, without taking into account the consequences of that choice within present day realities.

Yes, it’s hard to be a woman in a somewhat, still very male dominated world. Yes, sometimes you just want to wear that short skirt and screw anyone you want, without facing consequences. Yes, sometimes you just want to shed all of what society expects from you as a woman and begin acting like a man. But in doing so, you still conform to the very ideology you are trying to rebel against- by conceding to the thinking you very much detest. We are dangerously attracted to the recklessness, relentlessness and ruthlessness men seem to get away with in the arenas of love and career, we forget about the natural strengths and abilities that come with being a woman.

To be a true feminist isn’t to act like a man. It isn’t to embody masculine traits and add more fuel and division to an already very male eschewed world. To be a true feminist is accepting the uniqueness that come with your gender – strengths, limitations and all, and respect that same uniqueness in the opposite sex. 

You can be a feminist if you’re male, female, or gay. To be a true feminist is to own up to your choices by owning up to their consequences. Know the difference between narcissism and true empowerment. “I will make a choice based on the consequence I am willing to face.” That takes it a step further than the mainstream take on feminism. The mark of a true feminist is making informed decisions. It’s owning up to not just our choices but the consequences of our choices, considering present day realities. It’s one thing to dress provocatively to express yourself, but take it a step further and think of the consequences of that choice. That is true feminism for me. In fact, it goes beyond the gender wars. Thinking of consequence takes you beyond feminism to what I think the world needs more of – HUMANISM. 

More than showing the world our bodies, let us show the world what kind of humans it needs today – one that exercises freedom with full knowledge of consequence, one that accepts and respects the strengths and limitations of both genders, one that seeks to unite rather than divide the world even further.

So the next time you want to shed some skin, think of your true motivation before you #feminist what you show, do, or say.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

This is What It's Like To Move Home After Studying Abroad

This Is What It’s Like To Move Home After Studying Abroad

Originally published in Thought Catalog

They say it takes at least six months to come to terms with moving back home after living abroad. I remember reading so many self-help articles on reverse culture shock, and six was often the magic number that came up. At the time, I thought I could defeat the six month mark by forcing myself to begin the job search ASAP and establish a routine ASAP. 
But just like break ups, trying to outsmart the natural process of moving on only made it worse. 

View of Manila from my flight home

In the first month, I spent some time traveling to soften the blow of my decision to leave the life I’ve created somewhere else. The second month was all about agonizing over a time that would never return and paying homage to it through writing. The third was about establishing a routine back home by finally brining myself to look for a job and seeing my friends regularly. The fourth, a continuation of the third, with less breakdowns. 

If you’re lucky, by the fifth month, like me, you would already have a job, or things lined up. And when that time happens, expect birth pains from adjusting to a new job, new workmates and a schedule that is more normal than what you were used to. 

View from my Office at Bonifacio Global City

But, for whatever reason, the sixth month brings clarity, without you even realizing it’s already been six months since you left your old home abroad. Without you realizing that routine is not so bad. Without you realizing that you haven’t seen your friends from abroad for that long. 

Farewell countdown with old colleagues 

When you do get in touch with them, things are different yet still the same -your relationship enriched by new and separate experiences, but still bound by that special time you were all destined to meet in that part of the world.

Maybe part of why you left home that time was because you were afraid of routine. You were afraid to dedicate your life to the four walls of a concrete building, afraid of settling, afraid of not living life to the fullest. 

You probably also left your home abroad because what was once exciting had already become routine, and you can’t see yourself living the way you did forever. 

But at the six-month mark after coming home, routine feels ok – at least for now. 

Routine makes you appreciate the small surprises that come your way, it makes you appreciate the things you once took for granted.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong... 

It may be a visit from a longtime friend, an impromptu drive with your family to the countryside, or just time to recharge in a familiar place- after your tumultuous years abroad. You realize that routine isn’t as bad as it seems and is simply a state of mind. You can break away from it if you want to, regardless of where you are in the world or what your situation is. 

And it is not determined by what job you have, but how you spend your time and how you set your mind. 

At the sixth month mark, I realized I made the right decision of coming back home, because I can’t imagine myself anywhere else – at least for now.

I can’t see myself starting over somewhere else, I can’t see myself getting a random job just to live in another country, I can’t see myself suspending everything I valued yet again for uncertainty. More than it being a safe decision, it was the decision I just knew in my heart, logic aside, that I had to make. 

At the six month mark, I picked up a guidebook to explore my own country, determined to have the same wanderlust I did for exploration when I was abroad. I went out, less than when I was abroad, but enough to keep things interesting. I wrote – a passion I rediscovered after the perspective I gained from living abroad. I rediscovered the things I loved to do before living abroad and all the distractions that came with it. And everything is meshing together well, so far, thanks to routine. 

Roadtrips to Tagaytay

I’m not yet completely ok, but I’m ok enough to want to stay where I am. 

I think routine brings me balance – and balance is what I need right now. 

That’s probably why I came back home. And just because I did, it doesn’t mean that I’m settling. It just means that I am preparing myself for even bigger adventures to come, from the place I grew up in – the place call home, for now.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Ex called Travel

Let me tell you about my ex called travel. 

He was my escape. He took me to places I've never been before. He made me do things that I wouldn't normally to. I parasailed, rode an elephant, partied with strangers, caught my first wave, went on a scenic hike, biked for three hours, tried exotic cuisine, haggled in night markets.

Durian Sidestreet Stall, Davao 

He made me believe I'm more than who I think I am. He told me I could be anyone I wanted to be. He never judged me when I went a little crazy. He encouraged me to befriend a sweet Malaysian girl I was sharing a bunk bed with. He gave me the extra strength I needed to play foosball with a fun assortment of characters in the living room of the hostel I was staying in.

Meander Hostel, Taipei

He didn't care that sometimes all I wanted to do was stay in and lie by the beach and read, or that sometimes I followed a schedule filled to the brim. At the end of the day, we would collapse together, having ventured far and wide via land, sea and air. He didn't get confused when I lit a candle in a church, offered incense in a temple, or wrote a wish in a shrine. He tolerated me whenever I stopped to take a selfie with one of the "must-see's" wherever I was, or when I took photos of my feet in the sand. 

Nusa Dua Beach, Bali

I miss him. But there was a reason why we broke up.

Eventually, our shared fascination with seeking adventures faded away. It was what held us together back then. Perhaps I turned into Wendy, and decided to embrace my adult responsibilities. Living for the moment no longer appealed to me. Instead of spending to satisfy my urges, I’d rather save for the future. Instead of chasing the night away, I preferred to snuggle close to my comforter. But he was stubborn and remained as Peter, the boy who never wanted to grow up, who lived for the moment but remained restless as he delayed the inevitable.

Playing with Fire, Boracay

Perhaps we broke up because how I define adventure at this point in my life has changed. I am about to turn 28. Now, what excites me is stability. Routine. The ordinary. Possibility has lost its luster; owning up to my choices is now the mantra I want to live by.

That is how we grew apart.

Yet, I will never forget the year we shared. The year I spent all my savings catching the first glimpse of the sun in the empty pier of Asia’s busiest harbour. The year I always left my hometown every long weekend to be with him. The year I tried so many things, explored so many facets of my personality, as my morals revealed themselves in the different environments I became exposed to.  

Sunrise in Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong

Farewell to my ex called travel. 

I am no longer enamored by the idea of you, and the possibilities you bring. I know that the next time you come back to my life, you won’t have the same hold as you did before.Next time you’ll be with me, my intentions will be different. I am no longer running away from life because I no longer want to escape it through you. I am content with where I am. I’ve found the peace I used to searched for in distant shores, mountains and metropolises, simply within myself. I’ve finally come to terms with where I am in life, and don’t need you as a distraction. Chasing the moment is no longer a game I want to play, as I want to take the present as it is – so there’s no need to chase anything anymore.  My compass is simply honoring the things and people that bring me genuine joy and peace as I navigate the waters of this new-old world.

View from Movenpick Hotel Balcony, Cebu

But thank you for showing me another side to myself. And another side of the world. You made me appreciate where I am, and more importantly, you lead me to where I want to be.

You lead me to me.

To the year that was, New Years Eve 2014, Subic

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Girls Gone Wild Abroad?

The “crazy” in every young and educated Asian woman often comes alive abroad.

Or maybe in every woman, regardless of educational qualification or nationality. 

I came to this realization when I left home to work in Hong Kong two years ago. Every twentysomething who lived abroad will have their own share of misadventures and “you should have been there” stories that people back home would have a hard time relating to, particularly if the setting is in an international city – where value systems are as transient as the people visiting its borders.

Hong Kong's Lights and Shadows

A twentysomething Asian woman will often be misunderstood once she comes back home. The stories she would share about dancing on bar tops would be deemed out of character, her experiences about her quest for independence - interpreted as boasting, and her tagged party photos, clothing choices and relationship status become favorite topics among the “friends” she had long left behind. Because of social media, the supposedly profound quest for self-discovery is up for public scrutiny and thus, devalued. You have to have really thick skin to brush off what people will think. But for some, the desire to please others still reigns. They become very careful with what they reveal online about their alter egos abroad. It’s all just wasted energy.

Just your average Ladies Night @ Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Remember that a photograph is worth a thousand words. If you were to judge at all, first try to understand. If you’re a woman, even more so.

As a young person who lived abroad, affinity was often established at the onset of meeting new people from different cultures, simply from the shared experience of being a foreigner living abroad. This is different from what happens at home, where social ties are determined by social status, educational attainment, religious beliefs, standards of beauty and other social structures. To an Asian woman, this freedom from the confines of social structures becomes an opportunity to discover oneself outside the intense scrutiny of a judgmental society, strict religious practices, embedded cultural norms, and parental supervision. You become independent for the first time - geographically (as you live on your own), emotionally (as the safety blanket of your friends is not with you) and even perhaps financially (the classic component of what it means to be independent). You can finally begin anew as no reputation of yours will haunt you in your new social backdrop the way your past did back home, where social circles tend to overlap and dictate everything - from who you could date to which companies you could work for to even something as mundane as the restaurants you frequent. You could experiment with the many facets of your personality, turn fantasy into reality, do something you have never done before, and not be judged for it.

A fun night out with friends from different parts of the world

You could be who you want to be.

And when you come to this realization, the liberation begins. Some Asian women have a few weeks or months of crazy nights partying or thrill seeking, but eventually, they revert back to who they are. Others continue on for years until they become the person they discovered abroad. Eventually, home is no longer the place they grew up in, but rather, the place where they most felt like themselves. And there is no right or wrong in whatever choice you would make. That is the greatest sense of liberation any woman could have - knowing that you always have a choice to determine which version of yourself you’re most happy with in an environment that brings out the best in you. The answer is relative to each person.

When Audrey met Ronald

In living away from home, I also discovered what spheres of influence colored my decisions and also what my sources of esteem were. This newfound self-awareness helped me discover my worth outside what typically defined me back home (i.e., what job I had, who my family was, who I was dating, where I studied, etc.) because all these imbedded structures took a halt abroad as I was free to be who I wanted to be. My esteem is firmer because I learned not to hide under the shadow of my friends, the protection of a relationship, and the stability of a job, among many other things. I learned that being true to who I was is enough. I’m lucky to have made friends along the way, who value self-discovery just as much as I do and continue to support me in my decisions without judgment.

Friendships across borders... and countless rooftops

In one’s twenties, we women fluctuate from playing “saint” and “sinner” and experiment with our identities now more than ever, until eventually, we find a happy medium. A state of being that is simply – you. You don’t have to go abroad to be able to discover yourself ala Eat Pray Love. You just need the courage to ask the question – who am I?

Tram Party!

I promise you that the journey will be worth more than the destination.

Always in my heart...
Hong Kong (2011 - 2013)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Shadow, Anxiety... and a Fourth State of Consciousness?

As I continue to absorb the ideas from Eckhart Tolle's, “The Power of Now” (I’ve been reading this book for over three months now, because it’s not the type of book that you can read in one sitting) I’m beginning to believe that there is some sort of fourth plane of consciousness. I want to bring up Freud when he claimed that there are three classic planes of consciousness– the unconscious, subconscious and conscious (id, ego and super ego, if my memory serves me correctly), and since more or less we have an idea of what these mean, I won't go into detail in describing them. Thought I haven’t finished Tolle's book, it inspired me to hypothesise a fourth plane to describe the creative potential outside the three classic planes, one that that is borne from both peace and adversity, depending on how it was processed in the mind.

I feel this fourth plane whenever I am in the midst of an artistic breakthrough or insight. I feel this when I imagine myself outside of myself and part of a greater energy or greater realm beyond where standards, judgment, fear and anxiety exist. I’m writing this not to spark an intellectual discussion or engage in the debate of proper terms and labels, but to describe what I feel when I access this so-called fourth plane. Maybe it’s still the subconscious. Maybe it’s simply an altered form of consciousness. Giving it this label makes it easier to imagine or grasp, as with everything else in the world that is easier understood by labelling them (sad fact). 

Whenever I need a boost of confidence I access this fourth plane. I think this is the plane where both the imagined and the real become murky, and where creative genius lies. Kind of like existing in the dreamlike state presented in Murakami’s novels where everything imagined is real and everything real is but imagined, depending on how the term “real” is defined.

I would say the fourth plane is outside the confines of a daydream because daydreams have no bearings on reality. There is no transformation that happens, for it’s a means to escape from rather than go back to reality. In an altered reality, however, the feelings of the daydream become the reality. I think this is what Viktor Frankl was describing in his famous book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, where he argued that no circumstance is greater than the power of the mind to alter reality because the meaning we attach to reality is always dependent on the person. The experience of suffering can be heroic or catastrophic for someone, depending on how it is defined and interpreted by the person experiencing it. He argues that the true dignity of man lies in having a mind that can alter reality as we know it. Maybe this could bring meaning to the saying, "there is a fine line between genius and psychotic", because both operate on altered realities. And that line is defined by the standards set by the world. The distinction between the psychologically impaired and the genius lies in how self-aware the person is in accessing this altered reality, and being able to go back and fourth the four planes without getting lost or stuck in them. 

There is no room for punishment in the fourth plane of consciousness. Here, the orientation is to always make decisions based on what will bring you peace, a peace that goes beyond blindly following the strict doctrines of religion or any powerful social construct. I’m not saying religion or social constructs are bad or that they block access to this fourth plane. I’m just saying that in the fourth plane, man learns how to be gentle with himself and begins to accept an image of a gentle God rather than a strict one, if he believe’s in God or a higher power at all. A big cause of anxiety is how we deal with our shadow – the dark side of our personality, as introduced to us by Jung. Because we are too focused on defeating it, its presence as an enemy becomes stronger and so does the inevitable cycle of guilt and shame associated when we lose to our shadow and give in to darkness or temptation. In the fourth plane of consciousness, there is no need to defeat one’s shadow or one’s dark side. The way to peace is not to defeat the shadow but to embrace it and coexist with it. It doesn’t become a battle for power or victory anymore, because that will cause anxiety. It becomes, rather, a state of being, where there is no winning or losing but a peaceful coexistence between the light and the shadow of a person.

Embracing one’s shadow and accepting it as a unique part of one’s personality is something introduced to me by a mentor early this year. At the time, I was not spiritually mature enough to understand the nugget of wisdom she was entrusting me. I continued to live in limbo – the place where thought and action intersected, the breeding ground of anxiety. There were times I deliberately exposed myself to environments that called out both the shadow and the light of my personality. To see who would triumph. To see what label I’ll give myself based on my actions. To see what label society would prescribe to me. It became a battle of choosing good or evil rather than choosing peace. Peace exists when there is balance between light and shadow. When there is no internal debate to choose one or another, only that peace is the compass in every decision or thought we create. More often than not, choosing peace is skewed towards choosing the good. You know that it was peace that guided you to make the decision when whatever you choose won't feel like you gave something else up to make it. Whatever is decided is focused on being gentle on oneself before, during and after the decision is made. 

Through deliberate experimentation, I am beginning support the idea that change in a person is simply a person getting to know himself better. New environments bring out dormant characteristics someone has always had. It may look like  one has changed, but really these changes are just external manifestations of one’s fluid and flexible personality. It’s the shadow revealing itself. Or the light. And anxiety lies in overthinking about the good and the bad, in the fear of being labeled as this or that upon action. Anxiety lies in inaction, not in the act of making the decision, but in the thinking through involved in making decisions and going over the consequences of having done them, time and time again. Anxiety lies in hindsight, where thinking about the past and future overwhelm the present. 

These are all just ideas I’ve been toying with in my quest to understand peace, anxiety, fear and the creative potential of man to transform anything “negative” into something “positive”. Reality is what you make of it, and we are all equipped with a mind that can create. We can all access this peaceful state, this altered reality. But sometimes, we forget to celebrate internal victories that are equally as astounding as conventional pillars of success such as a having a stellar career or finding love.

There is peace when man can stand his ground regardless of a positive or negative event thrown in his way by the mysterious universe. When light and shadow coexist peacefully, our existence becomes richer and our creative potential, limitless.

Altered reality?