How I ran into subtle sexism in the Filipino workplace

So it was #metoo: ‘You just need to make lambing’

The “Me too” movement has created a ripple effect on how women are treated and perceived the world over. The Philippines is always a bit late on picking up trends, and coupled with a very non-confrontational society, these issues are not always addressed.

I’ve been keeping this story to myself for a few years now, because I honestly did not know what to do with it. There are horrible stories of outright abuse and unfair treatment that we hear about. However, what I experienced was a subtle form of male misogyny that I couldn’t even detect until it was too late.

In 2016, I was given the opportunity to head a digital magazine, with an all-woman team that I had chosen. The company who invested in this project assigned a male project manager who I was supposed to work with. In the beginning, the work relationship was very fruitful, and led to many innovative ideas. The company was housed in a corporate structure—something different from what I was used to in the publishing world, so the project manager (PM) helped me find my way through this when asking for things from the higher-ups.

I felt like I was being treated as an equal; I was the head of my team and he was a head of his team, and we worked together on the same level. I think I felt comfortable enough with him to speak freely, as I always have.

I grew up in a co-ed school where my male classmates evolved from little boys who annoyed me in the playground, to protective brothers in my teenage and adult years. I never saw boys or men as people I had to be careful around, or wary of, or people you don’t give off the wrong signals to. After high school, I studied abroad, and still had the same safe-space male friends, so I never worried about this.

As the work relationship evolved into a more casual one, I found myself on the receiving end of inappropriate comments. It started out with my PM making comments about other women to me that degraded them ever so slightly. Then he started sharing stories about his wife and how he had to keep her in line. Before I knew it, I was on the receiving end of comments about my clothes or body. At the same time, I felt that I received extra attention from him that was all very confusing. For a while, I didn’t say anything to anyone because I didn’t know what it was. Was he flirting? Was I misinterpreting him? This led to me becoming quite emotional at work because I had no idea what was happening. Daily comments and flirtatious text messages with the same tone took their toll on me. Moreover, I felt the PM exerting his “power” over me in the work place, and I felt my control of the project slipping away.

It almost felt like an attack that started with familiarization that eventually led to a feeling of degraded self-worth. I had no idea how this even happened.

Nothing physical happened, but the level of emotional and mental abuse of letting someone like this into my life haunted me

I finally broke down one day and told my husband everything, in tears. I felt disgusted with myself. I felt cheap and gross. Nothing physical happened, but the level of emotional and mental abuse of letting someone like this into my life haunted me. How did I let this happen? Was it my fault? Did I lead him on?

My husband told me to quit right away. When I explained my resignation to the big boss, I decided to tell him everything.  He was a very corporate-oriented person, and I could tell he was uncomfortable listening to me, but he did try his best. He apologized for what happened, and accepted my resignation. I never found out what happened to the PM.

Perhaps the worst part of all this was when I told the female members of my team that the PM was giving me a hard time and being inappropriate. One girl said, “You just need to make lambing, and you’ll get your way.” The other said, “Oh he likes you for sure, so he’s trying to annoy you.”

I honestly could not believe this was coming from women. Was this behavior really acceptable, and should I be adjusting to it—or worse, be flattered by it all? That’s when it hit me: maybe the reason things happen is because women let them. I was guilty of this; I felt guilty for letting the attention and flattery get to me, and eventually, I felt my control slipping away. Before I knew it, it was a mess.

I have since ventured off into a new career, and yet still find men like this. Once again I found myself working with a very ambitious owner of a start-up who had great ideas. Again, I acted like an equal because he treated me like one. It took about six months for him to assert himself in the work field, taking over project ideas and eventually making inappropriate comments about other women to me. (Seriously, is it a formula these misogynists follow?) This time I knew better and put a stop to that partnership.

It seems that the formula with men who see women as a threat is first to get them to be comfortable, to feel like one of the boys. This is both intriguing and fascinating, and makes you feel like you are the center of attention. But somehow this seems like a tactic to bring you down. It starts with a bit of assertion on the male’s part, to show that they are better, then ends in degrading comments. I wish I had known that this was possible sooner.

I grew up with wonderful male role models around me—my father let my mother follow her dreams, and told me I could achieve anything. My close guy friends in school are like my brothers, and my husband supports everything I do. I felt like for the first time in 40 years, I was thrust into the real world and saw how awful men could really be. I hear the stories of much worse things, so I thought to myself, well, maybe this is nothing, I didn’t suffer like others did.  But it’s not nothing; it’s is something. I write this story many years later, as it happened again, but this time I knew better.

Women have to become ‘bitches’ to get what they want or to not get pushed around

All the stereotypes of “boss babe, boss bitch” come to mind. And I guess they are stereotypes because women have to become “bitches” to get what they want or to not get pushed around. For the first time in many years, I am seeing that it’s true. I am not in a corporate setting, fighting my way to the top. I am a regular woman, trying to do my work and make things happen. I realize that the Philippines is indeed very male-dominated and women are constantly put down. Our very own president did just that to our female vice president—patronized her, then stripped her of her power. It seems to be a common trait with males who feel threatened. But it didn’t happen to me in a way that was obvious. It started with patronizing that ended in emotional erosion. For a long time, I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think it was anything. I write this to share that this is indeed very real, it happens, and our young girls need to be told how to fight this battle.

I share this today, because unfortunately, I think the saying that men and women cannot be friends is true in the professional setting, at least. It does not seem that men can handle women who know what they want. My advice to young women would be to keep it professional, stick to your lane, and go for what you want without anyone’s help. In my case, the PM took the “savior” role with me, to help me get what I needed from the big boss. I didn’t think I could do it myself, but I could have. I was a victim of “mansplaining” and didn’t realize it at the time (although to be fair, the word was coined much later).

Find men in your life who truly want to help you. The ones who are threatened by you are easy to spot—big talkers who make themselves seem important. There are good men in the world—I married one of them. Keep the bad ones away, and stick to your guns to get what you want.

About author


She is a wife and mother who pursues her own career and passions.

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