Time and again, we’ve seen and been told what it was like for a woman to live in a man’s world. Allow me, therefore, to rephrase the question: what’s it like for this man, meaning me, one raised by women, to live in a man’s world?
Naturally, one would well be advised to first dig into the context of the question before daring to answer it.
Having been born in the early 1960s, I became aware that I was living in a man’s world somewhere between nine and fourteen. Safe to say, my high school years—the 1970s.
My father’s side of the family is predominantly Spanish-lineage male, the philanthropist side of the old-moneyed bourgeoisie, highly-educated yet sometimes gruff to the bone, with the Batangueño’s idea of machismo, mixed with expensive alcohol and tales of daring, running in their blue-blooded veins.
The machismo I came face to face with in my youth, which was more generally ‘cultural’ than distinctly ancestral, revolved around girls, guns, and gutter talk which were often told as puns and jests. It should be rightfully assumed that the idea of homosexuality then was never anything but an insult to the “barako”.
Beautiful young women were conquests to be had, a kind of numbers game where the more you have lined up for the “kill,” the better it was for your ego.
Forcibly taking a woman, of course, was, and still is, not an option. I grew up in a family who love their women with fanatical jealousy and prejudice, so much so that anyone who dared hurl a spicy glance at one of our own could end up in the ICU. And many did, in fact, to the pride and enjoyment of our fang-spangled lot.
Besides, my grandmother Paz—a lovely Ilongga of amazing courage (the revered matriarch of all the boys of the family) and talent in the kitchen—packed a .38 caliber, smoked thin cigars, and relished her daily dose of whiskey. She oozed passion and compassion like no other grandma I know, and dared equal that compassion with boldness.
From this amazing woman I learned to be gallant, to always be sure that my heart and mind are in the right place, to not give up while confronted by difficulties, to not cringe in the face of hard decisions, and to soldier on despite a steep climb. She was a man’s woman, more warrior than angel.
Thus, the men I grew up with found the act of forcing a woman to give their consent to male advances largely unacceptable behavior, what with all the talk of possessing better lineage and looks than the average Juan.
Flirting with the end result of getting into a woman’s pants, on the other hand, was believed to be a universal outcome of being a lady’s man (as long as it was us doing it), even laudable, behaviour.
To be a virgin at 14 was like a curse, and the quickest way to debunk rumors of male virginity (which then had a way of spreading like the plague) was to pay your way to sexual bliss and live to tell the tale between swigs of antibiotics.
Women then were thought of as home buddies, the masters and queens of the house and the kitchen. A working woman was a thing to frown at, albeit it wasn’t openly discussed or encouraged.
If at all a woman must give up her queenship of the house, she must, at the very least, fall under three worthwhile professions: a lawyer, doctor, or an engineer. Any natural impulse towards the arts, say, as a poet, pianist, or as a storyteller, was anathema.
What might once have inspired the status symbol of being alpha male is now intolerable to present-day society. Back then it was as natural as breathing air, as guzzling strong black coffee in the morning or reading the newspapers. Or better yet, pulling the trigger of a .45 caliber at the moon to celebrate a male virgin’s coming of age.
On the other side of my genetic fence was my mother’s side of the family, primarily female—glamorous yet simple, fashion-conscious, the nouveau riche’s version of the not-quite-famous but with millions in the bank.
I grew up largely under the care of my grandmother Elisea, the enchanting, glitzy matriarch whose sense of what was trendy bordered on the expensive. She taught me to cook fancy meals, tend the flower gardens, do the rounds of the market, play the piano, read books, appreciate women’s fashion, and to read and write in English. She was such an important figure in my life that she even once convinced me to be a priest.
My mother’s cousins were, in the main, female, and their children, too. This alone should give you an idea how I grew up—playing girly games, listening to girly talk. I didn’t really mind it back then for as long as I give the other boys the chance to snatch me away at a moment’s notice.
Sans the benefit of siblings, I was raised by my two grandmothers in the way they knew how. The women of my family shaped me into the man that I have become, one who despises the suffocating air of machismo even during a drinking binge with my all-boys gang. I can’t sit for a minute as jiggers are passed without wondering where all the women had gone.
For the longest time I have wondered why most of my closest friends in college were women, with only three men I could call real friends in all of my 54 years.
This doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t have to fight tooth and nail against ideas about women that most women find disagreeable today. I was, alas, a person of my era, a time when men gave the last word, demanded unflinching loyalty and love, catcalled without consequence, fought for his right over and against the rights of the “lesser” gender to be and be loved for who they are.
Even today, I find myself peeving against the women of my familywhen they go out wearing short shorts or clothes that dare show more than they should. I still consider it not within the realm of a woman’s possibility to go out or come home late at night, or enjoy a drink or two with other men.
While I fully trust the females in my family to take good care of themselves even without me by their side (I have to admit I taught them to be armed and dangerous), a bigger distrust of the men around them forces me to blink. The unlearning I have to face is tiresome, and for what it’s worth, quite the swashbuckling life.
I don’t know. Perhaps men are hot-wired to think they are always better, stronger, and way more intelligent than women. Yet my own experience tells me otherwise. Thus I feel it is to man’s detriment that we are blind and pig-headed about who we think we are.
My grandmothers, bless their beautiful souls, were proof undeniable that women are the much braver and intelligent of the genders. And as a man largely raised by women in a man’s world, I have little choice but to unlearn years of warped self-perception.G