I Am Woman

March 8th, 2021 · No Comments

By Benjie de Ubago

Women of the world, raise your glasses and cheers!

We’ve come a long way!  My mother would have preferred me to take on a more sedated type of job, behind a desk or stuck in a corner. I on the other hand chose to be in the world of television, the media and advertising, where frenzy is whipped at a moment’s notice.  This was a man’s world and women were supposed to be simply secretaries, at the beck and call of the men who ruled.

In the 70s, I experienced gender bias and inequality.  I held a higher position than my brother who was younger than me, and yet, he was paid more than me. For the simple reason that I was female! 

It didn’t matter whether it was in Australia or in the Philippines. It was the same, perhaps a little more in the Philippines as men were raised to be machos. And none more macho than the men in Malacañang.  They were more demanding to the point of being unreasonable. Women were simply cast in the shadows, stereotyped and meant for menial tasks.  Strong women with confidence were frowned upon and talked about behind their backs.  They were considered a threat.  It improved slightly in the 80s but you still had to fight for something you wanted – even to have your opinion simply heard.

The media was crawling with wolves where men who thought they were God’s gift to women. Even the University cancelled our on-site media training for fear the students would be exposed and polluted by the undesirables.  It was the game then, and one simply had to find balance somehow. You had to learn to play and keep distance at the same time.  It was a matter of standing up for your values.  You may suffer the consequences but in time, you win.

I once walked into the Manager’s Office, in tears, complaining about the workload. No sympathy was offered, only – “Go out and wipe your face. No room for women in tears here at the Agency.”  Cruel, perhaps, but I’ve never had a tear drop in front of a man ever since.

There were no set hours for work in the media and the advertising industry. The job had to be done ‘yesterday’ and there was no escaping the hours. Midnight to dawn rendezvous was simply the norm.  If the man could do it – so could the women! Besides, you wanted to be in it – so do it! I’ve had to chase a boat; get drenched in the rain; and wade through flood waters – all for the love of the job.

Another time, working at an agency as an account executive, I was ordered to buy a packet of cigarettes for the boss who was going into the boardroom for a meeting.  I don’t usually mind getting something for the boss if I myself was going out. But this was a “stop what you’re doing and buy me cigarettes” kind of order.  I did obey and then marched straight into the board room with his packet of cigarettes. I slapped it down on the table and said: “This is the first and the last time I’m buying you a packet of cigarettes.”  I turned and walked out but I could feel the boardroom eyes piercing through my back. I thought, “That’s it, I’m fired!”  Surprisingly, I wasn’t.  In fact, after the meeting he apologized.

I was very careful to give in to special requests that were not in my job description. While giving in to a simple request may seem harmful and a nice thing to do, one had to be careful not to be stuck doing that job. It was a case of being very definite about what role you wanted to play in the company.

Looming in their heads too was the cloud of impending marriage and motherhood. And then what!  When I went for my first property, the bank manager entertained my brother in law and not me.  He thought I could not afford the repayments and more importantly, I could get pregnant.

There are so many other stories but for now I thank the women in my life – my Mother, my Grandmother and my Aunt – strong women albeit with kind hearts; who could not stand mediocrity; all of whom stood their ground and got what they wanted. Likewise, to the men I came across who pushed me to be stronger than them.  

Yes, we’ve come a long way.  Let’s keep going!  So here’s to the empowered women of today – the confident, the smart professionals who can now have it all.

8 March 2021

Tags: News