Sex and Feminism Lessons from My Mother

Make no mistake; your husband will leave you. He’d walk out the door or he’d be carried out in a coffin. Either way, you have to be prepared.

This was my mother’s argument for why a woman should have a job, regardless of her partner’s income level. She disdained “plain” housewives, contending that they’d be utterly helpless and miserable if and when their husbands leave them. A woman should be financially independent; she shouldn’t have to ask her husband for money just to buy a tube of lipstick.

She started lecturing me on this back when I was in grade school. How a 12-year-old would have use for this ominous insight on marriage was beyond me but then again, dispensing age-appropriate information wasn’t really her strong suit.

I was six years old when I was first introduced to condoms. I made balloons out of them. At nine, I already had a theoretical understanding of how to take contraceptive pills, how an IUD is inserted and positioned in the uterus, and when it’s safe to have sex on the natural rhythm method.

My mother is a midwife and our house was a de facto holding center for USAID-donated contraceptives that would be distributed in the mountainous areas of Sarangani Province. Like any other kid, my badgering skills were phenomenal and I’d often ask her what those oily rubber thingies were for (aside from making excellent balloons).

She always answered in a clinical manner, as if it was perfectly normal to talk about these things. It was only in high school, when I smuggled contraceptive samples to class, that I realized not every kid gets this kind (or any kind) of sex education. My classmates gawked at the condom like it was an alien life form from Mars.

Despite all these, my mother is still not exactly the bastion of feminist thinking or liberal values. She still thinks that a woman should get married and have children. Otherwise, she won’t be as happy or as fulfilled. She also believes that premarital sex is a great sin and contraceptives should only be used by married couples. After all, she is still a product of her time and subject to the social norms of her generation.

But through her, I learned early on that women don’t have to apologize for being strong and independent; that they can and should decide how many children they’ll have; and that they are partners and not subordinates in a marriage. Not everyone can claim she got this kind of tutorial by the time she was 12.

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