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It’s never about what you wear

by Gaby Agbulos

Warning: This article speaks about harassment and violence.

BACK in 2020, the Lucban police made headlines after posting a statement on their social media saying, “Wag kayo magsuot ng pagkaikli-ikling damit at pag naman nabastos ay magsusumbong din sa amin.”

The Lucban police chief later apologized for the post, but until now, thousands of Filipinos still tell women that they should dress modestly to ensure this doesn’t keep happening. 

Today, I share the stories of three women who have been harassed in the past, as a solid f*ck you to anyone who may think that it’s about what a girl wears and not about men needing to learn how to control themselves and their perverted urges.

“People should stop blaming women for the abuse they experience,” said Joyce Remo, one of the women brave enough to share what she’d gone through.

“We can wear whatever we want, even the most sack-like clothes, and still be victims of harassment. It’s time we make men accountable for their horrendous acts and teach boys to have decent thoughts instead of lecturing girls to wear ‘modest clothes,’” she added.

DARI*, 19

I was just being polite by answering a stranger’s question. 

He got on the bus my brother and I took to get home and wanted to know if this one would be stopping by the driving school. He took this as an invitation to sit close to me despite there being so many vacant seats on the bus. 

[He] kept asking questions. My love life, in particular, was his topic of interest; he asked me twice for my number, stating we could get to know each other better, especially seeing as how I didn’t have a boyfriend.

The guy lived nearby, which meant I’d occasionally see him on the same bus. He constantly tried to get my attention, but I ignored him and made sure my little brother did the same. 

The third and last time I saw him was on the street.  I felt uncomfortable because despite how wide the street was, he made sure to walk right in front of me, maintaining eye contact as he did so. 

That encounter still lingers in my mind. As sad as it is to say, it makes me think twice about being nice to strangers. 

At the time of these encounters, I was 15. My little brother was 7.

I was wearing my school uniform. My P.E. attire consisted of a polo shirt, jogging pants, and sneakers. My regular uniform is a long-sleeve button-down, [a] skirt that barely touches my ankles, and plain black shoes.

JOYCE REMO, 23

Most of the harassment I’ve encountered happened in school. 

The earliest memory I could recall can be traced back to when I was in fourth grade when I just turned 10. 

It was during our science class and my male teacher was discussing male and female reproductive systems. During the discussion, he mentioned that upon puberty, girls will be growing “melons” around their chest area. 

He said that while at first, the growth could go unnoticed during the early stages, some “blessed” girls could experience early breast development and then pointed at me. He said this in front of the class with a disgusting grin on his face. 

My breasts back then were larger than other girls my age, and my uniform made it more noticeable. He also commented that mine were so rounded that he wonders if they juggle when I’m running or playing with my friends.

In junior high school, my ICT teacher always greeted me whenever we would bump into each other along the corridors of our building. At first, I thought he was just friendly, until this one instance when he suddenly grabbed me by the waist and asked me about the size of my waistline. 

I remember being frozen as he caressed my waist and told me it was so small it felt nice to touch it. I was in ninth grade, barely 15. I was wearing a baggy PE uniform.

During my sophomore year in college, just weeks before the pandemic hit the country, my professor sat beside me while I was waiting for my friends to finish their org duties. 

He told me he found my writing interesting, and said I should keep writing more. He even offered to hire me as his student assistant while touching my thigh. 

I was wearing a long skirt. I felt dirty.

SARAH*, 21

The first time I was ever harassed was when an old friend from junior high school suddenly reached out to reconnect with me. We used to hang out all the time, but he distanced himself after getting a girlfriend.

I was happy, and even happier when he asked me to come with him to drink with several other old schoolmates. 

While we were all drinking, I was confused when everyone I knew suddenly started going home all at once, leaving me with my old friend and with two or three other men that I’d see around the halls a lot, but was never really close with.

My friend told me to sit next to him. I guess he wanted to keep me safe.

During the car ride home, I suddenly got hit by a wave of nausea. I’d always been a light drinker.

His friend sat in the front of the Grab car, while he got in to sit next to me. After a few moments of silence had passed, he started touching me. I moved away, made a noise of disapproval, and then he started to kiss me. 

I sat frozen in fear, then pushed him away again. As soon as the car stopped by my house, I practically ran home. 

I was 16 or 17 when this all went down. I was wearing a pair of leggings, a tank top, and a jacket. I remember leaving my room in said tank top and then going back upstairs to get my jacket because I felt it would be safer if I didn’t show too much skin. Turns out it didn’t actually make much of a difference.

The second time it happened was when I was out bar-hopping for the first time. 

My friend and I had fooled around a little bit before going to meet with the rest of our group, and we all drank shots and danced the night away. I remember feeling touched as he and the rest of my friend group stood up for me after some random guy had hugged me, groping me without my consent. 

I crashed at his dorm that night, on the verge of passing out as soon as I hit the bed. I was a little allergic to alcohol, so I had difficulty breathing any time I drank. 

As I lay with my eyes closed on his bed, my head pounding, I felt him start to unbutton my pants. I froze, trying to figure out if what was happening was reality or if it was all in my head. 

He pushed his hand into my pants and started touching me. I lay still, praying that he’d take my immobility as a sign to stop.

When he saw that I wasn’t going to be waking up any time soon, he stopped. 

I was shaking the entire walk to my house. He messaged me afterward, telling me that he touched me, but I wasn’t moving so he stopped. I remember telling him it was okay, then crying myself to sleep the night I got home.

I was wearing a tank top, jeans, and a flannel shirt, again because I didn’t want to show too much skin that night. And again, it didn’t make much of a difference.

There were many moments of cat-calling and dirty looks scattered in between that experience and the next one, but the one that stood out the most after that was during a jeep ride home with two of my friends.

It had been a great day, a girl’s day, y’know? We watched a movie and spent way too much on delicious food at this cute little restaurant, and we went home with our stomachs full and with stories to last a lifetime. 

Then on the way home, a group of young boys rode in the same jeep as us. I had my guard up from the start as one of them started coming closer, asking me for a high five. Another tried kissing my friend, who was sitting next to me. I did my best to block him, to keep him away from her. 

As soon as we got down the jeep, a scream rose up in my throat as one of the boys came after me, grabbing my ass and then running back to his friends, laughing. I swore at him, feeling myself fill up with rage. 

My anger came out in hot tears streaming down my face. My friends and I were supposed to hang out somewhere for a smoke break, but at that moment all I wanted was to go home. 

I cried the entire time I was walking and broke down in my mother’s arms as soon as I opened the door. 

I was 21. I was wearing a bomber jacket, tights, and a dress that ended mid-thigh. I remember being so happy because it was the first time I was wearing it out, and after weeks of getting my ass kicked by my body dysmorphia, I actually thought I looked really good.

After I got up, away from the arms of my mother, she told me that next time, I should wear something less revealing to ensure this doesn’t happen again. 

And only a few months later, it did happen again. Only this time it was in church, wherein the man behind me started tapping my back, fiddling with my bra clasp. Again, I found myself frozen in fear, and could do nothing but silently cry and clench my fists. 

I was wearing a baggy sweater and baggy jeans to match. If it was still about what I was wearing that time, then f*ck if I know what “less revealing” means.

* Dari and Sarah’s names have been changed for privacy purposes.

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