You’re a woman, so you like to get dressed up and go to parties. That’s what women like to do.
It was about two and a half years ago that I came to Guam from Los Angeles, and it was around the same time that I was starting to find my feminism. I might have moved here as the current popularity of feminism started to blossom — which was probably part of the reason feminist ideas were finding their way to me. Beyoncé was about to release her self-titled album, The Punk Singer was about to get added to Netflix’s library, and Roxane Gay was about to publish two books at once.
You’re not married? Aww, that’s okay. You’ll meet someone.
When I moved to Guam, none of this had happened yet, and I was still mired in what I now understand as a patriarchal and conservative mindset that kept me thinking of “feminism” as a dirty word. I didn’t consider myself a feminist because I felt feminists would most likely disparage the way I liked to express myself. I thought that my half-joking objectification of men, my longing for a husband and children, and appreciation for prettiness were looked down upon. I thought that it was feminist behavior for women to trash each other as competitors instead of compatriots. I didn’t want to belong to a group that did more excluding than including, even though my pro-choice, pro-equal-opportunity, pro-diversity, pro-woman values were essential feminist values.
She’s probably in the bathroom checking her makeup.
I am very proud of my roots. My single mother raised me in a radically progressive household. She believed in the labor movement and was a vocal union representative who went on strike with her fellow public school teachers for two months until the government negotiated with the union for a fairer contract. I grew up in Hawaii during a time when Hawaiian activists were beginning to organize and demand independence instead of reparations from the United States government for its occupation of the islands that were once a monarchy. I was immersed in talk of workers’ rights and indigenous rights. It was an exciting time to be alive and to have the seeds of activism planted in me.
Don’t let his behavior bother you. Boys will be boys.
When I moved to Guam, I started to learn about the matrilineal traditions of Chamorro society. Chamorros proudly note that women claim authority over many aspects of everyday life; it’s one of the aspects of the indigenous culture that somehow escaped the macho Spanish and American colonizers. There are quite a few very interesting articles about women’s role in Chamorro society that you can read here at Guampedia.
Women keep having babies so they can get more food stamps, that’s why there are so many moms with 12 kids, all with different fathers.
I was also surrounded by interesting, complex women with impressive careers and powerful connections. The more I learned about Guam, and the movers and shakers in government and civic life, the more women I came to admire.
I’m harder on you because you’re a girl.
And yet, everyday I found myself being given pieces of advice about my womanhood that I didn’t ask for and felt belittled by. I’ve been told that because I am a woman, I must be jealous or crazy. Women are naturally inclined to want marriage and children, one person said to me, so that’s what’s expected. I was told that because I’m independent, my male significant-others must be Yes Men. At a bar, I was told by a strange dude to enter myself in a wet T-shirt contest because my breasts were probably spectacular. I found myself being told to smile by strange men, or honked at or yelled at by men in passing cars, and I’ve plucked stalkery love notes from my windshield left there by strangers. When a stranger offered to give me his phone number, he threatened me after I told him, “No, Thank you.” I experienced this kind of harassment more often in two years living in Guam than I’d experienced during my ten years in Los Angeles.
Breastfeeding in public is disgusting. It wouldn’t be appropriate for women to walk around with just thong bikini bottoms. Same thing with breastfeeding.
Never before did I feel the need to defend, not just my physical safety and mere existence as a woman in public, but also the personal and professional choices that I’ve made and continue to make.
Smile, girl… Smile!… SMILE! COME ON, SMILE! I SAID, SMILE!
At first, I thought I’d been lied to. How could a matrilineal society, a culture that places so much importance on the opinions and decisions of women, allow for such attitudes to persist? For a matriarchal society, there sure are a lot of microaggressions that dig at women for simply existing, for having bodies, for dressing our bodies in clothes, for making decisions about our health, for bearing children, for not bearing children, for having opinions, for not having opinions, for apologizing, for not apologizing, for falling in love, for remaining unwed, for making money, for using food stamps, for being too aggressive, for not being aggressive enough.
I’m a gay man. I can say whatever I want to a woman.
There are statistical trends specific to Guam’s women that are striking: the rate of sexual assault against women is higher here than in most states or other territories. There is inequity between the incomes of men and women. Laws that restrict access to reproductive healthcare keep getting passed, and these are laws that limit the control a woman has over her health. In light of these things I’ve written about, researched and have seen others write about, it’s disheartening to read a local columnist who writes like this: “Radical feminists have distorted the idea of “equality” by pushing women-centricism and reverse to the mode of gender inequality – this time, tipping the balance toward the opposite side. Such a retrogressive attitude threatens to stunt the movement’s maturity.”
I’ll bet he’s only nice to you because you’re a cute girl.
If I’m to compare life in Guam to life in Los Angeles, the biggest difference has been my perspective — not the amount of misogyny occurring on a daily basis. I realized that Guam isn’t more of a sexist place to live than anywhere else, it’s just not any less sexist.
Learning about feminism peeled back quite a few layers that I didn’t realize were there. In reading blogs like Bitch and Feministing, and diving deeper into the books of bell hooks, I started to hear the aggression and see the barriers that have probably always existed where ever I’ve lived. Now that these ideas have greater meaning to me, they’re much louder than they probably were before and I just so happen to be in Guam during this awakening.
As important as it is to understand misogyny in its subtler forms even as they persist in a women-centric society, I must also acknowledge the truth of feminine power that I’ve come to know here. The female relationships I’ve made on the island are deeply nourishing for my spirit. Guam’s women are represented by a diverse range of people who aren’t afraid to be themselves, who have different values and priorities, passions and ambitions. Hannah Iriarte‘s Mom in Progress column in the Pacific Daily News has inspired me with its complexity, range of emotion and honesty. My godmother Carlotta Leon Guerrero, is the OG of policy makers forging landmark legislation protecting the rights of women and girls. Chamorro leaders like Guam’s Public Auditor Doris Flores Brooks, Port Authority General Manager Joann Brown, and Bank of Guam President Lourdes Leon Guerrero, among many others, maintain a level of lady swag that I aspire to.
Also, if I was a student at the University of Guam, I’d totally spend all my time in the Women and Gender Studies Department. As a civilian, I’ll just have to keep tabs on Isa Kelley Bowman’s blog and try to make it to future public forums.
I have so much to learn, and I’m deeply flawed. But I’m open to confronting conservative mindsets ingrained in my programming and tearing them down.