As an all-girl design studio, we share experiences that only women encounter. One such experience is being called certain words that paint a negative perception of what we are trying to do or who we're trying to be: emotional, bossy, soft, sensitive, angry, vulnerable, afraid, ambitious. We hear these words all the time—and sometimes we get hurt, sometimes we feel wronged.
But we know ourselves better than anyone. We know what those words represent, and what they truly say about us.
So in celebration of International Women's Day 2019, we want to tell our stories to show people what these words really mean. We're owning these words. We're owning our power.
Every time I hear the sentence 'you're too emotional,' it is often accompanied by a condescending tone, especially as a business major graduate prepped to be in a male-dominated field.
With bottom-lines, ratios, and decisions to make, I saw being emotional as an advantage. I saw my emotions as a way to connect with people and see a different perspective that would guide me in making more human-centric decisions rather than seeing emotions as a debilitating weakness.
It will take very little to realize that these numbers and decisions affect people. Your emotions will enable you to be compassionate about what these numbers truly mean to people and to society. Yes, I am emotional. And that is because I genuinely care and I strive to do all things wholeheartedly.
Although this isn't a free pass to get carried away by your emotions—rather, it's a reminder that you shouldn't allow anyone to tell you to put out your flame. Emotions are power and being emotional is the strength to meaningfully express yourself in order to defend the values you stand for and stand up for people who need your strength the most.
Vulnerability is a trait I've always thought to be a requirement for a human. Throughout the years of being a woman designer, I realized that the only way I could truly empathize with others is if I allow myself to be exposed to all the possible emotions and outcomes an interaction can bring. This could include responses of gratitude or grief, acceptance or dissent, both from me and the person I'm talking to.
Conversations with members of the communities we work with are an integral part of our design process. This is a photo of me talking to Ms. Tarhata, a principal at a Temporary Learning Space in Brgy. Sagonsongan, taken last year when we went to Marawi to interview displaced residents of Ground Zero. We were there to get stories of aspirations and hope, but the process entailed that they had to tell us detailed accounts of what happened during the siege, what they had to leave behind, and what was left when they came back.
It was a difficult but necessary situation to be in, none of us could fully prepare for it. And I found that being vulnerable is the best state to find yourself in.
During these moments, all you can do is trust that the person you're talking to will meet you in the middle and hope you get to walk with them the rest of the way.
I have always been associated with the word angry—I'm always angry about something. I'm usually vocal about my opinion, and regardless of what that opinion is, it's always seen as an expression of anger.
There was a time where I suppressed myself from talking, afraid of being labelled as angry. But I realize that my anger is important in a sense that it makes my no as strong as my yes. I know that anger has always been my guiding light to see and stand up to what's wrong.
One afternoon in a makeshift classroom in Brgy. Sagonsongan, up in the mountains of Marawi, we talked to a Grade 5 student about her life after the siege. We asked her what she missed about home. Before she could answer, I quickly told her it was okay if she wasn't comfortable talking about it—I noticed she was smiling but her eyes were brimming with tears.
I used to think the actual designing part would be the most difficult in the design process, but sometimes just the first step—research, empathy—is the most painstaking and, in occasions such as the one above, heart-wrenching. Fully and confidently empathizing with others requires a lot of mental and emotional effort, especially if they've been through distressing experiences or if they're from a different culture. It might not make or break a project, but being attuned to others' emotions makes a big difference for the people you connect with.
It's time we changed the way we define "powerful" women. There's strength in being aware of others' feelings and being able to adapt to them. We can be powerful not despite our sensitivity but because of it.
Growing up, I was told that I cared too much and was even reprimanded for it. I also trusted people so much that I was seen as weak, emotional, sensitive, and overly dramatic. People would say "babae ka kasi, kaya ka ganyan," or "be more like a man" because they're braver and stronger than us, apparently.
It hurts when the people closest to you are the ones bringing you and other women down. I was raised to be strong by bottling up my emotions; I was told that crying was a sign of weakness. Because of this, it was harder for me to express and be myself. There were even times my relatives, family members, and schoolmates would say that women can't be leaders for they are too emotional, soft and aren't capable of handling the responsibility. Hearing them say those things made me wonder if they think that I can't handle anything as well because I'm...soft? Because I'm a woman?
Through the years I stopped feeling sorry for myself and realized that there's really nothing wrong with showing how much you care. There is nothing wrong with trying to see the best in people and showing them kindness even in your own little way. It should be a basic human trait to be willing to listen to and be there for others. To be soft is also to be strong because it means that I am true to my feelings and what I believe in, and that there are other people outside my world that I should care about. As a designer, empathizing with people is an important part of the whole process of design because it is letting go of what you know and who you are, and immersing yourself in the shoes of others.
A youth organization I deeply love consumed my younger years. They did not allow female leaders, for reasons I did not understand but supported. We had this setup where, as a pair, a girl and a boy would be the leaders of the organization (which I was asked to be), but the boy would have the title of President. He would represent the organization at all times. This skewed my definition of leadership at some point. I thought that I could lead, yes, but only up to a certain level.
They told me that a woman's strengths—being emotional, caring, nurturing—are best for taking care of people rather than leading them. I don't think they had any bad intentions and only tried to assign roles to make the organization more efficient.
But those roles box women in such a way that, if we do anything different, we are labelled negatively. Because we are not seen to be fit as leaders, any effort to become one is more difficult.
It's time to break these stereotypes and allow women not to just have a seat at the table, but also to lead the way they can and should. If what they say is true, that women are mostly driven by emotions such as love and care, then wouldn't that mean that most of the decisions we make as leaders would always be for the benefit of people, more than anything else?
When I was in university, there were times I wanted to join on-the-spot painting contests but I was so scared of people watching me work and judging me while the painting is still at its ugliest state. This is probably not an uncommon feeling for artists and designers, and even a crippling experience for some.
I'd say it was more of the latter for me, but I only realized this later in my college life that I had a fear of judgment. Not a fear of public speaking, or in this case public painting, but a fear of being negatively criticized.
Ever since I recognized I had this certain limitation, I've decided to keep challenging myself to push a little bit further than before. I knew that I didn't have to be perfect to do certain things and so I did things like auditioning as a DJ for our university's radio show and teaching an upcycled art workshop for kids. Of course the audition was a mess, hahaha! But the workshop was definitely better—with the help of a friend!
Everyone has fears. It's important to recognize them and to take the necessary steps towards conquering them. But know that it takes years to improve and that every step you take towards it is already courageous move in itself. So every time you do something out of your comfort, own it!
Irene (by Roxy)
Irene has been doing amazing work since I've known her. She's always at the top of her game, giving more than what is expected.
With her passion and grit, I always knew she would achieve her dreams. But what I learned about her is that she actively supports and encourages other people around her to fight for their own dreams. She never failed to support me in mine. I think that's what makes Irene exceptional—she's not only ambitious, but she inspires others to be the same.