OFW/ Migrant issues

When decent Filipinas get indecent proposals

Firstly, let  us define what  “decent ” means in this article.  It refers to an OFW  Filipina who is not a prostitute.  The job or salary does not matter. Whether she is an office employee, a teacher, a sales  staff  or a household helper — as long as she is not in the sex trade —  she is decent, as far as this article is concerned.

If you are a decent Filipina  and you  decide to work abroad ,  especially in an Arab country, you have  to bear in mind that  you are  carrying a stigma . And that you will be  working  and living in a backdrop of  prejudice related to loose morals and sexuality. Most likely, you  will be mistaken for a prostitute  or a  low-income worker  moonlighting  as a hooker.   You  will have to prepare yourself   for  insulting  remark,  degrading looks from men and women  from other countries, and brazen attempts  to  take advantage of you.

“ Indecent proposals ”  are a  common staple of a Pinay OFW’s  experience.  The proposal comes in different  male tactics.  She sits alone  in a café, and someone passes a piece of tissue  paper which says “ Wanna go out ? How much ? ”. She walks on a street, a  car passes by  and the  male  passengers  taunt her with  “ Five dinars ! ”  ( or riyals , depending on the country . And yes, that’s supposed to be  her  “ tag  price” . ) She goes  jogging , a car trails  her and the driver “ offers a ride ”. Decent Filipinas experience  this  almost all the time . And sometimes, it’s hard to  tolerate the insult and control the rage within.

Before we go further, let us take a look at the  root cause of this perception problem. We have to admit that there are Pinays  working  or sidelining as prostitutes abroad. We cannot deny that . We have no official statistics on this  but a short stroll on the streets of Dubai  or Hong Kong will reveal the scope of this  unfortunate truth. Economic hardships at home have forced not a few Filipinas into this lowly  trade. As the diaspora has  widened, so has  the stereotype.

Of course, prostitution is a universal phenomenon. No country doesn’t have it . Some won’t just admit it. It is not confined to the Filipinas alone . But  stereotypes  are very difficult to change. Even if you slap  some people with a UN-  or ILO-certified fact sheet saying that most expat Filipinas are actually  in decent, respectable careers — their perception won’t change . Their opinion has been marred  by previous experiences or by what they hear from their own kind.  People will believe only what they want to believe.  It’s useless to explain.

This prejudice is not a problem for women who are really in the sex trade. They are  ready for it . They have hardened their guts for it. It is really the decent women  like you who have to bear the brunt of  the disdain, the heckling , the danger.

 However , there are things  you  can do to  lessen the likelihood of getting that “proposal”.  

You have to be careful with your  behavior when in public. Courtesy is always  advisable  but too much  friendliness can be misinterpreted as an “ invitation”. Eye-to-eye contact  with men poses no problem  in the work place or in a professional context , but outside of  work  — like in a mall  or on the street— eye contact , especially a lingering one,  will  send the wrong message . A revealing attire and a flirtatious  gesture may also  be taken as an “ advertisement” .—-so it’s better to cover that skin and watch your gestures . You are not in the Philippines. Moreover, you should avoid isolated places where shady deals usually happen . When  you are alone , a conspicuously plugged ear phone  usually discourages conversation —let alone “ proposals ”. It will even save  you   from hearing unwelcome  comments .  

But what can you  do when you actually get  that “ proposal” ?

When it happens in a public place  like a street or a restaurant, keep calm and make no scene when there is no imminent danger. Calmly , but seriously  say “ NO.”  Men who make the “ offer” usually do not insist  when they realize that the woman is not for it . If they do insist , then , it’s time to make a little scene to attract  other people’s attention. Say NO in a strong , raised  tone . Public attention  will likely make them stop and leave . As for hecklers in passing cars, you can just ignore them. It’s not advisable to yell back. By the time you have screamed  your protestations , the car is gone  and you only get puzzled or sarcastic stares from passers-by. If it is very unlikely  that  you and  that  man would cross paths again —  you can just let it pass.

 Indeed, there are many times in  your expat life  when  you have  to control your  anger . Other women choose to  exchange verbal tirades  when they hear offensive comments . But this may spiral out of control . For example, if the man is a local , and he  felt offended  or embarrassed by  your reaction,  he can give   you a problem more complicated  than a bruised pride. He can easily trace where you live and harass you to no end .He  may even be a  relative of your  boss and invent things that may jeopardize your employment .   Remember , you are in an alien  territory . Locals can circumvent almost everything. So, before you go ballistic  because someone made an indecent proposal — ask yourself how far you can fight back when things get nastier . Sometimes , walking  away from an insult  is the wisest thing to do.

When the proposal is repeated by the same person – such as a neighbor or a co-worker —you  should tackle things  differently.  Keeping quiet is not  the right thing to do. If you simply keep quiet  and ignore  him, he may assume that you are just  playing hard to get .  Make  sure that you have said  “NO”  in a very clear manner . Warn him that if he repeats  his offensive offer, you will  report him . With the use of your  phone, you can actually record  his attempts.  Telling  someone else about these incidents is also a good move . At work , you may inform  your supervisor or  a Human Resources  staff   or anyone else who has some degree of power.  You may also tell the landlord  or  a trustworthy neighbor.   It is also safer  to live with or  near other Filipinos. 

On the other hand ,  the case changes when a  man insists  and seems determined  to force you. That’s no longer just a “ proposal “ . It’s  an impending rape and assault . Your life is now on the line. That’s the time to make a scene .  Attract attention. Shout  for help. Use your gadget.  If you have time , take a photo of the person  and send it to somebody online .  You have to  move away from the situation as quickly as possible.

At this point, we  have to emphasize  the importance  of personal image. Right from the beginning of your expat life , you have to  build a positive reputation. Excel in your work without bragging  and behave  in such a manner that commands respect . If you do this , more people will be on your side.  It also  makes you credible when you make a complaint against someone . It sounds unfair — but no one believes a flirtatious woman  when she sues someone  for sexual  harassment. And yes, many Filipinas are perceived as flirtatious and loose.

Let us summarize  what we have been talking about .   Calmly  reject  one-time random indecent proposals from strangers. Speak up  loud and clear against a repeated  offer from the same person  in a familiar place.  Run away  and scream for help when  someone gets too close  or starts touching you. 

Indeed, a Pinay OFW’s life  is  a tough lot. Surely, you will  face  many  trials and challenges . But with the  right behavior , precautions and prayers — you can survive the experience, achieve your dreams  and get back home  richer  and wiser .

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