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This Mom Is A Firefighter And A Skater, Lets Her Son Play With Dolls
PHOTO BY YAMS VERZOSA
  • “Ay, babae pala!”  

    This was the reaction of a bystander during a fire incident in a hardware in Tañong, Marikina, where Senior Fire Officer 1 Yasmin Verzosa responded sometime in 2014.

    The 35-year-old mom from Marikina proudly recalled this moment. "Nung fireout na, and we were allowed to remove our PPE, I removed my helmet, nakita nila long hair! Sabi nila, “Ay, babae pala!” May nag-pa-picture pa, kasi hindi nila alam na may mga babae palang bumbero!”

    At the same time, Yams also had her fair share of being cat-called and verbally abused in her hobby as an in-line skater. “Some of the boys would say, “oh, babaeng inliner, sexy! Wit-wew!” 

    As a firefighter, an aggressive in-line skater, a wife, and a mom of a 5-year-old boy, Yams shared to SmartParenting.com.ph how she has been breaking the bias against gender stereotypes, and raising a child who is gender inclusive. 

    Growing up in a gender inclusive family 

    “Being a woman is not limited to childbearing. 'Yung layman’s term ng ibang lalake, ‘paanakan ka lang.’ We are not limited to that. We are more than that," said Yasmin Verzosa or Yams, who is now the acting Chief for Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Unit and Community Relations staff of Bureau of Fire Protection-National Capital Region (BFP-NCR).

    Yams is not your typical strong, independent woman. She has been breaking gender biases as a child because of her upbringing and influences.  

    Her mother is a gender specialist, and her aunt also pushed for women’s rights. More importantly, her father broke the dad stereotype, and helped in housework. He was the one who taught her to skate at the age of 3. 

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    “I think 6 or 7 years old ako, there’s this cartoon video that my mom would play from time to time. She was already indoctrinating us about gender equality. I remember vividly in that video na kitang kita mo yung gender inequality. 

    She was referring to the video, The Impossible Dream, by the United Nations in 1983. It’s an animated film that candidly shows the dilemma faced by women everywhere: the double load of having a full-time job, and being a mother and housewife. 

    “With my mom’s influence, careerwoman siya tapos she’s able to juggle the pressure of being a mother and a wife, doon ko narealize na hindi pala dapat yung mga babae sunud-sunuran lang. They should not be put in a box, and expected to follow the norms of the society,” Yams shares. She also exercised her right to keep her maiden name.

    Starting them young 

    “Nung high school, I got fascinated with skating – yung aggressive skating. Madami silang lalake doon sa neighborhood. Sabi ko if they can do it, I believe I can do it too," said Yams.

    One of the lessons that her dad taught her through skating is perseverance and determination. “Everyone gets to fall, and you just have to get back up. So after school, I would skate outside our village, I would practice everyday to acquire the skill.” 

    In college, Yams reveals that her experience in a fire drill exercise inspired her to take a stab at her childhood dream. “You won't believe pero pangarap ko maging bumbero. And nung college, na-realize ko talaga na ang astig ng trabahong ito. When I found out that the BFP was accepting recruits, I applied, I went through the whole process, and I got in.” 

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    Machismo still exists 

    For four years, Yams had the time of her life as a firefighter and an emergency medical responder – being assigned as a lineman, ambulance driver, firetruck driver, among others. “When I joined the fire service, single pa ako. So nandun ako sa fire operations kasi anytime okay lang, minsan nga one week straight naka-duty ako.”  

     

    PHOTO courtesy BY YAMS VERZOSA

    “One of my former commanders had a machismo attitude. Hindi niya masyado feel yung women in the firefighting operations. At that time, I really felt attacked na porket babae ako ayaw niya ako maging crew member niya.”

    Coincidentally, it happened during the time her husband asked her to shift to office duty. 

    “It was hard to see that their perception about women is obsolete, and we’re in 2015 already, hindi na valid yung reason na porket babae mahina, hindi kaya gawin yung pagbubuhat. May technique naman eh. Bakit ako nagagawa ko?” she quips. 

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    In skating, she shares, “Isa sa mga struggles ko, verbal abuse and harassment kasi some of the skaters would do catcalls, or be very rude – “oh, babaeng in-liner, sexy! Wit-wew!” Yams recounts. 

    PHOTO BY INSTAGRAM /viajepamilya

    “At that time, I would fight back. Come to think of it if I could turn back time, it was the right thing to do – to fight back.” 

    Yams could only wish that there were laws that protect women before, like Anti-Violence Against Women and Child or VAWC, and against catcalling

    Building a gender inclusive skating community 

    Yams was one of the founders of the group Eastsider Skaters, which was originally created for women skaters. “First, it was all girls, tapos later on nagkaroon kami ng boys, kasi nga we want to be inclusive we want to break gender barrier, we welcome also the boys pero bawal manyak!” she highlights. 

    “We wanted a safe space online and offline, where everyone would feel welcome,” she explains. 

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    She said she was also one of the technical officers for skateboarding in the SEA Games, and reveals that she was one of the persons who paved the way for Margielyn Didal’s feat in the Olympics. 

     

    PHOTO BY YAMS VERZOSA

    Raising a gender inclusive child

    Among her many hats, her favorite is being mom to her son Yenzy, who is turning 5 this August. They are raising him to be respectful to all genders as well, and shared tips on how you can do it your household. 

    1. Teach respect as early as possible.

    When Yenzy turned 3, and he can understand and comprehend already, they started teaching him to be respectful. "We try to make him understand that women and men are equal. We try to make him realize women should be treated properly and with kindness and respect,” Yams shares.  

    2. Incorporate gender neutrality in basic lessons.

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    “We are gender neutral about colors. Diba ang tinuturo ng YouTube and in school that pink is for girls, blue is for boys. Sa amin, even though you’re a boy you can wear girly colors.” Yenzy also wanted to wear his hair long, and they told him it's okay for boys to have long hair too.  

    PHOTO BY YAMS VERZOSA

    3. Encourage gender neutral play.

    Yams lets her son play with dolls and other gender neutral toys. “Pinaglalaruan ni Yenzy yung mga Barbie namin dati. We would play bahay-bahayan."

    During pretend play, she takes the role of the male character and let Yenzy play the role of the female character. They also watch movies together that showcases strong women and teaches values, like Wonder Woman.  

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    4. Expose them to housework.

    Her husband teaches his son to do chores. Yenzy would help in doing the laundry and washing the dishes.  

    To #BreakTheBias, teach your child respect, discipline, and appreciation  

    Yams is proud that her preschooler is growing up to be a kind and gentle person. He acknowledges that her husband Renz Viaje supported him through it all. 

    “My husband stepped up to be the full-time parent. So the discipline, respect, and appreciation that we want him to be indoctrinated, yung characteristics that he needs so he would have a good character, he was the one guiding our son."

    To #BreakTheBias, know that asking for help is strength 

    Yams acknowledges that being a woman has challenges of its own, but she encourages other moms and women to not only endure but to speak up.

    “May mga times na you would feel oppressed and discriminated or inaapi. It’s a matter of perception if you would take it against you or if you would take it as a challenge.

    Ako, mas lalo akong na-cha-challenge when people put me down. It’s like fire burning coals that would ignite my strength to do better. 

    Nakakapagod. Pero yung essence ng pagiging babae is to endure it."

    To #BreakTheBias, speak up

    While there is a long way to go for the Philippines and society to achieve gender equality, Yams believes that women should learn to communicate their needs better. 

    “You have to speak up. You have to say, "Kailangan ko ng tulong mo." You have to learn how to delegate, you have to learn to ask, “Can you do this for me? Can you do some chores? I'm also tired, I understand you’re tired but we have to work on this together.”

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    Until then, Yams reminds every person: "Strength is relative, and help is universal. We should make change work for every woman. Kung wala ang mga babae, anong mangyayari sa sangkatauhan?"

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