by: Ma. Lorena Barros
In the January 26, l972 issue of the Philippine Collegian, there appeared an article by Ms. Susan G. Ramirez on “Women’s Liberation, MAKIBAKA and Involvement.” The article, which aims to impart greater understanding of women’s liberation and to correct MAKIBAKA’s sectarian nature, certainly shows a highly sectarian prescription of women’s lib and little knowledge of not only MAKIBAKA but radical women in general.
The point of the article is that MAKIBAKA’s rejection of the women’s lib line “really means that the difference in the sexes are to be ignored in the practical organizing of women”; that such rejection stems from “both an unwillingness and inability to recognize the inter-relationship of the concrete aspects of our daily lives with their over-all theory”; and that to solve this problem MAKIBAKA should “reconsider their present hostile position to a women’s liberation group, end the sectarian domination of the Quezon Blvd. males, and create the Filipinas’s Women’s Liberation.
There is no doubt that Ms. Ramirez had nothing but the best intentions in writing her critique of Filipino radical women viz-a-viz women’s lib. She correctly points out that “tactically different approaches to the various exploited groups and sexes” should be used in organizing and practical action. Unfortunately, the critique myopically prescribes women’s lib as a tactical approach to “the masses as women” in general - and thus falls prey to the very errors it seeks to correct.
To place “masses of women” in a concrete context (even as Ms. Ramirez fails to do so, in her whole article)-
For the masses of Filipino women workers (roughly one-third of the working force), would it be correct to raise the tactical slogans, “Fight your male bosses!” or “Company -paid abortions on demand”? No. The correct tactical slogan would be “Fight company unions and form genuine workers’ unions!” With strong genuine workers’ unions, women workers will be able to exert greater pressure for better working conditions, maternity and other medical assistance, safeguards against unfair labor practices such as sex discrimination, etc.
For the masses of Filipino peasant women, would it be correct to raise the tactical slogans “Down with wife-beating husbands!” or even “Maria Clara laos na!”. Correct tactical slogans would be “Reduce rent, abolish usury!” and “organize peasants’ cooperatives!” since the most pressing problems of our sisters in the feudal countryside are excessive rent and usurious practices which leave them with not enough harvest to last till the next crop (would these be what Ms. Ramirez have meant “obstacles to our satisfaction,” the psychical inhibitions of the oppressed female”?)
For the masses of women from the petty bourgeois - and these are apparently Ms. Ramirez “masses of women” - would it be correct to raise the tactical slogans “Down with male chauvinism!” or even “Away with beauty contests”? No. The steeply worsening economic conditions now dictate that the correct tactical slogans for women professionals, students and middle class housewives are “Down with high prices”, “Stop oil price increase!” and “Stop tuition fee hike!”. Only a very small segment of the women of this class can be rallied around women’s lib slogans. MAKIBAKA’s own concrete experience with its first mass actions, the picket against the Bb. Pilipinas contest in l970, showed that petty bourgeois women in the majority are merely amused (the more conservative are faintly shocked) by such slogans. To organize and mobilize them, more imminent (“gutsy” if you prefer) issues must be raised.
At best it might be said that the critique is sectarian. At worst it could be accused of rather irresponsible errors of ignorance. If Ms. Ramirez had taken more time to find out about MAKIBAKA in particular and radical women in general, her article would not have been so fundamentally flawed. Nor would it have been guilty of unnecessary errors such as asserting that “capitalism and imperialism are at the bottom of our exploitation.” Or ignoring the big and ever-increasing number of women activists who, unlike herself, no longer “go home to our very bourgeois personal and family lives” (most having never come from “very bourgeois homes” in the first place) but devote all of their time to the national democratic movement. And posing really quite silly questions like the six “how many’s, allegedly problems” that affect even the most radical women, how they live and think and what their problems are. She could have avoided (pointless!) “statistics” such as “99.9% of the MAKIBAKA members” “did not understand a socialist (sic.) program overnight.” Perhaps she meant a national democratic program. A cursory reading of the MAKIBAKA programme would give her that information. But then the confusion of national democratic with socialism (re “capitalism and imperialism are at the bottom of our exploitation”) is only one of a number of hopeless confusion in the article, so it is rather understandable.
Actually, the answers were there even before she ever thought of asking them. She alleges: “(MAKIBAKA’s attitude) ignores (the fact that) the simple social and personal problems of women have both political as well as economic reasons and ramifications (precisely). Instead they are simply considered as non-political irrelevancies. To quote some excerpts from the MAKIBAKA programme:
MAKIBAKA seeks nationalist industrialization and genuine land reform in order to create a vigorous national economy. Only a vigorous national economy can provide the conditions necessary for the eventual elimination of poverty, unemployment, underemployment, unfair labor practices, inadequate health services and other inequities in our semi-feudal, and semi-colonial economy. Moreover, only in such an economy can there be greater opportunities for Filipino women, who have long been suffering from discriminatory wages and labor practices.
MAKIBAKA is determined to work for the liberation of women from decadent bourgeois and feudal shackles which condemn them to an existence geared only to the bed-kitchen-church-nursery circle, denying them the opportunity to develop into more than domestic machines and sexual objects, to contribute their potential for the huge task of nation-building and socialist construction.
She need not have resorted to completely meaningless terms as “higher politics” (it quite taxes our minds to conceive of a “lower politics!) and “relating”. Perhaps she meant, to again quote from the programme: MAKIBAKA shall work for the integration of women students and professionals with workers and peasants (among other things) through involvement in community and relief work.
With some more research on Cuba and the Cuban revolution, Ms. Ramirez might also have refrained from quoting Castro as if her were an authority on revolution., The Cuban peasant precisely because he did not know “Marxist-Leninist jingles” is today still very much the sugar-growing peasant he was before Fidel Castro’s revolution, and must begin to wage another long, arduous struggle to overthrow his new oppressors and their social-imperialist masters. The Cuban peasant’s present condition is in glaring contrast to that of his Chinese brethren, of whom reactionaries must speak in a grudgingly respectful manner. Not incidentally Cuban women are still subject to the most anti-feminist antics of the Latin American male.
REJOINDER TO “EMBERS OF FEMINISM”
by Ma. Lorena Barros
One. It has always been pointed out by women’s liberation movement in the Philippines that: women comprise a little more than 50% of the population; that no revolutionary movement can succeed without the participation of this 50% plus; and that is why women must fight as well as the men.
More importantly, women are objectively exploited by U.S. imperialism, domestic feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism as well as men. The struggle is along national and class lines and cannot but involve women.
Women must fight alongside men in a united effort against imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism - where else? Neither behind nor, we hope, in front; both would not be fair at all. This is quite different from the concept of unity with men, which is seen as taking place dialectically through struggle.
Two. Such categories as the “mothers corps,” far from being political, are an application of the mass line. They are tactical in nature. As we are not familiar with any other categories and the “puzzled one” failed to mention others, we are at a loss as to what is already a “fait accompli.”
Three. The women’s liberation movement in the Philippines has not romanticized female sufferings; it has always been scrupulous in not isolating the sufferings of women in our country from that of the vast majority of the people. It follows that women’s liberation has not been equated to a “self-contained social sublimation” and so forth.
However, it is a fact that many men, even those who like to call themselves dialectical materialists, fear that the women’s liberation movement will turn women into a troop of aggressively independent, overwhelmingly self-reliant amazons - reflection of a deep uncertainty about their own qualifications for a superior position I society.
Four. The women’s liberation movement in the Philippines starts from an analysis of the basic conditions in our society and the class struggle. Women, in the majority, belong to the oppressed classes in our semi-feudal and semi-colonial society. In this they are oppressed in common with the vast majority of the people. In addition to this principal oppression as members of their class, women are also victims of male oppression.
This theoretical starting point seems to us definite enough.
One of the best plays in the repertory of guerrilla theater in the United States depicts a conversation between two men who are trying to find out what’s wrong with their car, which won’t start. A woman tries to cut in innumerable times to point out that the spark plug needs changing - she checked it that morning. The men argue interminably, paying no attention to the girl. Finally one of them suggests that it might be the spark plug; they check and it is the spark plug that needs changing. The play end with the men congratulating each other on their brilliance.
The moral of the story: there might be less misunderstanding about women’s liberation if only the male critics would read what women have to say on women’s liberation before they make their learned critiques.