June 19, 2011

by Ma. Lorena Barros
Pugadlawin Taon 18 Blg. 3; Enero-Pebrero, l971

The oppression of women in Philippine society cannot be isolated from the oppressive character of the society as a whole. Filipino women comprise what has been described by Juliet Mitchell (in Women: the Longest Revolution) as “half a totality.” Filipino women are fundamental to the Filipino condition; their oppression must reflect a fundamentally oppressive system of social relationships.

And indeed if we look at Philippine society as a whole, we find that it is a society characterized by the oppression and exploitation of the many by the few. More exactly, it is a society where the peasants and workers (90%) of the total population, and to a lesser but no less real extent, the students, professionals, small businessmen and the national bourgeoisie (9%) are systematically deceived and coerced to submit to the greedy domination of the U.S. Imperialists, the comprador bourgeoisie, the landlords and the bureaucrat capitalists (1%) who run the country. (See Amado Guerrero, Philippine Society and Revolution).

Much remains to be done in the field of research in order to locate the exact mechanisms by which the oppression of women contribute integrally to the maintenance of the oppressive status quo. Several writers have given important clues. Margaret Bensten (in the Political Economy of Women’s Liberation) has written about the huge amount of socially necessary labor performed by women in the home which goes uncompensated. She has further pointed out that this peculiar relation to production produces women who are “conservative, fearful, supportive of the status quo.”

Other writers on the subject, such as Juliet Mitchell, (ibid.) and Laurel Limpus, (in Liberation of Women,) have similarly pointed to the family as the central factor in the oppression of women and their inhuman use in preserving and sustaining an unjust social system. F. Engels, as early as l902 wrote that “Monogamy was the first form of the family founded not on natural, but on economic conditions, viz: the victory of private property over primitive and natural collectivism” (The Origin of the Family).

Although by standards of contemporary bourgeois social science (which has developed more instruments of measurements than useful concepts for comprehending social phenomena) the literature on women’s liberation may be said to be impressionistic and inexact, it is clear at any rate that imply because “women are the other half” and are thus an integral part of society, their oppression is integral to the oppressive nature of the society as a whole.

Therefore, as Juliet Mitchell wrote: “Since the problems that face women are related to the structure of the whole society, ultimately our study of our particular situation as women will lead us to the realization that we must attempt to change this whole society.”

Women in the Philippines who have become conscious of their oppression have indeed arrived at this realization. The programme of the Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan (MAKIBAKA) states:

To liberate the creative potential of women, it is first of all necessary to liberate the Filipino masses of which they are part. No sector of the population can be free from exploitation of any sort unless the primary exploitative relation, that between U.S. Imperialism and domestic feudalism on the one hand and the broad masses of the Filipino people on the other, is totally destroyed. Moreover, it is in their participation in the national struggle for liberation fro feudal and foreign oppression that women can achieve their own liberation.

This position puts the women’s liberation movement in the Philippines squarely in the context of the national democratic revolution. It defines women’s liberation in terms of participation in the revolutionary struggle now assuming unprecedented heights in the cities and the countryside.

And, as such, it suggests a whole new semantic universe for the word “femininity.”

The new femininity

At one point in the December 4 rally protesting the blacklisting of more than 800 student activists from their schools (in which a high school student, Francis Santillano, was brutally slain by fascist hirelings of the Feati Administration), a male demonstrator succinctly defined the new woman, the new femininity. The protest march had entered the UST campus and the marchers were urging the other students to join them. A male demonstrator shouted to some women students watching the marchers from a safe second floor window: “Maganda sana kayo, mga miss, kung nandito kayo sa baba at nakiki-martsa sa amin!” You would be beautiful if you were down here marching with us).” Although he spoke in terms of beauty, since it is primarily in terms of beauty that women are valued, it is clear that he was referring to anew ideal of femininity.

It is an ideal that is a far cry from the Maria Clara satirically described by Rizal but taken as a model by several generation of Filipinos both men and women, who took him too literally. Maria Clara was a social ornament, a weakling who fainted in times of stress and who ran away to a nunnery to hide her head (while her lower region, just like the ostrich’s stuck out in an extremely vulnerable position for Padre Salve’s delectation), a poor sort of human being who could betray the man she loved for the sake of an abstraction such as her own and her dead mother’s “honor”. Maria Clara’s social conscience manifested itself in impulsively donating her necklace to a beggar, a leper. It was beyond her capacity to conceive of more substantial action. In all things, Maria Clara’s supreme quality was submission, a quiet, unprotesting acceptance of her sad fate.

The new woman, the new Filipino, is first and foremost a militant. It is not enough for her to decorate a school window and smile encouragement at the boys marching in protest against student harassment: she must march with them. And since, in the cities, participation in protest marches means not only marching but often also dodging police truncheons, evading precinct-produced Molotovs and pillboxes and trying to get some over to the pigs’ lines oneself, expertise in hitting the ground when the Metrocom or Task Force Lawin or whatever pig force it is start firing, agility in climbing wall, and other requirements of urban street fighting - the new Filipina is one who has learned not only to march, but also to carry herself in these situations with sufficient ease and aplomb to convince the male comrades that they need not take care of her, please.

The new Filipina is one who can stay whole days and nights with striking workers, learning from them the social realities which her bourgeois education has kept from her. This means that she is also ready to picket for hours under the sun, ready to throw herself in front of a truck bearing scabs or materials for the factory’s machines to prevent it from breaking the picket line. More important, this means that she has convinced her parents of the seriousness of her commitment to the workers’ and peasants’ cause, a commitment which keeps her out of the house at all hours of the day and night, and requires all sorts of behavior previously way beyond the bounds of respectable womanhood.

For the militant in the rapidly developing revolutionary situation in which we find Philippine society today, there is never enough time for all the work that has to be done. There are political tracts and manifestoes to mimeograph, correspondence to type, research files to keep in order and update, revolutionary articles to write or reproduce, press releases and other propaganda materials to distribute - to mention only routine , almost clerical tasks. There are discussion groups to organize and sustain, and always several strikes which need support, speeches to make, teach-ins to attend, first aid and nursing classes, fund-raising projects to finance day-to-day activities, a myriad things which require more than 24 hours each day.

The militant has therefore to spend all of her waking hours at the organization headquarters or wherever her political tasks take her; more conveniently, even her sleeping hours. That is, all her time. For most Filipino families, with their traditional feudal set-up, this means virtually being a stowaway, cut off from one’s family and home.

But today we are witnessing a mutation of the Filipino family, especially where daughters are concerned. When the militant girl comes home after several days’ absence, and recounts to her family how the striker just beside her was hit by bullets from goons or police hired to break the strike; or how the house where they had stayed in the province was shot up by Monkees to scare the barrio folk away from their teach-in; or how she felt when she saw carbines aimed point-blank at students by uniformed murderers in the last demonstration- how can it occur to her parents to question her moral behavior when she is away from home? When she leaves again the next morning, unable to say when she would be back, if ever, how can even her mother ask for assurance that she has protected her virginity in the manner she was brought up to (by holding up a wedding ring)? As Franz Fannon, writing about the Algerian women, said: “The militant girl in adopting new patterns of conduct, could not be judged by traditional standards. Old values, sterile and infantile phobias disappeared.”

The Filipina, through her militant participation in the revolutionary struggle, has thus brought to life a new women, this new woman is no longer either a mindless ornament (which she would be if born to a well-to-do family) or a mindless drudge (if she were the wife or daughter of a peasant or worker). She is a woman who has ‘discovered the exalting realm of responsibility’, a woman fully engaged in the making of history, in the destruction of imperialism and feudalism and the building of a new democratic society. No longer is she simply a woman-for-marriage, but more and more a woman-for-action. A comrade.

Strangely enough, this new definition of femininity in terms of revolutionary militancy has not reduced her desirability as a woman, in the eyes of male comrades and also those of the bourgeois beaux she has had to discard because of her politics. The reason may be that just as there has evolved a new femininity, so also is there today a new masculinity a new man.

The new masculinity

For centuries the women of the Philippines have had to accept as fathers, husbands, brothers, sons poor substitutes for men, who walked their own land, with head bowed to the white conquistador and his mestizo offspring. When it was not the white colonialist whipping the Filipino to servility, it was the brown collaborator who had assumed the dress, the speech, the culture of the white masters. The Filipina, a daily witness to this continuous emasculation of her men, developed a concept of masculinity which rejected what she found in them, and instead assumed the characteristics of the colonial master.

Even today this concept of masculine desirability still finds snug habitation in the dark corners of many Filipino women’s minds, perhaps because the white colonial master is still very much around. The real man, the man whom the captive women dreams of, is fair-complexioned, if possible white. He is tall, much taller than the average Malay male can ever be, and is slim and long boned, not squat or stocky. He is hairy, not smooth-skinned and is beautifully Caucasian.

He doesn’t woo, he rapes a women into submission. He speaks a language she does not understand and acts in a manner utterly foreign to her - the result of which is that their relationship is one-sided both ways. Nor would she wish it different. She does not want to understand him at all, for if she does he would surely fall from his pedestal - just as many a Spanish lover who was a dock-hand in Seville before he became a friar in the Philippines or a G.I., who merely cleaned toilet bowls in the army during the war before he made a killing in surplus equipment fell from their pedestals the moment the women understood just what they only were.

For his part the Filipino male developed an image of himself which sought to make up for this inferior status beside the white colonizer. The true Filipino male, according to this defensive myth, is one who drinks savagely, will die rather than lose face or honor, and has one or two wives and several queridas. The philanderer to the nth degree is virile to the nth degree. Because he could not deserve the total respect of one women, the colonized Filipino male sought to make up for the lack by adding on several more half-hearted fragments.

Thus today one finds the jeepney driver who has just been helpless before the extortionist cop finding comfort in the thought that he has at least the choice of which wife to bawl out in retaliation. Or the army general who has been granted two squeaky cannons by the benevolent American advisers of JUSMAG after he begged for two hours for two tanks to use against peasants in Central Luzon, showing off his medals and recounting his glorious war years to his paid querida. Or even the President of the Philippines, gloating at having all-American blonde comforter to remove the bitter taste of mendicancy and servility in his puppet mouth after his annual beggar’s trip to the White House.

In a country where life is hard, unemployment is high and labor cheap, women are more plentiful than men, it is easy enough for a man, virile or not, to collect women, provided he can feed, clothe and shelter them and their children. Domestic and sexual labor, like other kinds of labor in our semi-feudal semi-colonial country, are at the mercy of the economic lords. It is no accident that the top politicians in the country, who are the top puppets and the top consumers of U.S. Imperialist shit, have the most wives. They have the most shattered male egos and rake in the most profits from their emasculation. Not far behind are such types as sugar barons who have to kiss U.S. Imperialist asses to make sure their sugar gets bought, or comprador bosses who like to call themselves industrial magnates but are actually mere financial and trading agents of US Imperialism. And there are of course those, who, whether they can afford it or not, imitate them.

Obviously this type of pseudo-male can have no attraction for the militant girl, the new Filipina. Nor can she want that of the white colonial master, who is used for target practices (lacking guns, a saliva). What is the new masculinity, the new man, who commands the respect not only of the militant girl but also, perhaps more importantly, his own?

There are many concrete examples, so we need not discuss ideal types. Foremost are the fighters in the New People’s Army, the army which that spectacular defector, Lt. Victor Corpus of the PMA, called “the real army of the people.” Bernabe Buscayno or Commander Dante, as the head of the NPA exemplifies the revolutionary fighter’ clever, courageous, heroic, outwitting the puppet troops at every turn and inflicting casualties way out of proportion to his guerilla unit’s arms and number. There is Corpus himself, young, intelligent, intensely patriotic and partisan to the cause of the Filipino masses, and now part of the NPA. Though among young women in the cities this respect and appreciation for the Red Fighters may smack of romanticism, for the peasant lasses in the feudal countryside the NPA soldier is concretely a liberator - and thus very male.

In the cities, there are the many fiery young men who give voice and concrete expression to the people’s struggle for liberation, men like Nonnie Villanueva of the Kabataang Makabayan, the firebrand professor Ramon Sanchez of the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, Ruben Guevarra of the fighting USTC Labor Union. There are the youth who died fighting terribly unequal battles against the police and the puppet troops of the AFP in Mendiola. There are the young men who do their unspectacular but no less important jobs quietly and efficiently in the mass organizations, in this way contributing hugely to the total revolutionary effort.

In brief, what defines the new masculinity is revolutionary militance. Not the Caucasian good looks, not the number of women conquered or bought, but the contribution he is making to the national democratic revolution enables the Filipino male to reclaim the manhood which his centuries of oppression took away. This is what has gained for him the total respect of the Filipino woman, and a pride in him that is not founded on his proximity to excellence by Western standards, but a pride built on his rediscovered identity and dignity.

It may be noted that both the new femininity and the new masculinity are defined in terms of revolutionary militance. Those who like to say “Vive le difference!” may inquire: but where then is the difference? What distinguishes the new woman from the new man?

The answer is nothing.

In a future article, I hope to discuss how the differences between men and women have been overplayed in history for the purpose of exploiting both. For now, let me just say quite arbitrarily that there are very few differences between men and women which are not culturally or ideologically defined; that is, the biologically given differences are very few and cannot be the most important reasons for the marked social differences we find today between men and women. Especially in the face of the high level of technology available to contemporary generations, whatever biological inequalities there might be are easily rendered insignificant. All evidence points to the conclusion that men and women belong to a single species and cannot differ to the extend of requring for each of them a whole and separate set of cultural definitions.