CULTURE

A beginner’s guide to Philippine feminism

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If you’re looking for an entry point towards understanding the women’s movement in the Philippines, below is a list of literature and films that you can consume. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Sister Mary John Mananzan, the co-founder of women’s organization Gabriela, was a political activist in the Philippines before she became a feminist.

It was only when she went to a women’s conference in Venice, Austria and heard discussions about incest and wife-beating that she felt the need to call herself a feminist. “It dawned on me, ‘My goodness these [abuses] are in the Philippines too,” she says. “[I realized] you cannot have a social transformation unless this gender question is resolved.”

Another known feminist, Ging Deles, who helped develop one of the first laws protecting women in the Philippines, got into feminism in the ‘80s. She says that she was working in the social development sector, but after meetings of bigger social development conferences, women began gathering together. Through these smaller get-togethers, it became clear how the issues of women were largely different from men, urging them to further push for women’s rights.

Mich Dulce, a designer and co-founder of the women’s community collective Grrrl Gang, shares that she got into feminism because of music. In a previous interview with CNN Philippines Life, she said: “The [feminist music movement of the ‘60s] was what led me to become a feminist. I was not born ‘woke.’ I lived in a bubble for such a long time.”

Deles, Mananzan, and Dulce all call themselves feminists and yet they all had different access points to feminism. We all come from diverse contexts, so if you’re looking for an entry point towards understanding the women’s movement in the Philippines, here’s a list of literature, films, and video discussions that you can consume:

Books and zines

“The Woman Question in the Philippines”

According to Gantala Press’ Faye Cura, this booklet by Sr. Mary John Mananzan offers an introduction to the state of women in the Philippines. “It contextualizes the oppression of Filipinas within the country's colonial/neocolonial history,” she says. “It [also] discusses the challenges faced by women today — inequality and discrimination, gender-based violence, trafficking, and poverty, as well as Filipina women's constant efforts to overcome these through feminism and the women's movement.”

“The Woman Question in the Philippines” is available through Amazon.

“Daloy I” and “Daloy II”

Batis AWARE (Association of Women in Action for Rights and Empowerment) is an organization that advocates for the rights of Filipino migrant women. In 2016, together with the publishing outfit Youth and Beauty Brigade, Batis AWARE published “Daloy 1,” a zine that features writings of Filipino migrant women. In 2018, Batis AWARE and YBB published “Daloy 2,” which dives deeper into the issues of Filipino migrant women — their day-to-day struggles, the abuses they face, and the continuous fight for their rights, among others.

“Daloy 2” is available through Gantala Press online.

“Centennial Crossings: Readings on Babaylan Feminism in the Philippines”

While there is a scarcity of recorded historical data on pre-colonial Philippines, there have been pieces of literature that reveal the central role women play during this era. A significant icon of pre-colonial Philippines is the babaylan, a healer or shaman who is usually a woman. In the book “Centennial Crossings: Readings on Babaylan Feminism in the Philippines,” the editors Fe Mangahas and Jenny Llaguno shine a light on how babaylanism is the inherent source of a Filipina’s strength and that babaylanism may perhaps be the forebearer of the women’s movement in the country.

“Centennial Crossings: Readings on Babaylan Feminism in the Philippines” is available through Amazon.

“Amazons of the Huk Rebellion: Gender, Sex, and Revolution in the Philippines”

Written by Vina Lanzona, this book details how women in the Philippines were central to the revolution against Japanese occupation. “[This] provides an in-depth narration and analysis of the life and heroism of women warriors of the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap),” says Faye Cura. “[It begins] at the onset of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines until after the war has ended and the ‘Amazons’ were vilified in popular imagination. A must-read for all Filipinos.”

“Amazons of the Huk Rebellion: Gender, Sex, and Revolution in the Philippines” is available through Amazon.

“Sarilaysay: Tinig ng 20 Babae sa Sariling Danas Bilang Manunulat”

The book is by Dr. Rosario Torres-Yu, a professor at the University of the Philippines, who has authored various research on Philippine literature, language, and gender studies. In this book, Torres-Yu presents 20 Filipino women writers who have made their voices heard throughout history. The book is divided in three parts: women writers before World War II (Anacleta Villacorta-Agoncillo, Liwayway Arceo, Amelia Lapena Bonifacio, Gloria Villaraza Guzman, and Genoveva Edroza Matute); women writers after the war (Lualhati Bautista, Fanny Garcia, Sol Juvida, Marra Lanot, Rosario Lucero, Elynia Mabanglo, Rosalinda Pineda-Ofreneo, Lilla Quindoza-Santiago, Aida Santos); and women writers from the ‘80s to the noughties (Rebecca Anonuevo, Glecy Atienza, Mayette Bayuga, Joi Barrios, Benilda Santos, and Luna Sicat).

“Sarilaysay: Tinig ng 20 Babae sa Sariling Danas Bilang Manunulat” is available through Amazon.

“I Love My Body”

Feminist-artist Nikki Luna published this picture book primarily for children, one with a simple message: your body is yours and yours alone. In a previous interview with CNN Philippines Life, Luna said that it was important for the language to be accessible in order to reach a wide audience. “I wrote it thinking that maybe some of them don't know how to read or they try or it's hard,” she explained in the interview. “So it has to be read easily. That even their parents can read it, who have a hard time reading.” The book is also designated for marginalized groups, especially since many victims of sexual abuse who are part of these communities don’t necessarily have the resources to get out of their situation.

“I Love My Body” is available through the Power In Her Story website.

“Sa Ngalan ng Ina/In the Name of the Mother: 100 Years of Feminist Poetry”

This book was edited by poet Lilia Quindoza-Santiago. “It is the first collection of Philippine poetry by women of this scale and magnitude, beginning in 1889 up to the country's centennial celebration,” says Faye Cura. “Containing scholarly texts on the women's movement and feminist poetry, it exposes women's participation in the grand project or ideal of ‘nation-building’ or ‘writing the nation.’ Super cool too because it unequivocally declares itself as a feminist collection.”

“Sa Ngalan ng Ina/In the Name of the Mother: 100 Years of Feminist Poetry” is available at the Br. Fidelis Leddy Learning Resource Center.

“Songs of Ourselves”

This is an anthology of poetry and fiction written by women writers and edited by Edna Zapanta Manlapaz. Cultural critic and writer Katrina Stuart-Santiago says of the book: “This anthology is like a crash course in the multifarious voices of women, thinking and writing in a language arguably not ours, which means conversations about womanhood layered with concepts of colonialism, othering, whiteness-brownness, social class, inequality, [and] competition.”

“Songs of Ourselves” is available through Amazon.

“Ang Silid Na Mahiwaga”

Literary and art critic Soledad Reyes edited the book “Ang Silid Na Mahiwaga,” which is a collection of poetry and fiction written in Filipino by female writers. “The mapping of the Pinay woman’s voice here starts with Gregoria de Jesus, which makes it a powerful and empowering anthology that reminds of the breadth and scope of experience of our women,” says Stuart-Santiago. “[It also discusses] the distinct traditions we are bound to in the local(e), and the historical import of hearing these voices in the language that is arguably ours.”

“Ang Silid Na Mahiwaga” is available through Anvil Publishing.

“How Do You Know Your Pearls Are Real?”

This book was written by Barbara Gonzalez. Stuart-Santiago says that “the voice of Gonzalez is one that’s liberating in its simplicity, its everyday analysis of what it’s like to be a woman who is powerful and empowered, moving from the home to the corporate world, to caring for children to being daughter herself, dealing with the patriarchy one day at a time. A reminder that all of our voices matter, as long as we are clear that some injustices are bigger than the ones we experience.”

“How Do you Know Your Pearls Are Real?” is available through Amazon.

“The Long Stag Party”

Authored by Dolores Feria, the book is said to be ahead of its time. “In 1991, [it] was teaching us about the complexity of woman power, where being powerful as women and gaining positions of power as women might not necessarily mean acting for the benefit of a majority of women who have yet to be given the same kind of opportunities or choices,” explains Stuart-Santiago. “A necessary read, a lesson and reminder of the complexity of fighting for women’s rights, while remaining conscious of our privilege.”

“The Long Stag Party” is available through Amazon.

Films and videos

She For She Forum: Emmeline Verzosa on The State of Filipino Women

Emmeline Verzosa, the executive director of the Philippine Commission on Women, talks about various aspects of women’s issues in the Philippines. She explains the participation of women in politics and how it’s still hindered by preconceived reproductive roles as well as the belief that politics and leadership is not part of a woman’s sphere. Verzosa also touches on the plight of migrant workers and how despite their being the biggest contributors of remittance, there are still rising instances of exploitation and abuse. She then reports on the rural women who are still in poverty and are still continuously under threat because of environmental disasters, affecting their food security.

Feminism and social development work

Feminists Patricia Cunanan, Ging Deles, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, and Karina David talk about the nexus of feminism and social development work. In this video, they discuss the unequal treatment of men and women in development programs — how women do so much of the important things in various sectors and yet government programs do not necessarily support women’s issues and the importance of also making men understand gender issues and the system that enables their sense of entitlement and proprietorship over women.

She For She Forum: Panel discussion on feminism today in the Philippines

In this forum, former Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, Philippine Commission on Women’s Emmeline Verzosa, Gabriela co-founder Sr. Mary John Mananzan, and professor Mina Roces discuss the pressing obstacles on gender equality in the Philippines, women’s political rights, and women’s causes that need to be highlighted. They also talk about the importance of educating women, not only in terms of producing educated women but in producing women that are conscious about the struggles and oppression put upon women.

“Lorna”

This 2014 film was written and directed by Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo, with Shamaine Buencamino as its star. Stuart-Santiago says of the film: “[This is about] a woman who is growing old alone but not lonely, embracing her idiosyncrasies and tragedies, ready to take risks while facing the repercussions of her decisions, standing strong in her belief in romance, while at the same time taking sex for what it is, ready to flirt with then next guy she sees, ready to be disappointed when it doesn’t work out. And always, always, ready to be alone, smoke a cigarette, and read a book. Comfortable in her womanhood, content in her independence. A lesson for all women of all ages.”

“Separada”

“Separada” was written by Tessie Tomas and directed by Chito Roño. “It is sisterhood that is at the heart of this film, and it is one that resonates because the five friends are such Pinay archetypes on the one hand, but also in the course of the movie, actually break free from rules and expectations,” shares critic Katrina Stuart-Santiago about the film. “All the women go through their own individual struggles with love and romance, but fall back on each other, tequila shots, and a whole lot of honest banter. It’s sisterhood without the cheering squad, self-care, safe spaces rhetoric of the present; instead it is slap in the face, deal with the truth, kind of sisterhood. More real and painful, but what we all need to see, if not have in our lives.”

“Relasyon”

The 1982 film starring Vilma Santos was written by Raquel Villavicencio, Ricky Lee, and Ishmael Bernal, and directed by Ishmael Bernal. “The kerida [played by Santos] as lead character is interesting enough, but that this particular characterization was self-aware, clear about where she stood in the bigger scheme of things, adjusting as she saw fit, re-adjusting in the face of crisis, and in the end left with not much else but photographs, is a joy to watch,” shares Stuart-Santiago. “It allows the woman her own story, without putting her on the defensive about the decisions she’s made, and keeping her to her own laughter and tears and persona regardless of the man’s presence or absence. A lesson in how we tell our own stories, and how we might view other women’s lives.”

“Broken Marriage”

Another Vilma Santos starrer, this 1983 film was written by Bing Caballero and Joe Carreon, and directed by Ishmael Bernal. Stuart-Santiago shares that this is about a “woman struggling to keep everything together — career, motherhood, marriage, independent thought — one that echoes issues of woman power in the present, issues that many women continue to struggle with. The answer is simple: something’s gotta to give, compromises are necessary, and compromising need not mean a surrendering of one’s power. Instead it can be a conscious, deliberate decision to choose one thing over the other, as it makes this point ahead of its time: the insistence that women must have it all can be as oppressive as denying her the right to choose.”