LITERATURE

‘Feminism is necessary as long as class struggle is necessary’

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As President Duterte jokes about sexual assault yet again, reading "Umaalmá, Kumikibô" couldn’t be more important.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It’s difficult to write about Gantala Press’ “Umaalmá, Kumikibô” (2018).

How does one start ‘reviewing’ this book, a collection of 12 essays, many of them first-hand accounts of women, claiming their space in a platform that has historically excluded them? How are we supposed to ‘critique’ their experiences? Should we assign them merit based on literary standards? Rank them, perhaps, based on a preconceived order of significance?

To assess it that way is to misunderstand what “Umaalmá, Kumikibô” — and by extension, Gantala Press — stands for. “Protest is the fuel of our press,” says its founder Faye Cura, who is also the editor of this latest release. Her statement, written for a talk she delivered in July 2018, is fully realized in this anthology published months later.

The book title, roughly translated, means to react; to break the silence; to stir; to begin to protest. It’s an interesting parallel to how Gantala has positioned and re-positioned itself since its inception in 2017. It used to call itself a women’s press, aiming to champion literary works for and by women. But recent developments — the devastation in Marawi, the war on drugs, the president’s rape jokes — pushed Gantala to call itself feminist, despite the risk of alienating members or being misunderstood.

“Increasingly, our publications are becoming mere instruments of protest and camaraderie with other marginalized women, rather than simply creative products or commodities,” says Cura. “[W]e … understand and believe that women’s struggle is tightly intertwined with class struggle. Feminism is necessary as long as class struggle is necessary.”

And not just class struggle. Movements — whether they push for agrarian reform or anti-discrimination or equal rights — must understand not just one form of oppression, but the entire interlocking system of oppressions. Their analysis must be inclusive, based on intersectionality, a term which sociologist Patricia Hill Collins says “references the critical insight that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, ability, and age operate not as unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but rather as reciprocally constructing phenomena.”

“Increasingly, our publications are becoming mere instruments of protest and camaraderie with other marginalized women, rather than simply creative products or commodities,” says Faye Cura (right), founder of Gantala Press and editor of "Umaalma, Kumikibo." Photo courtesy of GANTALA PRESS/FACEBOOK

Applying intersectionality as described above, to be feminist is to see the women’s struggle shape, and be shaped by factors other than gender: to see multiple feminisms informed by context and complexity. The 12 essays in “Umaalmá, Kumikibô” illustrate this clearly.

Kristine Valerio, in triangulating her experiences helping victims of abuse in Palestine, South Sudan, and the Philippines, states “two major systems of violence in place”: patriarchy and capitalism. Katrina Stuart Santiago locates #EnoughWomen, borne out of President Duterte’s populist rhetoric, in “larger issues which might only be seen as anti-woman in as much as these are anti-people”: oppressive labor practices, mismanaged economies, rising food prices. Roma Estrada interviews Nanay Leticia “Leti” Retiza, a 56-year-old woman whose bloodied image made the rounds on social media when she joined the NutriAsia picket to call for the regularization of its workers. Abbey Pangilinan, Mixkaela Villalon, and Ica Fernandez show how women respond to the nightmares of tokhang, and how some others “use their power and influence to propel violence.”

Simultaneously, “Umaalmá, Kumikibô” bears witness to Gantala’s insistence to include as many women’s voices as it can from Mindanao, apparent in earlier books “Laoanen: Kababaihan | Digmaan | Kapayapaan” and “Lawanen: Mga Alaala ng Pagkubkob | Mga Haraya ng Pag-igpaw.” Here, Marrian Pio Roda Ching documents “generations of women” who run and fight throughout the “genealogies of war” in Mindanao. Almayrah Abbas Tiburon writes a letter to her unborn child, narrating the precariousness of a pregnancy not just as a woman, but as a woman waiting to give birth in Marawi.

The book further provides needed space for the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women, who decry the continued militarization of farming communities by a feudal and fascist State, and its impact on women in agriculture. Sharon Cabusao-Silva testifies as part of a collective of women persecuted and detained without cause, shrouded but no less victims of the State’s impunity and disregard for human rights. LILA Pilipina traces how violence against women, specifically comfort women, goes back to “imperialist powers and their puppets in their quest to plunder wealth and conquer territories.”

As a collection of unmediated, participant women’s voices, as a medium for protest — “Umaalmá, Kumikibô” is kindling to a flame, finally igniting when we’re ready to burn.

Writing out of experience, Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz tries to understand the violence of women against women, realizing how partner violence relates to patterns of coercion, power, and control. Starting from childhood, Mae Ann Hao painstakingly recalls abuse marked by the violence of men and the environment that enables it. Bea Quintos writes about dangerous women, empowerment, public spaces, domestic abuse, self-defense, and “active self-protection.” And yet: “The harsh reality of violence is women don’t often choose it as much as it chooses them.”

It’s fitting that “Umaalmá, Kumikibô” was released in solidarity with, and in support of the International Campaign for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25, 2018. But it could have been released anytime. It could have been released when martial law was extended in Mindanao for another year. It could have been released today, as we reel from yet another misogynist “joke” from the president, the same one who reshuffles corrupt officials, enshrines murder as policy, threatens to bomb Lumad schools, and keeps oligarchs in power, who has all but combined all these (and more) into a systematic (if not intersectional) oppression.

In this context, a book like “Umaalmá, Kumikibô” has never been more necessary. It exists at a critical juncture of our history, as it factors in violence against women among disparate power relations that result to social injustice, in an exhausting, yet enriching exercise on how our struggles bind instead of separate us. But perhaps more importantly, as a collection of unmediated, participant women’s voices, as a medium for protest — “Umaalmá, Kumikibô” is kindling to a flame, finally igniting when we’re ready to burn.

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“Umaalmá, Kumikibô” is available at Studio Soup Zine Library, UP Press Bookstore, Bookay-Ukay, Popular Bookstore (all in Quezon City), The Common Ground Bookstore (Manila), and nationwide through Gantala Press.