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Women's Movements and "the Filipina": 1986-2008

Women's Movements and "the Filipina": 1986-2008

Mina Roces
Copyright Date: 2012
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    Women's Movements and "the Filipina": 1986-2008
    Book Description:

    This book is about a fundamental aspect of the feminist project in the Philippines: rethinking the Filipino woman. It focuses on how contemporary women's organizations have represented and refashioned the Filipina in their campaigns to improve women's status by locating her in history, society and politics; imagining her past, present and future; representing her in advocacy; and identifying strategies to transform her. The drive to alter the situation of women included a political aspect (lobbying and changing legislation) and a cultural one (modifying social attitudes and women’s own assessments of themselves). In this work Mina Roces examines the cultural side of the feminist agenda: how activists have critiqued Filipino womanhood and engaged in fashioning an alternative woman. How did activists theorize the Filipina and how did they use this analysis to lobby for pro-women’s legislation or alter social attitudes? What sort of Filipina role models did women’s organizations propose, and how were these new ideas disseminated to the general public? What cultural strategies did activists deploy in order to gain a mass following? Analyzing data from over seventy five interviews with feminist activists, radio and television shows, romance novels, periodicals and books published by women’s organizations and feminist nuns, comics, newsletters, and personal papers, Roces shows how representations of the Filipino woman have been central to debates about women’s empowerment. She explores the transnational character of women’s activism and offers a seminal study on the important contributions of feminist Catholic nuns. Women’s Movements and the Filipina provides an original and passionate account of the contemporary feminist movement in the Philippines, bringing to light how women’s organizations have initiated change in cultural attitudes and had a significant impact on contemporary Philippine society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6121-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-32)

    Since the 1980s, feminist songs have been part of the repertoire of women’s activism. These songs revealed a preoccupation with Maria (a metaphor for all Filipino women) especially with her roles, her character, and her stories. These songs implored “Maria” to reject traditional stereotypes and embrace new role models. For example, one song titled “Maria” advised women that they should not allow themselves to be treated as toys that could be discarded or as subjects confined to the kitchen and the bedroom, but instead should model themselves on past women revolutionaries.¹ The lyrics of another song, “Sabon” (Soap), compelled women...


    • 1 The Religious Roots of Women’s Oppression: FEMINIST NUNS AND THE FILIPINO WOMAN
      (pp. 35-51)

      The idea of Catholic nuns as feminists is largely neglected in women’s studies.¹ The patriarchal nature of the Catholic Church along with its generally conservative outlook hardly positions it at the forefront of advocating radical social change in the sphere of women and gender relations. At the same time, the nuns themselves are part of religious congregations with no specific religious congregations designated as “feminist religious congregations.” Instead, the choice to become a feminist nun is made individually. Hence, this chapter’s collective identification of Filipino Catholic feminist nuns as a specific group is merely a construct. A tiny minority within...

    • 2 Prostitution, Women’s Movements, and the Victim Narrative
      (pp. 52-64)

      In the international context, the activism over prostitution as a feminist issue has the protagonists divided over the interpretation of whether prostitution is violence against women (VAW) or sex work. The former defines prostitutes as victims of male violence and patriarchy while the latter sees prostitution as a kind of work making it a labor issue.¹ I am not going to revisit these arguments here; my intention instead is to note the international context of this fiery debate that continues to haunt the specter of international feminists everywhere.

      Although the supporters for either camp could be found among Filipina activists,...

    • 3 The Woman as Worker
      (pp. 65-86)

      Although constructions of the feminine defined woman as “wife and mother,” for the majority of lower-class women the reality was that these wives and mothers were also, simultaneously, workers. The majority of Filipinos are from the working classes and the income brought in by the women of the family, whether primary or supplementary in nature, was crucial to the survival of the kinship group. The feminization of the labor force (including global labor) from the 1970s onwards has further increased the value of women’s work. The spectacular rise in the number of women OCWs, for example, has made housewives into...

    • 4 Indigenous Women: WOMEN OF THE CORDILLERA
      (pp. 87-103)

      Indigenous women of the highlands have been the “Other” of the Christian lowland majority. Since the Cordillera escaped Spanish conquest, the women were not subjected to Christian constructions of the feminine. Spared from the influences of the Catholic Church and the Catholic religion, indigenous women were singled out as different. In addition, the traditional gender relationships between indigenous peoples in the highlands were considered (particularly in the economic sphere) to be more egalitarian than were lowland practices. Cordillera women also were very active in the region’s resistance movements partly because successive Philippine governments coveted their ancestral lands in the name...

    • 5 “There Is No Need to Endure”: WOMEN’S HEALTH MOVEMENTS
      (pp. 104-124)

      When Anna Leah Sarabia interviewed women of the lower classes for her television showWomanwatch,she asked, “Who looks after you when you are sick?” The answer was always, “I just endure it” (tinitiis nalang). Women were the last persons in the family to seek health care or to go to hospitals because they were reluctant to leave the family or business unattended without support from husband or kin. Since cultural norms assigned the role of caregiver to women, they did not question the expectation that women place the family first and their own needs last. It was this premise...


    • 6 Women’s Studies on the Air: RADIO, TELEVISION, AND WOMEN’S MOVEMENTS
      (pp. 127-143)

      Although the print medium has been used by women’s groups since the beginning of the twentieth century, it was not until the 1980s that feminists in the Philippines extended the use of media to include radio and television, which had not been tapped for feminist ends prior to 1985. Anna Leah Sarabia, founder of WMC, pioneered the use of television and radio for the feminist cause when she producedWomanwatch(television) andRadyoWomanwatch(radio) in 1985.¹ By the 1990s, several women’s organizations such as GABRIELA and the Institute of Women’s Studies, also began to experiment with the “new” media. Because...

    • 7 Fashioning Women through Activism, Ritual, and Dress
      (pp. 144-170)

      How did some women’s organizations mobilize followers, and how did some of them intend to fashion women into activists? The formidable task of destroying the “martyr complex” required a complete makeover in cultural constructions of women. The “martyr” had to be reinvented as a militant advocate or activist. Unique strategies had to be put in place in order to transform victims of patriarchy into feminist advocates. If the radio and television programs discussed in the previous chapter introduced audiences to feminist perspectives, the practices analyzed in this chapter (oral testimonies, theater as advocacy, songs, demonstrations, dress, and rituals) could be...


    • 8 Women’s Movements in Transnational Spaces
      (pp. 173-183)

      Philippine women’s movements must be located in the international arena and international networking of feminists everywhere. Filipino organizations since the 1980s argued that activism must be global.¹ They participated in the international women’s movements (through international conferences or in meetings with the United Nations) and were proactive in hosting international conferences in the Philippines. Two important priority feminist issues—trafficking and migration—required networking or lobbying across national boundaries. Activists lobbied several governments—Greece, Hong Kong, Italy, Singapore, Spain, and the United States, and countries in the Middle East, to name a few—and international organizations such as the United...

    • 9 Women’s Movements in Liminal Spaces: ABORTION AS A REPRODUCTIVE RIGHT
      (pp. 184-197)

      Although abortion is illegal and punishable by law in the Philippines, democratic institutions do not prohibit citizens from public advocacy for the pro-choice cause. But because of the political hold of the Catholic Church and the global neo-conservative swing, anyone brave enough to openly endorse the legalization of abortion as recently as 2010 risked severe public censure. Any individual or organization that so much as hinted at legalizing abortion even if in whatever limited form (for instance, for rape victims) was immediately demonized. Given this environment, there has been no overt proactive lobby or networking for absolute reproductive rights in...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 198-204)

    After a little more than two decades of vigorous activism, Filipino women’s organizations have become well-entrenched in civil society. In the ambitious aim of targeting the country as a site for a feminist re-education camp and every individual as a potential women’s studies student, they aimed for much more than the creation of a mass following. To fulfill the aims of improving women’s status they confronted the state, the Catholic Church, and international bodies and governments. In all these maneuvers they had to grapple with their own internal disagreements and divisions. Lessons learned from past experiences taught them to focus...

  9. Appendix 1: List of Women’s Organizations
    (pp. 205-208)
    (pp. 209-210)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 211-250)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 251-262)
  13. Index
    (pp. 263-277)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 278-278)