March is National Women’s Month here in the Philippines, also known as Women’s History Month in other countries. Coinciding with the annual International Women’s Day on March 8, this celebration is to commemorate the socio-cultural, economic, historical, and political contributions and achievements of women, as well as to put forward important discussions on women’s rights, feminism, gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence against women.
There are indeed plenty of pressing issues to talk about in relation to Women’s Month, or women in general. I may be male and identify as straight, but I try my best to engage in discussions and participate in efforts in relation to feminism and women’s rights. For example, I actively choose to be part of women-led organizations such as in my workplace and right here on Bookbed.
I also try to balance the ratio in the gender representation among the authors available at Bibi Mangki Bookbed, and increase the women authors in my reading list. (But like any voracious reader, I pick up anything as long as it interests me, regardless of the sex or gender of the author.) This is why in this month’s Why Filipinos Should Read, I tread on a few important points of supporting women, and women in literature. (Related: “115+ Filipino Women Writers, Artists, and Readers to Support and Celebrate”)
Women’s Day has its roots in the struggle of women workers under dire conditions of capitalist labor during the early 20th century. In fact, it used to be known as the International Working Women’s Day. But later on, the “working” was dropped, and we are now celebrating it as International Women’s Day.
It is also important to revisit the larger feminist movement, which sprouted from the injustices experienced by women throughout history. In such discourse, women’s voices have been in the backdrop of the narrative, except for a few notable female figures. Most of the time, they still put an asterisk to these female figures as if they were anomalies to the norm since, as they say, history has been largely written by men. And unfortunately, that normative male perspective in history still reflects on our present-day society where various fields, professions, industries, and public affairs remain to be dominated by men.
However, the situation has also changed considerably, albeit slowly, since the advent of the feminist movement. Since its emergence, women have already fought for their social, political, and economic rights. They continue to forward their interests, especially on violence, discrimination, and the reexamination and reclamation of the concept of femininity.
Power to the female
Women have come a long way from the early struggles of the feminist movement. They went from fighting for the right to suffrage and equal economic opportunities to being elected to the highest political positions in their respective countries and changing the world—Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Tsai Ing-Wen of Republic of China, and Kamala Harris of the United States of America, just to name a few who are popular leaders. In other fields such as business, sports, and entertainment, the list of influential women keeps getting longer as well. And here in the Philippines, we see more and more successful women taking over, such as [feel free to insert your name here, you powerful woman, you]. Even in our communities and homes, they continue to rule, making crucial and life-changing decisions that benefit many.
“Because I succeeded in a scientific world largely dominated by men, I’ve been described as a feminist role model, but I never think of myself in that way. Although the feminist movement today is different, many women who have succeeded have done so by emphasizing their masculine characteristics. But we need feminine qualities to be both accepted and respected and in many countries this is beginning to happen. I love that the new movement involves women joining their voices together on social media, thus giving a sense of solidarity.”Jane Goodall on Time, 2018
However, there remains a multitude of work to do towards advancing women’s rights and gender equality, especially in strongly patriarchal societies and institutions. Even in this day and age, I know a couple of people who think the success of a woman is a man’s loss. This is preposterous. Men should not feel like they (we) are being stripped off of our roles and identities when we do our work in understanding, supporting, reading, and sometimes yielding to women. As in feminism, the goal is equality and harmony between the sexes. We should not view ourselves as rivals or opponents, and instead view the opposite sex as companions towards achieving a more humane, just, and peaceful society.
Moreover, when women go outside and work, become bosses of companies, run social affairs, and earn more money without any form of judgment from society, men are also liberated from the pressures of our current conception of what a certain sex or gender must adhere to (and in this case, masculinity). With this kind of social acceptance, men can freely be who they want to be, or pursue what they want to do. Take househusbands for example, they can fulfill their tasks without being emasculated. They can happily do the chores, cook for the family, care for the children, and fill in the roles that are conventionally viewed as “feminine.” Isn’t that empowering for everyone?
Women are not the lesser sex because there is no such thing. Women can do what men can do—and most times, they can do way better. Women can achieve whatever they aspire to become in life. Women are great leaders, innovators, and changemakers. In the words of one of my favorite women writers, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate:
“There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.”via Red.org
Among some men, there is this certain perspective that women can be very difficult to understand, or in our vernacular: “Ang hirap talaga intindihin ng mga babae.” Even as a male myself, I am not exactly sure where this thought comes from. I think it’s more likely that it’s the men that are the clueless ones.
But as I said, this does not mean pushing the sexes against each other. The goal of feminism is to abolish patriarchy, not men, and as much as it’s difficult sometimes, we should not confuse the two. There are many ways men can contribute to this endeavor by understanding women and their plights more deeply.
Trivial as it may be to some, but supporting women creators is one way. Study their work, buy their product, support their advocacy and business. For me, reading women writers is a good and easy starting point, because by doing so, we step into their world and see differing points of view of women. This helps us open our minds and prevent us from putting women in boxes, stereotyping them as “Ah, babae kasi,” or worse, “Hanggang d’yan ka na lang.” Our interests shouldn’t stop (nor should it begin, really) at the physicality. We should prioritize hearing their voices, read their words, and learn from them themselves. All these have helped me understand the nuances of women, which has made me more sympathetic and appreciative of all the influential women in my life. I don’t think we would be who we are without the strength, power, and grace of a woman.