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Women’s Lib: The Unfinished Battle

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By SOL VANZI

 

Filipiniana

STRONG WOMEN Filipina mestizas sporting the traditional Maria Clara look

 

On March 3, 1945, Manila was liberated. Buoyed by victory and optimism, my generation, born at the end of World War II, welcomed the initial stirrings of women’s liberation rippling through the country.

American culture began influencing everything: Our food, clothing, homes, government, and society’s attitude toward women. Our mothers, grandmothers and generations of Filipinas before them had been bound by strict rules borne of centuries of colonization and Christian teachings. All that was changing fast.

In 1954, our town welcomed its first female doctor, my aunt. People had accepted the reality that female doctors could conduct physical examinations in male patients just as male doctors could examine female patients. I was 10, and my parents were resigned to the fact that I did not like dolls; I preferred to tinker with chisels, hammers, and saws in my grandpa’s jeepney factory. Using similar tools, I would be crafting and selling jewelry 15 years later in my own boutique. My customers were ladies who grew up playing with dolls.

Living in a Diliman dorm in 1960 was my first chance to be away from parental supervision. The all-girls dorm was very democratic. My roommates included the daughter of a Visayan congressman, two girls from a prominent Vigan family, the heiress to a fish export fortune, a farmer’s daughter from Bataan.

Taking different courses, we spent evenings trading stories about our towns, families, classmates and teachers. Clothes were our favorite topic. We all had to abide by a dress code: Knee-length skirts, blouses with sleeves and modest necklines, leather shoes, and stockings (held up by garter belts). Modesty required layers of underwear: A brassiere, a full chemise (kamison), and a half-slip to fill in a translucent kamison.

Feeling smothered by the tight bra and nylon slips, I gradually reduced the number of layers without sacrificing modesty—by wearing only opaque shorts and skirts. Soon I did away with brassieres altogether. It was for me, in 1963, a giant step for womankind. Five years later, Miss America 1968 protestors were publicly trashing bras and girdles as the Women’s Liberation Movement swept the world.

In 1963, not content with writing art criticism for Women’s Magazine, I attempted to become a police reporter just like my idol Rod Reyes. Female journalists at the time were confined to magazine features and society pages.

MPD Police chief Gen. Eduardo Quintos summoned me to his office and, after looking at me up and down, said “Hindi ka naman pangit, mag-asawa ka na lang. Di bagay ang babae dito (You’re not ugly, so just get married. Women don’t fit in here).”

Today the MPD press corps has many female members, some even becoming officers over the years. And females have become editors and publishers of major newspapers.

From 1967 to 1970, pretty females such as Charisse Garcia (now Chuidian) and Maria Vargas (now Montelibano) appeared on ABC-5 and ABS-CBN newscasts only as weather girls. Marita Manuel, Sylvia Mayuga, and myself were producers and news writers. Newscasters were strictly male. It was not until 1976 that a female crashed into the anchor’s seat, when ABC’s Barbara Walters became the first female co-anchor of a major American network newscast. Philippine TV networks followed suit.

In 1970 , A B S – C B N assigned me to replace Henry Halasan as the network’s reporter covering President Ferdinand Marcos, making me the first female member of the exclusive Malacañang press corps. The MPC has since then been headed by many brilliant female officers.

ABC News (USA) hired me as Philippine producer/ stringer in 1975, the first female head of a US network office in Manila, joining the likes of Ben David (NBC) and Gabby Tabunar (CBS). Today, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) is headed by a female—Jamila Alindogan.

But these giant leaps by women are dimmed by the continuing discrimination against one sector of the LGBT community. While it is true that Philippine society has been understanding of the plight of male homosexuals, the same cannot be said about the attitude toward females who are gay.

Gay males have been a part of the Philippine cultural and social scene for ages. They have been accepted as ultra creative, sensitive, and caring. They can be openly gay, even flagrantly cross-dressing at times. One of my favorite marketing executives, Jules, is a well-respected transgender female.

It’s a different story for gay females, especially transgenders like Aiza Seguerra and Jake Zyrus. Filipinos cannot seem to get over the ideal image of a female as mother and wife. And that’s where Gender Liberation in the Philippines is stuck right now.

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