The definition of feminism varies from context to context–what is empowering for one woman may not be for another–that the way then to make sense of feminism as a movement is to accept that, at its periphery, it changes form and shape depending on the type of women that we are magnifying.
In the Philippines, we work on a different context as compared to our counterparts in the West, and this means that our struggles are, in certain areas, incomparable. The indigenization of feminism not only brings us back to the core of the movement, but by this act, we empower and liberate women in response to and from the unique struggles that this certain group of women go through.
Efforts like the Every Girl Can conference, organized by She Talks Asia last March 18, is proof of our attempt at defining and reshaping feminism to the context of Filipinas. Offering a roster of contemporary Filipinas from different ages and fields to speak about what it means to be a modern Filipina, the event signals an ongoing dynamic conversation between Filipinas all over the country.
The first half of the event was spent on constructing definitions. The first question posed was, “What is a modern Filipina?” Inviting different panelists, the audience was able to hear the personal definitions of prominent names in the industry, like journalist Karen Davila, sex columnist Ana Santos, congresswoman Pia Cayetano, Minette Navarrete of Kickstart Ventures, and Gang Badoy of RockEd Philippines, all the while being moderated by host and model Bianca Gonzalez-Intal.
Navarrete defines the modern Filipina, saying, “It’s the Filipina in modern times. Whatever that time is. Filipinas are resilient, tough, and we adapt. Being modern just means that we women adapt to the needs of the times.” Working with this definition, they acknowledged the inherent strength that equipped women of the past generations who had to exist in a time of war, in a time when they had to fight for the stature of Filipinas in society now.
Karen Davila even asserts her definition in a more contemporary context, saying, “Modern seems to be equated with liberal. Some say, ‘I am modern Filipina, I’ll sleep around on the first day, if I wanna do a one night stand I can do it, If I want to strip, I can and post in on Instagram, I can be disrespectful, if I want to drink all day and try drugs, I can, and that makes me modern.’”
She then follows with a biting statement that elicited responses from the crowd by saying, “That doesn’t make you modern, that makes you stupid and cheap.” Although some may offer counterarguments to this, with Ana Santos also saying that “the gift of feminism to me is choice,” in the age of social media, and in the age of nearby bars along campus vicinities, some women do enjoy the freedom to make their own choices. In a collegiate setting, where everyone seems to be doing things that are deemed “cool” and our actions often influenced by peer pressure, “Modern is if you can go against the tide, and say this is who I am,” believes Davila.
Gang Badoy also asserts the multifariousness of Filipinas: “It’s a free flow, we morph, it’s not disingenuous, you can still be your most authentic self.” But although these days, we are offered the democracy of the internet, the freedom to make our own decisions and construct our own identities, we are subjected still to social pressures that Davila asks the audience: “Do you still have the integrity of your own thoughts?” Ana Santos summarized the point of the whole panel, saying that “to be somebody, to stand up for yourself, when you play your cards right, to have a dream–that’s empowerment.”
Another discussion was comprised of a more youthful panel. The question “Millennials: Empowered or Entitled?” was addressed and was moderated by actress and host Jasmine Curtis Smith and joined by Samantha Lee, Monica Magsanoc, Patty Tiu, Hella Lomotan, and Thea de Rivera, all making ripples in their respective fields be it in social enterprise, in the service industry, or in film.
One of highlights of the discussion was on the question of privilege. Samantha Lee, director of the film Baka Bukas, believes that labeling someone as privileged is “a crutch that hinders people.” Expounding on her point, she says, “When you start classifying yourself, that’s when you start limiting what your art can do. The real question is ‘What are you going to do with that privilege? How are you going to use your voice?’”
Monica Magsanoc, the graphic artist of the Youth in Revolt shirts, created shirt designs that went viral in social media and added a millennial voice to the growing protests against the Marcos burial. She acknowledges the influence of her grandmother to her upbringing and activist outlook in life. To her, acknowledging privilege also means acknowledging that “you are not self-made. You are a product of your teachers, family, and friends.”
Collating everything they said in the discussion, it seems to be that if the definition for empowerment and being a modern Filipina means authenticity and standing up for yourself, millennials who are breaking barriers in their respective fields by responding to issues immediate to them and contributing to that fragment of society as best as they can, even some others extending beyond that, must indeed be empowered.
During lunchtime, while enjoying their meals, the audience was treated to a round table session facilitated by lifestyle writer and educator Cat Juan-Ledesma, consisting of women from different professions with perspectives from writer and development worker Ica Fernandez, yoga instructor Nica Hechanova, improv artist Aryn Cristobal, vocalist of band Flying Ipis Deng Garcia, world-renowned scientist Dr. Lourdes Cruz, and brand artist Michelle Barretto.
Coming from different backgrounds, they had different insights on their experiences as women in their chosen fields. Some are still subjected to sexist statements and are labelled “tokens” in industries dominated by men. And yet, the whole session didn’t just include exposing these struggles, but more importantly, that the point to be absorbed by the audience was the growing possibility of creating new frontiers for women in spite of deeply ingrained notions of what we can only achieve and pursue. We need not stay comfortable in the nooks and crannies of traditional careers and expectations.
In fact, in the Q&A portion, a little girl from the audience came up to the microphone and asked Dr. Lourdes Cruz, “Curious po ako, ano po ba talaga ang ginagawa ng isang scientist?” (I’m curious, what is the work of a scientist?) The innocence of the question, and the curiosity that was apparent in the little girl, drew a hopeful sigh from the crowd, as it prefigures a mindset that should be inherent to all girls out there.
In partnership with Mano Amiga, the event will raise scholarships funds for the students of Mano Amiga, a non-profit school that provides access to international quality education to underprivileged children. Apart from this, the event had invited Krie Lopez, a social entrepreneur who founded Messy Bessy, a line of locally-made home and personal care products and the HOUSE foundation that gives scholarships to at-risk young adults. She believes that the real meaning of girl power is in “fighting for the disenfranchised and disempowered.”
After defining what it means to be an empowered Modern Filipina, and discovering the breadth and length of our potentials, Krie Lopez speaks truth about the necessity to be role models and harbingers of opportunity for other women out there. In Filipina feminism, and in other feminisms, there is not only a need to liberate, but an urgency to create more avenues and spaces for expression and growth for all women out there.