What About National Holidays for our Women Heroes?

December 30 is Rizal Day and my smart little feminist goddaughter, Gabbi, 10, asked her mom, Lorna, this question: “Mom, how come we are not commemorating the birthdays and death anniversaries of Tandang Sora and Gabriela Silang? Is it because they are women?”

It is a very good question to reflect on as we prepare to welcome 2016, an election year. And it took a 10-year old girl to raise such an important matter that we all have taken for granted.

In an effort to be a good feminist godmother, I pondered on Gabbi’s question and this led me to dig up a paper I read years ago written by Albina Peczon Fernandez of the U.P. Center for Women’s Studies entitled, “If Women Are the Best Men in the Philippines, Why Are They Invisible in History?”

The title of the paper was inspired by a remark once made by U.S. Governor-General Leonard Wood that “the best men in the Philippines are women.”

Fernandez tackled the issue of why, despite women’s active participation in history-making, historians seem to be gender-blind. “In the pages of history books, women are made to appear as mere passive onlookers as men single-handedly make history as wise law-givers, builders of industry, generals of armies, statesmen, conquering heroes and the like,” she wrote.

She pointed out as an example the 1989 publication of the National Historical Institute on “Filipinos in History” that featured only 17 women out of 117 subjects. “The way these 17 women are presented is also not something to cheer about,” Fernandez said.

“The writers made it clear that these women could not make history on their own. They made it to this history book only because they were in the service of the real heroes, as servers of food to male Katipuneros, nurses of wounded male soldiers, or makers of flags which men waved or raised in flagpoles as symbols of their patriotic aspirations,” Fernandez explained.

Despite calls to make women visible in history worldwide, Philippine history remains men’s history. Or what is also referred to as traditional history.

Fernandez argues that traditional history is NOT Philippine history. She categorized traditional history or men’s history into two: (1) history told from the point of view of the colonizer; and (2) history told from the point of view of the colonial.

The first category is produced by a writer with the point of view of a man, upper class, white, conquistador. As a man, he subscribes to patriarchy or the ideology which views men as superior to women and children. As a member of the upper class, he sees himself as “ the social, political, and cultural better” of the underclass so therefore the upper class must control society and the underclass must never have power being the “weaker class.” As a member of the white race, he sees his race as the superior race and non-whites as inferior and therefore they need to be saved and uplifted by the white race — the source of the only true religion, political correctness, progress, and civilization. As the conquistador, he sees the conquered country and its citizens as a source of resources to exploit for profit. So there is no such thing as equal rights and privileges with the colonial.

The second category, which is history from the point of view of the colonial, started with Dr. Jose Rizal, based on the research of Fernandez. Rizal felt that the flaunting of “race superiority” by the Spanish colonizers became too much that he started to write an alternative view. He believed that Philippine history must be written from the point of view of the oppressed colonial.

While in Europe during the Propaganda Movement, Rizal wrote to the Filipinos: “know the past in order that you may be able to judge better the present and to measure the road traversed during three centuries…If the book succeeds to awaken your consciousness of our past, already effaced from your memory, and to rectify what has been falsified and slandered…we shall be able to study the future.”

Rizal also wrote a lot about the Western colonizers’ misrepresentation and prejudice toward Filipino women. He said that the Filipina is free and respected, unlike her European counterpart who “lose her name, rights, liberty, and initiative” when she marries. Colonizers portrayed free-spirited Filipinas as “rude” and not well behaved according to their “civilized” standards. Rizal thought the criticism against Filipino women stemmed from the fact that the colonizers could not control them as they would have liked.

Despite attempts of Rizal to show how valuable women in history are, the traditional view persists. So how do we start including women in Philippine history then? Fernandez proposed that to write women’s history, it must be from the point of view of a woman, underclass, non-white, colonized.

“In the lived life of women in the Philippines, gender oppression is not the only oppression suffered by women. There is also oppression of the poor by the rich, the ethnic minority by the dominant ethnic group, and the Philippines as a Southern country by Northern countries. The writer of women’s history must examine and show women’s life in the context of these intersecting forms of oppression,” Fernandez stressed.

The colonization of Filipino women is not just Western colonization; it is also patriarchal colonization. Liberating the Philippines from colonization will not automatically liberate women from their oppression by the patriarchal system. So we must fight both.

So to answer my goddaughter Gabbi, we do not have national holidays for our women heroes because the version of Philippine history taught to us and our leaders who declare these holidays is still traditional history where women are invisible. Women are invisible because the traditional view is a patriarchal view that only men are important. Of course, that is a ridiculous view, and outright wrong and unjust. We must change that view and we are contributing to that change by asking questions like Gabbi’s.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, December 31, 2015