Probably the only thing worse than the fact that one is silenced in many ways by nation is the truth that in place of that silence is a male voice that says: we love you, we care for you, we will cherish you. That this voice also carries us through any romance we might have with men is foregone conclusion. That we might believe this voice is not surprising.
There’s that thin line drawn between romantic and romanticized after all, that thin line between a romance with you as person and a romanticized idea of you as woman. The former has you as point complete with intelligent conversation, sweet walks in the park, thoughtfulness and laughter and music (yes, my ideal right there); the latter has nothing to do with you. The former is based on a man looking you in the eye because he’s interested in you; the latter is based on keeping you quietly standing in a corner.
That corner’s also called a pedestal, by the way. Such is the place we inhabit in the longer more complicated narrative of romanticized us, its complexity borne precisely of the fact that we aren’t spoken to, and when allowed to speak, aren’t heard. This is also the narrative of womanhood, controlled and maintained by the bigger more powerful institutions – all still very male – that use words and images that form | control | tie us down. Think those beautiful lasses doing laundry against a backdrop of mountains and bright blue skies in old Filipino paintings. Think the celebration of woman as pregnant mother, or before that, the glow they say brides-to-be have, or long before that the notion that you are now a woman, dalaga ka na! where the monthly period is apparently reason enough to celebrate.
Of course being at the party is totally different from being allowed to enjoy it. The power of this set-up is that half the time we’re happy enough to have been invited. We just don’t know any better really: these romanticized versions of us are in the fabric of our everyday existence after all, and the blurred line between romance and romanticized can only make what’s oppressive less so. That you read this and think? What, me? Oppressed? Is its success.
And I get you, really. I’m a middle class girl too, born during Martial Law, grew up educated and with words to define myself by, grew up when democracy and freedom were bywords for living on this side of the third world: EDSA 1986 and the first woman president made sure of that. I even get you when you say that looking good is being good to self, that approximating how those women on billboards look is about your buying power, and therefore your independence. I get you when you say that love, in all its trappings, is your happiness, and that there is no oppression there.
But right in that insistence are our individual repressions, too. It’s in the crevices of spending so much on the superficial, of starving ourselves close to death, of getting caught up in the industry of beauty, the better to find love with my dear. It’s in those instances when we think we need to fit into and become those words used to describe us: doting mother, loving wife, good lover, responsible daughter. It’s in these crevices and instances that a teeny tiny voice might admit to insecurity, if not self-loathing. That is what this industry of beauty banks on after all, and it is what these roles do to any one of us who will never fit into them exactly.
Because much of the romance society has with us is about a set of requirements cloaked in labels that render us as relevant members of nation: we are jewels to cherish, loves to care for, the light of our homes. Our male Senators invoke it to prove they care for us, the Church celebrates us as the heart of Catholicism’s existence. But this caring and protection, this celebration! is really the bane of our existence, its words and images inform what we are forced to repress: what we think and how we feel, our uncertainties and disillusions, the individual identities we could only have as human beings. These are things that romanticization erases in its insistence on what we should be versus what we are and what we could still be.
The latter two are technically irrelevant to these romanticized images of us of course, and expectedly so. Because if society began listening to us, if we began insisting on the roles that we can play, if we started being heard, it would find itself in a bind: what do we do without our mothers and wives and sisters? society would ask exasperated.
Which would make us feel needed and wanted and cherished and loved, yes. Allowing us to forget that it’s also these things that keep us where we are, that render who we are and what we think secondary to how we should be. We would forget that this is what society asks because it is all they want for us to be.
The better to keep the equilibrium with, the better to wake up each morning and feel that everything is right with the world. The women after all are standing in their corners of the room, nay, are high up on their pedestals.
Now the latter might seem all romantic. But I’d take a man dealing with me at eye-level anytime. ***
From Of Love and Other Lemons, 2012.