Probably the one thing I am most thankful for having gone to UP Diliman for an undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature in the latter half of the 90s, were the set of literature teachers and minds available to me, the ones who were well-grounded in nation and how and where theories are limited in capturing where we are, what we think, where to go from here.
Early in the year, at a talk in UST, a female student asked me about Of Love And Other Lemons, about whether or not a I wrote, I was very conscious of being feminist, or of feminism in general. After the Q&A she went up to me to have her copy of The Filipino Is Worth Blogging For signed, and said that she had borrowed Lemons so many times in the UST Library. (I regret now, not giving her a copy of Lemons, the last 10 or so of which I still have.)
I did reply to her question though, and said that feminism was something that I got attracted to as a college student and certainly one that influenced my writing of Lemons (if not writing in general), but that I’m always very careful about using that label for myself, in the context of the real feminists of our time ala Gabriela and Liza Masa. I also know that there are countless women for whom it might be a scary term, if not one that does not speak for them or about them, and as I got older I realized that I have no right to judge women who choose to become mother and housewife, or who choose to be Catholic or Christian and whatever other denomination.
And that’s really the thing that I feel is critical to a more contemporary discussion of feminism. It should not be an exclusionary ideology, as it has to be one that can stand for every kind of woman, no matter age, class and creed, regardless of nation and color. It will be to the advantage of all women, if we refused to make enemies out of those who choose differently, because they still had the power to choose after all.
It might be why My Stealthy Freedom is such a powerful campaign, and one that appeals to me in its specificity, in the fact that it is such a distinct woman’s voice that also finally answers the question of feminism and difference, the kind that we used to dissect and critique in the late 90’s.
Listening to journalist Masih Alinejad speak is absolutely refreshing. She is honest, does not make this into a superficial discussion about beauty, nor a sophomoric assessment of what freedom stands for. Because she is not insisting that all Iranian women stop wearing hijabs, nor does she judge the women who don’t mind wearing it. She also does not equate the wearing of the hijab per se, as oppressive.
Instead Alinejad questions the law that makes wearing the hijab a requirement, she questions the fact that it is a crime for women in Iran not to wear their hijabs in public.
That is un-freedom after all. And that it what we all should know to stand against, and in solidarity with this generation of women who know differently from the women before them.
It also reminds of how over here in third world Philippines, where women are said to be more free than most other places, we are oppressed by the more insidious enemy that is capitalism: the beauty industry, the superficiality of skin, the lifestyle of fakery. One wonders when we will know to take a stand against these enemies.