Although women’s movements in the Philippines have been praised for their gains and contributions both nationally and internationally, not too many scholarly works have been written about them—how they came to be and what their contributions were as woven into the narrative of personal and institutional politics. In particular, there has been no systematic reflection on what is probably the greatest achievement of the women’s movement in the discursive realm, that is, the (re)construction of the Filipina. Mina Roces’s work sets out to fill this gap. In this light, she aims to address the main area of inquiry on how women activists theorize the notion of Filipino woman and how this conception underpins their work and advocacy. Congruently, Roces navigates through various (and oftentimes clashing) discourses on the “Filipina” embedded in societal mindset and practices as well as in the activists’ political project template. As Roces argues, the women’s movement, in challenging the grand narrative of the “Filipina,” presented a counterhegemonic discourse replete with a double narrative or “the deployment of two contrasting discourses—a narrative of victimization and a narrative of activism” (3). How the women’s movements “managed” this double narrative in the context of their political agenda is the central theme of the book.
The book begins with a brief discussion of the history of the women’s movement in the Philippines in both formal and informal political spaces and in domestic and international spheres. A very informative explanation on the “constructed” image of the “Filipina” as tied with different historical milieu lays the groundwork for locating the hegemonic discourse on the Filipino woman. By and large, the ideal “Filipina” conjured by our colonial past was that of a chaste, ever obedient and suffering woman, and proverbial martyr—a virgin bride, a subservient wife, and a “complete” woman by virtue of motherhood. Women who went against such image were considered as societal aberrations; women in history who supported and fought in revolutionary or other social movements were silenced, invisibilized, and relegated as mere addendum to men. Challenging this [End Page 563] grand narrative necessitated the deployment of a counterimaginary—that of the babaylan, the mythological persona of the precolonial Filipino woman who had the power to bridge the spirit and earthly worlds. The babaylan, in so far as the then emergent feminist consciousness was concerned, was an essential symbol—a starting point for the women’s movement to reclaim a buried discursive persona to serve the political agenda of (re)constructing the “Filipina.” Following this contextualization, the frame of the whole study was laid down: the representation of the “Filipina” and how she has been (re)fashioned by the women’s movement and the spaces she created to locate her political agency.
Part I of the book explores the double narrative deployed by women and women’s groups in their collective journey to provide a counterhegemonic discourse on the “Filipina.” It begins with the experiences of progressive nuns who were at the forefront of political activism against the Marcos regime during the 1970s and 1980s. These nuns, though radical in so far as breaking the mould of traditional nunnery confined in convent spaces, had to contend with their own double narrative. On the one hand, they towed the feminist line in bringing to light the religious roots of women’s oppression and in empowering women by demystifying martyrdom as “useless suffering”: they also brought to light issues on rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and provided women education about their bodies, their sexuality, and health. On the other hand, since they still belonged to the Catholic institution, they had not gone all the way to advocate against very intimate women’s issues such as divorce and reproductive rights. Nonetheless, as Roces claims, their contributions to feminist theorizing and activism were of critical importance.
Apart from these activist nuns who saw themselves establishing various women’s organizations, the rest of those involved in the women’s movement strategically challenged the hegemonic discourse on the “Filipina” in order to advance legislations...