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Saturday, October 13, 2007

chinese woman, doubly bound

Inequalities of race-ethnicity and gender, among other categories, shape daily life, all social institutions, government policies and laws. These systems of inequality are the cause of many insecurities. Because of the complexities of these inequalities, an integrated and simultaneous way of looking at these categories is required to be able to understand clearly what inequalities are going on. This presentation will focus on the phenomenon of doubly binding or intersectional forms of discrimination or subordination faced by many Chinese women in the Philippines based on their gender and race or ethnicity. The combined effects of racism and gender discrimination, in particular on migrant, immigrant, indigenous, minority and marginalized Chinese women in the Philippines, has had devastating consequences for their full enjoyment of equality and fundamental human rights in both the public and private spheres. When a nuanced and multi-layered understanding of racially- and gender-instigated social inequalities is achieved, the development of a more accurate and effective response or solution is possible. Working for peace and genuine security means working for women’s liberation, an antiracist, multicultural society, and an end to economic exploitation and social inequality.
Using the framework of L. McIntyre’s “Inequality and Ascription,” I will explore the idea that being a Chinese woman in the Philippines is being in the aforementioned double bind, one bind being perpetuated by an inequality in ethnicity while the other bind by an inequality in gender. First, I will investigate the history behind the discrimination against women as just the second sex. Second, I will investigate the history behind the discrimination against the Chinese as a marginalized sector of the Philippine society. Third, I will interpret how being a Chinese woman in macho Philippines is being in a twofold stricture. After this interpretation, I will attempt to debunk the myths surrounding this combined discrimination against women of ethnic background. Lastly, I will offer ways by which to subvert the prevailing ideologies that discriminate against sex and race.
The Myth of the Second Sex
Based on the prevailing ideology, the male is interpellated and is assigned the dominant identity in the society: the patriarchy. He is not forced to embrace this mechanism of recognition he responds to, but merely accepts as natural the position given him. The material apparatuses in which are associated the system of meanings position the male with the patriarchal condition of his existence. Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) like the school, church, family, media, among others, are institutions that help ideology work for the male to act accordingly or °consistently with the values of society by inculcating in them the dominant versions of appropriate behaviour” as prescribed and as expected of him by the society, °to enable [him] to work within the existing social formation.”
Meanwhile, the female is obligated to take the dominated identity. A velvet-covered iron hand mechanism also makes the female accept the role assigned to her, as propagated by the same ISAs that put the male on top. For instance, in a largely patriarchal society like the contemporary Philippines, the male makes and enacts the final decision while the female succumbs to this decision. He has the last say on everything, inasmuch as he is predetermined to be a wise decision-maker, being a male whereas the female remains silent, being determined to decision follower. Even when a consensus is arrived at between sexes, the male’s ultimate judgment has apparent influence on it, not the female’s.
Likewise, the male is viewed as the master whereas the female, the slave. He is the supreme authority over everyone—someone not to be questioned, much less disobeyed especially by the female subordinate. Corollarily, he is unyielding to anyone, especially to a female. He wields power in order to perform his role as outright ruler; thereby, he is made a classic macho. The female, on the other hand, yields to the power of the male. She is the ruled, and must perform the male’s order in her capacity as the slave.
Also, the male is deemed the home’s breadwinner while the female, the homemaker. He is the prime provider for the family while the female stays home to raise his family. Because of him, the family is well-fed, dwells comfortably at home, and grows an integral, normal part of the society, productive conditions that are not accorded to the female partner who rules the home.
In addition, the male is an important/special being while the female, ordinary, unimportant. Between a male and a female, the female is considered less important to the patriarchal society. The works of intellect, strength, technology and such are attributed to his genius, her genius being considered inferior.
Finally, the male is considered an emergent winner in most disciplines and endeavors, if not everything. He is not expected to lose out a portion of his undertaking, especially to a female. Whatever it is that she engages in, be it sports, politics, business, profession, science and the like, the female is not set out to conquer it, only the male can and will.
The aforementioned examples are manifestations that the society is subjected to phallogocentrism, a concept that “rests on the dubious metaphor of a penis having some equivalence with a quest for unity, totality and monologism, and hence totalitarianism and repression.” Because the concept spells violence against the female sex accompanying said quest, it is necessary to point out that this is male violence, which is to show the domination of patriarchal society.
French feminists Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous concur with the perception that basically, the hegemonic Western culture is oppressive because it is phallogocentric. Whereas the singular center of the universe is the male, the otherwise uncharted rest of it is the collective other, the female. In which case, the female is already violated by this other-ness by means of the construction of male as the father and possessor of the phallus, the ultimate symbol of patriarchy. As mentioned earlier, the penis symbolizes a search for °unity, totality and monologism, and that penis differentiates the male form the penis-lacking female. However, the female is also a human being; thus, she must be accorded the same respect and equal footing given to the male. It may be that all along, this penis-signified quest is the exploration of the one, harmonious co-existence of the male and the female. Then again, the gendered subject that is the female assumes her societal role with a different power than that of the male.
The ideology of patriarchy has had a decisive influence on the fate of women in most cultures across the world. Male dominance has been made legitimate in law and custom. The political, professional and corporate worlds have been presumed to be natural environments for men while for women, if only to have a space or place of their own, the natural environment was presumed to be the privacy of the home. Different cultures or religions might allude to this category of roles on the toughness and nobility needed for professional, public and corporate service—the need for males to have a sense of the big picture—as opposed to females whose horizons and loyalties were limited to the family and clan. Hence, the private family role forced on most women formed part of the standard for making them ineligible for political, corporate and professional roles. In effect, there is a prejudice against women because the males are accorded the meatier roles in the society based no the notion that they are the more productive citizens and the most women can do is play second fiddle to them.
The Marginal Chinese in Pinoy Country
After a discussion of how social inequality happens between sexes, a discusion of how another social inequality happens by virtue of race or ethnicity, taking into consideration the plight of the Chinese people in the Philippines. Pejorative terms like “Intsik,” “Beho” and “Tsekwa” are but some samples of discrimination against the Chinese in this country. These derogations are made not only because of looking down on the Chinese race but also because of envy over its capability to survive the most impoverishing times as well as its thriftiness and business expertise. History has compelled the Chinese to isolate themselves in order to safeguard themselves from extrinsic risks and social injustices, among other threats experienced by migrants. This has resulted the racial tension emanating between the Filipinos and the Chinese. Since this is the Filipino country, the Chinese are, territorially, the marginalized.
The Filipino prejudice against the Chinese is prevalent. First, the Chinese are depicted as very rich although the source of this wealth is doubtful. They are frugal store owners hiding as unprincipled capitalists. In order to acquire power albeit illegally, they are pictured to corrupt political personages. Second, the Chinese are frequently pictured as abnormally sexual beings. Chinese males are supposed to be forcing women to submit to them. Also, the very first signs of Sinophobia in the country was rooted to the banishment of the Chinese by the Spaniards owing to the rumors that they were the ones who had taught sodomy among Filipinos. Third, the Chinese are said to be ill mannered and ignorant, loathsome for their opium addiction, and a butt of jokes.
The Doubly bound Chinese woman
In “Inequality and Ascription,” social inequality involving race and gender had been prevalent across cultures and history. The struggle against it became apparent after the effects of industrialization had been felt. No matter the intensity of the struggle to become equal with everybody else, not everyone succeeded. For example, not all who garnered money as a result of their industry got to access rights and privileges. Most of them were misjudged or discriminated because of their stereotyped ethnicity or gender. They were considered just too different and no matter how they approximate the power wielded by others, they will only manage to become second-class.
This is not entirely untrue to the experience of Chinese women in the Philippines. Marginalized as they are, they are located at intersections by virtue of their racial and gender identities and must negotiate the traffic that flows through these intersections to avoid harm and to gather resources for the normal activities of life. This can be dangerous when the traffic flows simultaneously from many directions. Injuries are sometimes created when the impact from one direction throws victims into the path of oncoming traffic, while on other occasions, injuries occur from simultaneous collisions. These are the contexts in which intersectional injuries occur—when multiple disadvantages or collisions interact to create a distinct and compound dimension of disempowerment. In the case of Chinese women in the Philippines, the intersection of their Chinese identity with that of their gender is no exemption.
Take the example of a relative who was forced into arranged marriage to another Chinese after her parents discovered that she was having an affair with a non-Chinese. She even had to sacrifice her stellar scholarship in a premier university in the Philippines because her beloved belonged there, too. The ideologies that informed her in school did not help a lot when she was grounded initially, and then compelled to be betrothed to a man she barely knew. She said, “it was very difficult to assert my opinion just because it weighs less than that of my father. His decision prevailed, and I got married to someone I did not love.” Notice that the last part of her final sentence is in the past tense, which could mean that she has learned to accept her fate of having to love her husband even against her will—a proof of dehumanization on her womanhood. This occurred in the context of the Chinese culture of marrying only one’s own race, presumably to preserve the cultural heritage if not the economic enjoyment. Against the will of the patriarch, the Chinese female’s will cannot prevail, even if it involved her own destiny. She is disempowered as she has no equal right to the Chinese men, who relish the notion that they can marry non-Chinese women since they are men—dominant, intelligent, capable—anyway. The same is not accorded to Chinese women, so they are trapped into marrying Chinese men only, lest they be ostracized by the Chinese community for marrying a huanna (native Filipino) or some other nationality.
Or the example of the Chinese woman who had to give way to a younger brother in inheriting their business, since the sibling is male and she, while the eldest, is disqualified for being a female. “I feel that my business degree was useless,” laments the interviewee. “I thought that the modern world has thought my father to flow with the radical change, but to no avail, ” she adds. She went on to say that getting married to a business-owning Chinese man did not help change her plight, for the husband just let her rule the home. She claimed that her business acumen cannot be applied anymore, for it has been 15 years and the husband overlooked her plea to participate in the corporate management. She felt that she was atrophying for her children have since grown up and she has lots of time to do productive works, except that she was not offered the opportunity to do so.
Or take the example of my Chinese schoolmates’ experiences when they ventured outside their cloistered existence in their exclusive Chinese girls’ school into the different universities they got admitted in. Rarely have they not been confronted by slurs like they are “dominating” the campus, “denying other Filipinos the privilege of getting slots in the State U[niversity],” “crowding too much,” driving away the mestizas or simply “intsik.” While they all underwent a democratic process of college admission, criticisms still flew left and right since they, discriminators argue, have better chances because of their resources and, objectionably, connections. They are perceived to be less beautiful compared to mestizas whereas beauty is relative and, historically, the Chinese were the original mestizo titleholder. They have failed to perceive that owing to their assimilation into the Philippine setting, they have become more Filipino than Chinese. They seem so much of a threat to men and non-Chinese in terms of academic competition, among other social aspects.
This structural discrimination wherein policies intersect with underlying structures of inequality creates a compounded burden for particularly vulnerable women like the Chinese. Hence, the Chinese women in the Philippines may experience specific forms of gender discrimination where they are vulnerable because of their race or ethnicity. On the other hand, marginalized women may be subject to specific forms of racial discrimination simply because of their gendered location within their communities. Thus, the racism they experience may affect them in ways which are different from that experienced by men in their communities. Yet another manifestation of structural discrimination happens when the policy in question interacts with background structures thus creating burdens that disproportionately affect marginalized women. Structural adjustment programs within developing and transitional economies, although not specifically targeted at women, can lead to increased poverty for marginalized women. The Chinese women can possibly experience this when, for instance, the Philippine government will implement a law prioritizing native Filipinos for employment or for owning businesses. Neither they nor their husbands or fathers will have an economic access within the country, then. It may be far-fetched, but possible. It had happened before when the Chinese were banished in the parian during the Spanish colonial period; the isolation could happen again. Whatever the type of intersectional discrimination, the consequence is that different forms of discrimination are more often than not experienced simultaneously by marginalized women. But the reality of their lives shaped as it is by disadvantage and social injustice is ignored and lies unaddressed within the traditional framework of understanding gender and racial discrimination because of a lack of a holistic approach to gender and racial discrimination.

Subverting the macho and racist ideologies
Feminism as a political and social movement emerged out of a specific socio-historical condition that had prescribed a subordinate position for women. The society’s mono-sex system had played a pivotal role in validating men and repressing women. Feminism set as its agenda the overthrow of this oppressive condition which had curtailed women’s psychological development. Women must assume, as all subjugated people tend to, that access into conventional arenas of power would correct the structural gender inequities of the mono-sex system. In attempting to wrest control of their lives from men, women must view whatever men did as representing power, and seek inclusion as the only viable option to be empowered. Equality means access in the domain of men.
Likewise, racism must not proliferate. The Chinese as capitalist exploiter must be interpreted not in terms of ethnicity but in terms of class. The Chinese are not solely the exploiters, nor are the victims solely Filipinos. Even the poor Chinese experience exploitation by their rich compatriots. Being compradors is not tied up to race but instead, tied up to class. Also, lust is not a problem of ethnicity. That the Chinese is an abnormally sexual race is not backed up by any scientific study. Finally, while vices are not dominated by a single race, neither are virtues. The Chinese have virtues worth emulating. A more balanced view of the Philippine Chinese must be stressed.
A succession of freedom movements expressing the human striving for liberation in Western society has already brought its influx into these islands. As an oppressed majority, women point to a basic and persistent form of domination which is expressed in the various social customs regarding the man-woman relationship. As they strive to break the peculiar chains of sexism, they must become aware of their solidarity with all those who aspire for full human liberation. Learning from others, they must also contribute their own perspective to what is happening in the rapidly changing institutions of society. Also, human liberation means new consciousness of oppression and rising expectations concerning the future. Oppressed people such as the Chinese in the Philippines must begin the process of liberation by negating the negative of the present situation. It is this discovery that frees them to discover their humanity. This is a phenomenon which points to the growing awareness that humanization involves freedom to participate in shaping one's own destiny. It is at this critical juncture that the broad perspective of sexism and racism must converge. It is critical that the perception of the nature of oppression, and the vision of the new freedom not be one-sided. For when analyzing the nature of past oppression it is quickly realized that part of the disease has been the inherent one-sidedness of the definitions of social reality.
A collective struggle against sexism has real implications for racism and vice versa. The struggle for liberation is a struggle toward a new humanness, and that anti-discrimination based on either dare not happen apart from any other struggle. The seeds which spawn the racist mentality also spawn the sexist mentality, though the results differ in both their historical manifestations and degree of oppression. Strugglers must reflect upon the general nature of oppression and the context which it sets for human liberation. It is critical to any group of women working toward liberation to take a careful look at sexism and racism in order to build an understanding of their similarities and differences. If institutional change is to be effected, there is a need to capitalize upon the similarities but to acknowledge and be sensitive to the differences realistically. This will enable the Chinese woman to build a community of trust with the rest of the society and also affirm the nature of pluralism within a context of unity. Any attitude, action or institutional structure which systematically subordinated a person or group because of their Chinese ethnicity or because of their female sex should be stopped.


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