Friday, December 14, 2007
As might be expected of old stuff, the magazine I handled was so precarious that it needed the special loving care of a bibliophile in order for it to survive this long. Archiving turned out to be not bad at all, for each page was still intact, albeit looking like a potato peel for its yellowing brownness. Any hastier turning of the pages and the fragile paper would disintegrate in my fingers. The paper in general should not be mistaken for the Star daily broadsheet, for while the magazine shared its name with the newspaper, the now-defunct Star magazine traced its origin in provincial Cebu, not in the more metropolitan city of Manila. Containing write-ups in Cebuano Visaya aside from the institutional English, the American colonial magazine was published on January 27, 1930, just in its first volume, no. 26. Like the page on which my chosen article was printed in its entirety, most pages had drawings in them.
Serving like an introduction to the rest of the articles for having been placed in the first page, the article I chose was entitled “Woman’s Art.” Its margins were filled with sketch works depicting women in various scenes: on the top part, a woman and her kissing lover were basking in the afternoon sun under the shade of a tree waxing by the river; on the left part, women with their respective families are thronging toward the church, presumably to listen to the Sunday mass; on the right margin, a woman looks from her house’s window down her serenading suitor. The five-paragraph article written pseudonymously by E. P. Phany discussed the role at-large of a woman, especially in relation to her man. The one-liner introduction told that art is a woman’s privilege, then proceeded that the art a woman indulged in was teaching a child how to be a man. The third paragraph asserted that what good man a husband turned out to be was primarily an artwork of his wife, and this artwork was extended to motherhood in which “a mother produces no less than the father of man.” The article closed with the argument that this woman’s art of refining a man to perfection lasts “today, yesterday and FOREVER.”
The topic of the woman being the queen of the house is valid in terms of the patriarchal ideology hounding the society for ages already. While feminist studies of late is trying to subvert this false consciousness in order to liberate women from their bondage in kitchen and in bed, women still get cast in the opposing categories of Madonna and the whore. A woman who follows just what artwork of motherhood and wifehood is expected of her, she becomes the Madonna archetype: a respectable wife and nurturing mother. If this same woman fails to pattern herself from the archetypal Virgin Mother Mary of Judeo-Christian tradition (meaning she disappoints everybody by not being able to raise her children to become productive citizens or to attend to her husband’s needs), she becomes the dreaded whore, the wild woman who cannot be trusted to perform her artwork satisfactorily. Since the society was and still is largely patriarchal, women were left with fewer choices, almost always leading to a virtual imprisonment in their homes. There, women were compelled to cook for their husbands, wash and iron their dress, serve them, adore them, rear their children, among other house tasks. They were conditioned into believing that there was no fulfillment for them outside their home, so education and nondomestic careers need not be pursued. Even if these women had the brilliance of running the state or managing a corporation, they would turn out to be frustrations if they could not even raise kids properly or if they lost their husbands to more passionate concubines. Women in general are being boxed up by the article as only having one choice that’s to pursue the art of homemaking, wherein she was supposed to find and surround her identity.
This ideology can be verified by a parallel article published in The Philippines Herald in July 22, 1928, among other related texts across Philippine as well as world history. Entitled “What Is Your Ideal Woman?” it echoes what men thought and still think of the kind of women they should marry: as “a sort of goddess, with none of the frailties and weaknesses of this very weak sex,” “good looking enough to make the prospect of having her across the breakfast table,” “not more [intelligent] than [men are],” “[they] need not [have career],” “not unreasonably domineering,” not “vain wom[e]n,” “not...extremely jealous.” The article concluded with a bachelor resolving to remain as such until he found a woman he could trade his “thirty odd years of bachelorhood and freedom.” These parallel texts mirrored the colonial heritage of looking up to the father figure, erasing the ancient tradition of women rule by giving way to the violent force of colonization by the Spanish machos who brought the Judeo-Christian religion, carried on by the American Big Brother. As a result, women transformed from the powerful babaylanes to subservient housewives who lurk in the shadows of their husbands.
This text, springing from the context of American Occupation, does not depart from the lingering ideology that men rule. This has been true across history, until now when the ideology is facing vigorous objections from feminist groups regarding the fashioning of women according to men’s desires. Of course, women should not just be confined to their homes if they wish to explore their career options. They also need to assert their identities beyond motherhood and wifehood. Besides, men should get the message across that women should be viewed and treated more than just a sex object or a housemaid. Studying texts like “Woman’s Art” will provide the revelation that certain false notions in the society shape men’s and women’s thinking, an important component in analyzing the direction the society is taking toward human progress. This piece of history is essential to the research involving feminist, sociological, political and cultural studies.