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Sunday, June 22, 2008

the politically-correct filipina: feminism in jose rizal's noli me tangere


As a social record, Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere is faithful in its reflection of the events of the historical environment that chronicled it. Since the novel had been born when the national consciousness of the Spanish colonial Philippines was increasingly awakening, the ideologies that informed the National Hero’s literary masterpiece were true of that time and place. One such ideology, patriarchy, is more evident especially in the light of the generally unsympathetic portrayal of women in the novel by Dr. Rizal. Notwithstanding, could it be possible that Rizal was actually making a feminist statement with his depictions?
Possible. Since the positively portrayed female characters were spare, it is easier to point one out and discuss her characterization in order to justify that Rizal was a feminist ahead of his time. There is Salome, the unconventional sweetheart of the social rebel Elias. In Chapter 25, Salome figures as the lady by the edge of the lake whom Elias pays a visit to. As of the moment, she lives alone in her hut but is about to leave for Mindoro, supposedly with Elias. She may look traditional in her appearance and apparel, but her solitary residence makes the difference in that she lives independently, unlike the norm wherein women were supposed to be dependent on men. Salome’s independence is a feminist commentary because it is a telling fact that she can take care of herself and is self-sufficient, so much different from women who have to stick to men if only to create their own identities. Given the nature of small-town settings wherein everybody knows (and talks about) everyone else, she does not seem to mind if malicious tongues would wag as a result of a visit by a male in her lonesome hut in broad daylight. Since Elias begs off from joining her in her return to the old country, she decides to go ahead but not without speaking her mind in the process, proof that she is rather advanced for her time. She will reunite with her relatives through a journey alone so she decides to give her hut for Elias to live from that time on. Ordinary women would first consult men in doing that. Most importantly, Salome is unafraid to speak her mind about Elias’ becoming a part of her life, something that is unthinkable for conventional women. Women who confess how they feel towards men run the risk of being labeled sluts by the society, but Salome, in a manner so typical of ladylike Filipinas, all the same reveals to Elias how sad it is to live alone and how so much better her life has become when he happened along. All these occurred in the lone chapter in which Elias’ love life was brought to the fore, and it happens that the object of his love is a woman of stronger constitution than most: Salome. It is therefore ironic that the chapter was excluded by Rizal during the novel’s first printing for the purpose of saving publication costs. Its eventual inclusion in the succeeding printings is a cause for celebration because Salome may serve as a redeeming value after the many negative portrayals of women in Noli.
Meanwhile, Rizal’s depiction of other women like the martyr wife Sisa, the ridiculous Doñas Victorina and Consolacion, and the weakling Maria Clara may be feminist commentaries after all. Sisa was pictured as an extremely persevering wife of a good-for-nothing husband not merely for lack of sympathy but to warn Filipino women not to mimic the wretchedness of wrong martyrdom. Her eventual madness is also a manifestation of the archetypal wild woman who is in touch with her nature rather than the patriarchy-constructed social strictures on women. Meanwhile, Victorina’s social climbing use of bastardized Spanish may be interpreted as a female’s subversion of an imperial tongue that doubles as a patriarchal language, while Consolacion’s return strikes at her wife-beating husband of an alferez is a fresh take on women who were regularly shown as long-suffering martyrs. Finally, Maria Clara’s illustration as weak and other ill women representations in Noli as hypocrite church manangs, gossipers and the like are ways by which Rizal wanted to satirize women so their frustration at such descriptions would possibly give way to their assertion of the politically-correct ideal women that they are.

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