She slips into her heels, draped in pearls and cashmere cardigans. She smiles through kitchen windows with a hot, oven-fresh casserole on hand. She will invite you for brunch, or afternoon tea, but never for sound political debates. She will giggle over cute boys and whisper judgment over scantily clad girls but by 5pm sharp, and not a minute later, she will come home to her famished husband just in time to prepare dinner.
She is a woman: soft, tender, and easy to break. She is genetically hardwired to stand on the sidelines of strong, powerful men, elbow clutched on one hand and a shiny purse on another. Every X chromosome in her body, a signal for defeat; whose capacity to lead is apparently defined by whatever organ hangs between her legs; and whose sole purpose is to decorate, and by turns, domesticate this socio-political gulf saturated by angry men in black robes and wooden gavels.
But she is also only a caricature; an image of a woman that mirrors more what society depicts of her than what she actually is. In her lies depth, intellect, and a capacity to govern so much more than the condiments and fabric conditioners disposed on her kitchen counter. For decades, this did not seem to persuade us as a society that has consistently lamented gender inequality, but cannot seem to bring it upon ourselves to elect a female leader without putting her vagina into question. For example, the way Hillary Clinton can principally author sanctions on Iran, create programs that expand health coverage to lower-income children, and actively participate in US foreign policy, and yet will always be, first and foremost, Bill Clinton’s first lady.
But now we see an emerging trend in global politics. One that entrusts upon women positions of power traditionally dominated by men, and all the responsibilities enshrined thereof. From German Chancellor Angela Merkel who led the campaign to open European borders to Syrian refugees, all the way down to the fact that the Queen of England is, well, the Queen.
Not that the world is finally graced by a new breed of great women (because we’ve always had great women); but that the world now seems ready to loosen the scaly wings they have long tucked conveniently under petticoats, and finally give that innate greatness more power in fostering real change over our political landscape.
Trudeau, Burma and diversity
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is famous for a few things. Among them are his brief stint at professional boxing, his electorally willed inheritance of his father’s former political post, and his masterfully chiseled jawline. But beyond his alleged novelty lies the first Canadian Prime Minister to appoint a cabinet with an equal number of seats shared by men and women, a first for the country’s history.
Placed in key positions, the cabinet stays true to its promise of diversity by including vital women in its roster. Among them are the likes of Afghan refugee Maryam Monsef, former journalist Chrystia Freeland, and veteran member of parliament Carolyn Bennet, who, as the newly appointed Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, will be looking into the cases of hundreds of aboriginal women that have either went missing or were murdered in a series of systematic crimes – a step that is not only integral towards embarking on a national conversation that seeks to eradicate a culture of racism and misogyny targeted against women of ethnic origins, but one that is fundamentally led by a woman.
Seven thousand miles away, in a country perched in the southeastern part of Asia, Burma’s ruling party concedes defeat to the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi. She is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate recognized for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, was once a political prisoner of Burma’s military Junta, and is, by every definition, a woman.
But to be a political player squarely prompted to stand against a mammoth of a dictatorial regime, we are forced to accept that there are problematic dimensions to her politics. The woman who spent her 1.3 million US dollar Nobel Peace Prize money on establishing a health and education trust for the Burmese people is the same woman who insists that her penchant for non-violence is not founded on moral reasons but rather, as a practical and political apparatus. The woman who promised to protect ethnic minority groups Karenni and Kachin is the same woman who chose to remain silent over the plight of the Rohingya in Rakhine in spite international clamor, theoretically, as a necessary bargaining chip in appealing to popular Burmese sentiments at the height of national elections.
While not as glamorous and alluring as sticking to ideals that an “icon of democracy” stands for, to Suu Kyi, a woman must do what she can.
In more familiar shores, the Philippines is faced with the possibility of electing women in the two highest positions in government come 2016.
On one end is a constitutional expert who has served in all three branches of government, an elected International Criminal Court (ICC) judge, and the poster child for Filipino pick-up lines. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is one of the only two women in pursuit of the highest office in the land.
She speaks of the presidency as a birthright, and of the Filipino electorate as a tragic tale. Often lampooned by detractors who doubt her capacity to run the country because of her refusal to make public certain medical records that may confirm her narrative of surviving an alleged terminal illness, Miriam rises to national forums equipped with her trademark humor and spitfire political sound bites, persistent in her belief that with stage 4 lung cancer or not, she is precisely what this country of 100 million needs. After all, what is cancer to a woman who – as this country seems to forget – eats death threats for breakfast?
On the opposite end of the spectrum is a foundling, haunted by citizenship issues that threaten her legitimacy. Grace Poe is the second woman to round up the country’s roster of top presidential bets. She enters the race with her distinct crisp, white, button down shirt representing all that is simple and clear-cut about her platform – a welcome contrast to the showbiz glitz that her late father represented. And yet she still manages to harp on the popular appeal that his legacy has left behind.
Her enemies reduce her into nothing but an outcast, a foundling in its truest sense, as if this Teleserye-patronizing country detests stories like that of an abandoned child who will stop at nothing in order to bring honor to her name. Quite a story tailor fit for the soap opera-obsessed Filipino voter, don’t you think?
Trailing them is a woman who still grieves the death of her husband. Leni Robredo, advertised by the Liberal Party as the last bastion of moral conscience in Philippine politics in a bid to exalt her to vice presidency, fits comfortably in the same cradle that launched the Cory Aquino brand: widow to a political hero, single mother to her children, and servant to the people.
In fact, she fits the mold so well that people tend to forget that she is also a lawyer and a legislator by profession; disparate from the plain housewife in yellow dress and shiny pearl earrings she is often compared to.
Battling dynasties, oligarchs
For these women, running governments is not going to be easy. Not for as long as patriarchal dynasties and oligarchs continue to run the east while the west is still haunted by old fashioned politics that denigrate change.
The stakes are much higher, too. Transition, after all, is a time for people to reexamine their choices. It is not just a matter of proving that women can manage economies, enforce foreign policies, and effect socio-political good just as well as any man could. The goal is to be able to create improvements stark and tangible enough to espouse a sustained support from the people in the land once only ruled by men.
So much may have already changed in how society views its women, but there is work to be done, still. For as long as there are lurking entities in ivory towers that actively challenge the growing acceptance for women in global politics, we need to remain critical over structural inequalities that threaten whatever progress we have made so far. After all, it will always be in the interest of the weak to keep fire-breathing dragons caged in dungeons, if only to keep the iron throne for themselves.
But more importantly, let the fight be as much as women’s as it is men’s. Let them serve as human testaments to why we find ourselves in this battlefield to begin with. If I haven’t driven the point already, allow me to remind you that women are, in fact, much stronger than they have long been portrayed.
Do not be fooled by her pastels and glitter, by her silk and spices. She may be soft, tender, but she is far from easy to break. She tightens her corset from the back of her spine, not to keep herself in shackles but to fight in all the curves she was born with. Her morals are not infallible, which is to say, her politics are formidable.
She is not made out of pixie dust and metaphors, not responsible only for domestic duties, or troubled only by monthly cycles. She is of flesh, bone, and crimson steel, and she will burst into this world in a rupture of stone and ember – as all dragons do. – Rappler.com
Alfonso Manalastas, 23, is a freelance photographer and writer from Butuan City, has competed in various debate competitions around the country, and also dabbles with graphic design and spoken word poetry. He is days away from moving to Manila to build a career in the art circuit.