Be­fore eve


WHEN we were girls, my sis­ter and I pre­tended we owned an is­land and did ab­so­lutely noth­ing we did not want to do and ev­ery­thing we wanted to. At those ages, our in­dul­gences ran to: not do­ing house work, sleep­ing when we wanted to.

Re­mem­ber­ing that child­hood game, I won­dered if it had been at the backs of our minds then to not marry, not bear chil­dren, not lead do­mes­tic, thor­oughly do­mes­ti­cated, lives in that Isle of Not’s.

Couch­ing that fan­tasy re­quires a se­ries of nega­tions. No, sus­tain­ing the imag­i­nary de­mands ex­plod­ing so­cial myths, for in­stance: if a woman is not a wife and a mother, what is she?

Cebu in the 1970s was a bas­tion of tra­di­tions book­ended by fam­ily, school, church and state. Even just con­scious of the first three, my sis­ter and I cre­ated the Isle of Not’s as a back­door, al­most as if we al­ready fore­saw our fu­tures.

It was then with a shock of recog­ni­tion that I came across Dolores Stephens Fe­ria’s es­say, “The Pa­tri­archy and the Filip­ina as Writer,” which is part of her book, “The Long Stag Party” (1991).

Dolores knows the women of the di­as­pora. Be­fore global mi­gra­tion, col­o­niza­tion im­ploded the Filip­ina. An Amer­i­can who mar­ried a Filipino aca­demic de­spite the anti-mis­ce­gena­tion tide in the US, Dolores joined her hus­band in re­turn­ing to the coun­try after the Sec­ond World War. She taught English and lit­er­a­ture at the Sil­li­man Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of the Philip­pines Dil­i­man. Shortly after mar­tial law was im­posed, she was ar­rested and de­tained with­out charges for three year s.

In the jour­nal she kept clan­des­tinely dur­ing her in­car­cer­a­tion, Dolores wrote how state op­pres­sion made Filipinos state­less in their own coun­try. For women, the op­pres­sions were more re­stric­tive.

Liken­ing to one “long stag party” the Span­ish and Amer­i­can col­o­niza­tions that sub­jected women to the dou­ble bind of im­pe­ri­al­ist and mas­culin­ist dom­i­na­tion, Dolores ar­gued in her es­say that the colo­nial­ist and an­dro­cen­tric writ­ing of Philip­pine his­tory buried women who, in pre-colo­nial times, were the “babay­lan,” “du­man­dang” and “man­dadawak.”

Th­ese pre-colo­nial heal­ers, psy­chic in­ter­preters of a tribe’s in­ner life and priest­esses were sup­planted by men by way of the pul­pit, the bed­room, the class­room and the po­lit­i­cal sphere. When as­sim­i­la­tion did not work— most women had their uses as wives and daugh­ters— so­ci­ety turned th­ese ill-fit­ting ones into Oth­ers.

At the turn of the cen­tury, women who wrote were re­garded as treach­er­ous as un­charted is­lands on which men could dash and lose all plans and am­bi­tions for prog­eny. Out­side of my sis­ter’s and my imag­i­na­tion, th­ese fe­male Isles of Not’s ex­isted. Who was Dolores re­fer­ring to?

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