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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Femininity 7: In The Community

My grandmother playing with an iPad

When I was a teenager, I saw my mom as a housewife in charge of house cleaning, cooking, tending to our needs, and my dad's needs when he was around. This was the feminine role I grew up with. It was interesting to see my mom turned into a female politician in our town one day and we will touch on her story of how that happened.

In the photo above,  seeing my grandmother who was a dressmaker all her life playing with iPad in one of the pictures posted by my cousin in Facebook was also very interesting.

When my father was in the Philippines resting and had no work contract abroad, my mom normally worked as a municipal health counsellor and a teacher. 

She was an accounting student who worked as a maid to the owner of the college where she studied and with the additional support of my dad she graduated the course. There was a shortage of teachers, so our relative who was the principal of the school asked her if she liked to take on the job. She accepted the offer. She became a high school teacher of the nearby school teaching the Filipino language. 

One day, there was a need for candidates to run for public office. The total population of the town where we lived was about 15,000 at that time. It was a small town and not many people graduated college, so my mom was nominated as a candidate for counsellor.  

From having no experience of politics, I was introduced to the world of politics, the Philippine way.

In this blog, I would like to share my experience in seeing my mom - as a feminine, taking on the role of a female politician, getting into politics, and what I have noticed happening around me with regards to other women trying to earn a living in our small town.

My sister and I helped her in her campaign. We distributed flyers and shook peoples's hands. At home, there were always a lot of visitors from my mom's political party ticket plus ordinary people from the community asking her for help. I spent most of my time making coffee for everyone.

During that time, my dad who was usually working abroad, helped print my mom''s flyers for distribution to the public who were voters. I watched her spoke in the community. Most of the candidates were men and I remembered her as the only woman candidate giving her talks even in the remote part of our town - called barrios. 

Her feminine role started from the family and was branching out to the community. This was interesting to watch.

After the tally of votes, she emerged as the winner. She was voted as the first counsellor. 

My experience of myself and my mom changed from a family oriented existence to a public oriented existence - seeing her performing a (feminine and also partly masculine) role in the community which also impacted my life. She was mostly doing her job as a counsellor - in the community, and when she was at home, other people would come and ask her for help - either medical or  financial.

She continued giving talks to crowds after she won the election. I went with her sometimes to attend small events, but sometimes they have big community events where most of the people in the community gather. They usually have music, dancing and food. The event was held in a big hall outside the municipal building. Usually people were invited to dance and partake of the food given during those occasions. 

While walking with my mom to buy something at the market, people greeted my mom and they greeted me too. I felt there were a lot of people who knew her and me and my family after she won the election.

When I went with my mom in her monthly community visits, I noticed that there were a lot of poor people in our town. I was not aware of this before. My life revolved inside the house, outside,  playing with my friends nearby or going to my grandmother's house which was walking distance from where we lived. What I enjoyed most was walking to the beach which was 2 minutes away and taking a dip in the slightly warm water during hot weather then walking back to our house or my grandmother's house to get a 'shower'. 

During walks with my mom, I noticed housewives who lived near us whose main source of income were cooking food items to sell in the school, in the market, or having a store of their own where they sell toys and food. They survived doing those jobs.

Recently, I went to Wikipedia to look at the main income of our town and It turned out the town's main income comes from cooked food. At the economy section, I found out the foods I grew up with

  • Kalamay-hati: A type of coconut jam made from coconut cream and sugar or molasses
  • Maja blanca: A type of coconut pudding
  • Suman: A dessert/snack made of sticky rice and coconut steamed in leaves.
  • Puto: A steamed rice cake.
  • Bagoong: A traditional fish paste made using fresh local/sustainable ingredients.


Somehow, this small town managed to survive with the help of the housewives who cooked and sold the food to earn some income to support their husband's income (who did mostly physical labor kind of work). 

The college graduates (who included my mom) and those with more money, ended up working in the municipality or doing business in neighboring towns, cities or even working abroad.

Continued...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Femininity 6: School, Dance, Music & Movement



Picture of Males and Females Dancing a Filipino Folk Dance

Femininity

Part 1 Copied
Part 2 My Mom, Grandmother and Great Grandmother
Part 3 Cooking
4 Nurture
5 Feminine Mystique
===

When I bring my childhood memories back here, what stands out was my experience of dancing in school during convocations or class presentations. My eyes light up whenever I get selected to dance as part of a group or alone with a male partner. The school dance performance became the platform where I was able to move my body with my partner in tune to the music and express my interpretation of a certain event in time. 

It was a reenactment of an event using movement and music which was taught to us - by our choreographer. It was not really me directing the dance. I was a willing and able participant.

The dances I participated in were mostly Filipino Folk dances. One specific dance that was easy and fun to do was one with an accompanying music called 'Magtanim Ay Di Biro' - translated, 'Planting Rice Is Not Easy'. This music and dance routine depicted the life of rice farmers who worked from very early morning to sundown, planting rice. They were being paid by the land owners to cultivate and plant rice in their land. They divide the money from the sale of the rice between themselves with the land owners sometimes paying the workers money or in kind (rice) or both.



Picture of children about to dance as part of a school presentation 
YOUTUBE VIDEO:



At a young age, I did not know that the dance I was doing was about the difficult life of farmers. All I know was that when I was in that dancing costume with my classmates and co-dancers, I was in a jolly mood. Somehow while wearing the costume, I imagined stepping into a new world that was all about 'f-u-n'. 
The costume was made and bought for me to use in the presentation by my grandmother or my mom. In my mind, the new multi-colored costume, the music, plus the audience watching us perform, all come together to create a new feminine experience of  'myself'.  This feminine experience was enhanced by having a boy as my partner. They do not wear skirts. They wear pants. Their dance movement is what we normally call 'male dance moves'. As a female, I was asked to hold my skirt a certain way and create flowing movements left and right while the males move to show how rice is being planted in an up and down fashion. We can see through the dance movement, the feminine and masculine roles of each gender in the community. 

In general (there are exceptions), the girls depicted the role of the women (cleaning the rice and possibly cooking it) and the boys depicted the role of the men (planting rice and possibly getting paid for their labor).


Real people planting rice under the heat of the sun 

Planting rice was real hard work. This was far different from having a costume and dancing with the 'Magtanim Ay Di Biro' music.

I realized that dancing with those flowing movements using my whole body allowed me to form an idea that those body movements were my feminine expression. I was not fully aware that those movements were taught to us by our choreographer - even if that was the case.  So it was me acting out the ideas the choreographer had on how feminine expression should be expressed in a particular dance given the parameters handed down from generation to generation.

The audience were the  people (as parents and teachers) who  were giving everyone feedback regarding whether or not this was worth the time and effort - in the form of an applause.

No one was assessing the significance of this in our cultural perception of ourselves and how the gender roles are learned in school with the parents and teachers playing significant roles in shaping our social construct on gender and movement.

Continued...




Monday, August 24, 2015

Femininity Part 5: Filipina Mystique: Maria Clara


When I was growing up, I was told to do that which is 'feminine, good and moral'.

I did not realize that unknowingly saying 'yes' to this - because of fear of being labeled a 'rebel' - will be me giving up my freedom to be and do that which I decided to be an unselfish creative expression of myself as a female.

I reacted in my mind to what I saw was an authoritative 'reprimand' from my elders. But since they were my caretakers, I cannot go against them. So, I ended up suppressing my innate creative expression and in an effort to obey them, I embraced the reprimand and incorporated it as if it was my own believing that it will be easier to follow that way. Then, in a somewhat manipulative way, I created another personality and made it appear as if I have more value - where the secret part of me (that which I suppressed - the secret inferior me) was seen as an added value that made me appear having more value specially to the opposite sex.

That part of me that cannot speak out openly became the 'soft, feminine side of me' that eventually evolved to having the 'mystic power' to draw the males toward me to want to get to know me more. I made use of this 'hidden inferior identity' to get the opposite sex to believe I was different than the rest (the softer, more feminine me), that there is something more to me than what meets the eye - an illusion that I transcended the suppressed me.

I created that 'special' feminine personality based from the illusion that my 'hidden feminine personality' needs to be conquered because it is 'unique'. The media called it the 'Maria Clara' personality. Translated in English, I call it the 'Filipina Mystique'. This was also a personality or character I created  to make myself 'special' in the eyes of the opposite sex. I used this illusion of softness to get them to want to rescue or assist me whenever I need help - and within that, believed they were stronger than me. It then evolved as my 'soft feminine' personality.

I used this to enhance the courtship games I used to play with the males. In my mind, I have this computation or opinion that, if I covered myself with a shroud of mystery, they would come and try to unravel that mystery. This was what I called the 'mysterious feminine personality' .I spoke indirectly to males who were courting me. I was always evasive. When asked whether I like them, I would say 'no' or 'maybe' even if I would like to know them more . I also did this to please my dad who did not approve of me having a boyfriend in high school.

My real identity was buried under the multiple characters that became my alternate persona without even being aware of what I was doing and why I was doing it, plus the consequence of all that.

 This feminine personality was enhanced more through the way I dress.

When we have school events or whenever our school had a beauty contest where I participated in, where I dressed up in a gown or Filipino dress, I can feel some form of enjoyment which I believed was the feminine in me.



I believed the texture of the soft cloth that brushed on my skin and harmonized with the way I walked as a feminine was providing me with added value.

I believed the beads sewn on the cloth were glitters that shined because I was 'special'. I associated it with the gowns worn by female actresses that I believed were 'more special'.  

I believed the shape of the sleeves were unique to the country where I came from - adding on to the value of the character, I am portraying. The matching high-heeled shoes, although hidden, I believed contributed to the overall portrayal of my feminine character. All the ornaments I wore were there to enhance my worth - as a feminine character that is evolving in my mind. 

Thee necklace I wore enhanced my neck that is part of my feminine rendition of a personality that was standing tall and proud of being feminine. The bracelets matched my necklace which I believed enhanced my arms that swayed with my hips and neck as I walk - that was a representation of softness and grace in my mind.

I had the impression that I was more fluid in my gestures, more expressive in my smile, and more sympathetic and kind in my speech. 

Was this a pure feminine expression? 
Although it felt like it, this was not my pure feminine expression. It was part of a feminine personality that I learned from the females in my family. I  watched them and copied their behaviors, attitudes, characteristics, and roles that they performed. Then, I labeled them feminine. Through this, I enhanced my view of myself - within inferiority.

In contrast, I saw masculinity as reserved and direct, tough and unyielding. 

Continued...

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Femininity Part 4 Nurture




===

When I was young, my mother studied in the city to finish her degree in accounting, so I lived with 1 aunt and 3 uncles in my grandmother's house. Their task was to help my mother while she studied. They took care of me.  I particularly bonded with my grandmother and my aunt. They were females and I know I was a female because they said so. Whenever they can, they reminded me of my feminine role in our culture. 

One thing that I learned when I was young living with them is the saying 'women nurture the family members'. My grandmother fits this role perfectly. She nurtured all of us when we were sick and provided food on the table daily. 

She was a dress maker. She made clothes for people and made sure we all ate 3 x a day. 

It was an extended family where everyone took care of everyone. 



During night time, I helped prepare the bed including putting her 'night granny potty' next to her bed.
We all slept in one part of the house without a dividing wall. My grandmother's house was made of bamboo, so before we sleep I helped lay down the mat plus blankets and hang the mosquito net on top of it, so mosquitoes will not come inside.



My childhood was filled with play, housework and school work. But when I get sick with fever, my grandmother was there to take care of me. 

Since I did not have appetite to eat when I had a fever, my grandmother used to feed me by munching on this cookie called 'aglipay' in her mouth and she used to feed it to me through my mouth. It was warm in my mouth. I was uncaring whether or not it tasted good, or whether it is sanitary or not. I was a kid who did what I was told to do by people who nurtured me and fed me, so I did what I was told to do. 



I know that my grandmother did what she knew best. So, bringing this memory back here makes me smile.

She used to drench the hand towel with a little bit of water and vinegar.  After she rung the extra water and vinegar from the hand towel, she folds it in a rectangular shape and puts it on my forehead. I was instructed to leave it there while I slept or while I relaxed in bed.  

She believed that this will take care of the fever and will make me feel better. 

After a few days, my fever would subside. So, I believed that whatever she did worked. I believed what she believed - that this was the best cure for fever. I did not question where she learnt this and why this worked. I merely accepted it as my grandmother's way of helping me out when I was sick.

Another food she used to give me when I was sick was porridge. It was made of rice, water and salt. That's it. Since I did not have appetite to eat, this also worked. It was soft and easy to swallow.


After she cooked the porridge, she would sit beside me and feed me using a spoon.

Continued...

Friday, August 21, 2015

Femininity Part 3 Cooking


===

I enjoy food preparation, cooking and eating.

When we were young,  my mom, my grandmother, and my great grandmother were the ones who cooked for us (my extended family). They were the ones who asked us what food we wanted to eat and they prepared, cooked, and ate it with us.

My great grandmother was the one who made those coconut sweets that I liked to eat when I was in the elementary grades. It was square shaped, chewy, sweet and had a hint of lime peels in it.



She had a store in front of our school and during recess, I went to her store and eat whatever I liked too eat. I had memories of drinking soda in glass bottles and eating some Philippine made biscuits which were mostly made of flour, sugar and milk. The one I particularly remembered was the round cookie that had a red food color outside and the 2 flaky, crispy cookies called 'romano' and 'aglipay' which was named after 2 religious groups in our town. How did it get its name? I do not have a clue.

Recess was not only a 'pleasure trip' to my great grandmother's store. It was also a trip to the back of our school where housewives sell 'goodies' in their baskets to earn a little bit of money that will pay for the food they prepare for their family.

I did not learn cooking though until I was married. I learned to cook to be able to feed my family.

Cooking became part of my feminine role not because I chose to but because our culture was set up in a way where women played a big role in feeding and taking care of family member's needs on a daily basis - which included cooking food.

Philippine pork adobo with rice

My great grandmother and my grandmother had a stone stove (like the one in the picture below). 
This was where they cooked our food with the help of housemaids using cut wood as fuel.




Continued...


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Femininity Part 2 My Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother



Femininity
Part 1
Copied
Part 2 My Mom, Grandmother and Great Grandmother
Part 3 Cooking
Part 4 Nurture
Part 5 Feminine Mystique
===


I realized my femininity is a set of roles I copied from my mom and other females around me when i was growing up which our community validated as feminine roles. 

One of the roles I learned from watching my mom is putting make-up on my face.

When my mom went to a community event, she would put on a color coordinated dress/clothes or if it is slacks, she would wear them with a colorful shirt. She will go to the mirror, put on some lipstick. Then, she smacks her lips together so the red color will stick to her lips. She puts on foundation which has a light tan shade. The next thing she puts on is some blush-on and a blue gray shade of eye shadow. 

She had many different kinds of shoes so she usually picks one that will match her clothes. She puts it on and picks up her bag which is also color coordinated with her clothes.


My mom (wearing black) on the right


What I had a strong memory of was that she liked to buy new clothes or bags, shoes, and necklace  for her or for us to wear during family or community events. 

My grandmother also did the same 'feminine' add-ons. 

While my mom beautified herself when she attended community gatherings and meetings related to her role as a town counsellor, my grandmother beautified herself before she went to church almost everyday by putting on a red lipstick.




 What I remembered about her was that she liked putting small red peppers on her hair or sometimes she puts Jasmine flowers (Philippine variety) or Ylang-ylang on her hair. I used to smell the flowers on her hair and enjoy its aroma. 

She used a natural shampoo made from the bark of a tree and she would rinse it off with lime flavored water. Her hair's aroma had a hint of lime. I used to enjoy smelling her hair when she came out of the bathroom after she had a Philippine shower which was not really how we wash ourselves in the shower here in the US. 

She used a container in the past, puts the water there with some lime juice and then rinse her hair and body with the flavored water using a small container to scoop the water out of the bigger container on to her body and hair.





Continued...

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Femininity Part 1 Copied






Blogs
Femininity 

Part 1 Copied

Part 2 My Mom, Grandmother and Great Grandmother

Part 3 Cooking

4 Nurture

5 Feminine Mystique
===

Feminity had been given a positive connotation specifically in the media.

In my culture, I am biologically female - having the female organ. I believed I have to do what other females do, so I took on the female role.

I have seen that my mom is a female taking on a feminine  role in our family, so I did what she did. I copied what I saw her do without questioning why I was doing so. I noticed it was being done by women in our community.  so I also took on feminine roles like cooking, cleaning, etc . This was an automated behavior that I learned from our culture.

When I saw her cooking for the family, I believed I had to do that too. When i got married, I saw myself also cooking for my family.

I was a feminine nurturing my kids and ex-husband and that made what I did valuable in my mind.

I did not look at what food is all about and what cooking is all about. I did not ask myself what role I played in all these. I forgot to look at how food affects each one of us in many different ways knowing we have different sets of DNA's.

When I saw my mom wearing dresses and feminine slacks, I believed that wearing fashionable clothes were part of the feminine expression. I believed that to be valued in our community, I had to wear fashionable clothes too. This decision was of course directed by the media through advertising and marketing which I allowed to influence me. I did not realize that I was becoming part of a social design that I had accepted and allowed.

I saw my grandmother wear clothes that had colorful prints and patterns. I figured this was the way feminine personalities dress up in our community. So, I started wearing clothes that  were acceptable to the majority within the feminine design.

But is this really what femininity mean?

Of course not - No.

This is not as simple as it may look. This has a history behind it.

I will continue in the next blog.

Check out the blog site: atransgendersjourneytolife.blogspot.com

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