detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Monday, March 15, 2004

: . Imelda Marcos, Feminist, Part I

In (dis)honor of Women's History Month. From The Compassionate Society and Other Selected Speeches of Imelda Romualdez Marcos (Ed. Ileana Maramag. Manila: National Media Production Center, 1975 [1973]. 192-197.):

    The Role of Women*

    Let me begin by saying that, like all of you, I believe in the equality of the sexes. At this conference, we can surely take the principle of equality for granted. Otherwise we would not be here.

    But as an oriental woman, a woman of the third world, I should like to suggest to you that the truly important thing that should concern us now is not the principle of equality so much as the manner of its exercise.

    Too often, it seems to me, the demand for equality, which was first raised by the women of our time in the more prosperous regions of the world, has come down to a demand for an equal [end of page 192] share in political power, in economic opportunities and rewards, in the possibilities for cultural development.

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. We Filipinas are particularly happy that this International Women's Year coincides with the 40th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage in our country, and marks the 25th Anniversary of the New Civil Code of the Philippines, which removed the last vestiges of colonial legislation classifying women with children and the feeble-minded.

    Now the right of women is recognized to dispose of proerty and engage in business freely, without requiring the consent of their husbands.

    We are also proud that our delegation to this conference is headed by a woman member of the cabinet, and counts among its members a woman who is a justice of our supreme court, a woman who is an ambassador, and not the only one either, and a woman who is one of our most distinguished writers, fitting examples of Filipinas who are leading participants in our national life.

    But with all these achievements, we Filipinas realize that equality of status falls short of what should be the real goal and mission of our sex. Inequalities of status can be righted by legislation.

    Women can be given the vote, as they should be, but no law can compel them, or men for that matter, to take an intelligent interest in national and community affairs. Women can be given the right to hold property, as they should, but no law [end of page 193] can compel them or men for that matter, to use that property with a social conscience.

    That was why, when it was proposed in my country to establish a national commission on the women's movement, and some wanted to call it a national commission on the status of women, I insisted that it be called instead a commission on the role of women.

    For status, as the very word implies, is static; it is passive; and to my mind, it is essential that women should take a positive part in the activities of their homes, their countries, and the world at large.

    The demand for equality has too often had overtones of revenge; the venting of grievances, the acquisition of advantage, the aggression of concealed hatred and envy.

    But the feminist movement should not and need not be, anti-masculine. Women are not adversaries, the enemies of men, but their equal partners. We are not surrogates of men, their substitutes; for we have our own role to play, a different role, surely, but an equally important one.

    Perhaps the oriental woman, the woman of the developing countries, understands this better than her more fortunate sisters. In the harsh life in which she must play her part, many times a life haunted by hunger and fear, her concept of equality transcends the individual and her personal prerogatives, am- [end of page 194] bitions and achievements. Instead, her traditions tell her that equality for a woman is to be found in sharing fully and equally in the fortunes and misfortunes of her family and her community.

    That is what I would call the mystique of the oriental woman; and that is really what equality signifies. For equality should not be selfish; its essence is generosity, and often sacrifice. Equality is participation, equal shares with men in the satisfactions and frustrations, the rewards and defeats, of life lived together.

    Equal pay for equal work may appear to be an imperative for other women, but for a Vietnamese mother scrounging for her children's food in the rubble and garbage of war, such a demand would have been meaningless.

    A fixed quota of jobs for women in the bureaucracy or in industry may appear to be desirable for other women but for the wife of a man segregated in a mining camp such a demand is sheer mockery.

    The right to high management positions is the justifiable rallying cry of the college trained western woman, but to the wife or daughter of a leader or guerilla waging a war for the complete independence of his country, it may be a reproach of his patriotism.

    For these unfortunate women, equality of status has no connection with reality. Their status is one equal degradation with their men; theirs is an equal share in the struggle for bare survival. [end of page 195]

    For all that, for all their sufferings and sadness, it may be that they are happier and more fulfilled than their more prosperous sisters in other parts of the world because participation in the trials and troubles of their men has given them fulfillment and spared them the neurotic anxieties of selfish isolation and competition.

    The oriental woman, the woman of the third world, has not sacrificed her femininity to individualism, but has rather enhanced it with participation; she has not striven for a sterile status, and has preferred to play her true role in nature and human society.

    That role was well and memorably defined by our national hero, Jose Rizal when in a letter to the women of our country he reminded them that only women can give birth to men; and it is their mothers and their wives who will determine what kind of men they are.

    Indeed, the Filipina, like her oriental sisters, knows, by instinct and by tradition, that as the bearer of life, she has the duty, and, yes, the right to nourish it thereafter, and to cherish it, and that to cherish is to love. That is why she can never look on man as a stranger.

    I trust that this conference will remember and keep in mind during its deliberations the oriental woman and her mystique, her concept of sharing and participating, her understanding that a woman does not only have an equal status but must play an equal role, and a role at that which should not seek to [end of page 196] divide and to antagonize but to unify. In such a partnership, we achieve our full humanity.

    Thus I am glad to note that this conference has on its agenda the participation of women in ensuring international peace and in the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and the integration of women in the processes of development. That is surely a measure of the role that we must play, and are entitled to play, in the future human race.

    I sometimes think that the different stories on her origin throw a significant light on our concept of women. The bible says that woman was made from the rib of man, and that he fell because of the woman's temptation.

    My own people have another story. It is said that the birth of humanity came about when a divine whim split a single bamboo and from it there sprang forth a woman and a man, and the woman was called maganda which means beautiful, and the man was called malakas, which means strong.

    They were equal, and in their own way, the strong and the beautiful, they have been equal ever since.

    It is with that Filipino myth, that oriental story, that I extend to all of you, sisters and brothers, friends all, my best wishes for the success of this conference in uniting us in the common search for a better world. [end of page 197]

    *Speech of the First Lady, Mrs. Imelda Romualdez Marcos at the International Women's Year conference June 20, 1975, Mexico City.

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