FILAMSPEAK: Are you a feminist?

Juliet Oberlin

Juliet Oberlin

Being called ‘feminist’ appears to come with such a big responsibility and expectation that some women shun the label or at least distance themselves from it. Feminism, loosely defined, is when women hold themselves up as equal to, if not higher than, men in terms of what they can do, what they have achieved, and what opportunities are open to them. Feminists are further characterized as strong-willed, confident, outspoken, hardworking, and, in some instances, powerful and influential. We asked Filipino American women the question and four responded with courage and pride. These are real women with no ideological agenda, and based on their definition, or at least perception of feminism, they define who they are. — Cristina DC Pastor

Juliet Oberlin
Retired nurse

I would like to think l am. l belong to a family where the women are strong-willed than the men, and having lived in this kind of environment l feel l can do what men can and even better.

When we migrated here, my children Marisse, Ping, Joji, and Bob were old enough to help with our financial needs. I was a plain housewife back home so when the opportunity came I took up nursing at age 49 and continued to work until I retired at age 63. I became the matriarch of our clan and so proud of the family that I have raised with God’s help.

Yes I do believe that women should have equal rights socially, economically, and politically to that of men. Gone were those days where women are just fit to be housewives. There are so many women of distinction nowadays, politicians, lawyers, architects, you name it. Just recently I saw on Facebook women welders being hired abroad, and are compensated very well. These were jobs that were once upon a time only done by men.

grace reading poetry
Grace Baldisseri
Director, ‘The Vagina Monologues’

I know I am! Growing up with an Army dad who taught me that life is not always fun. I remember that when one of us siblings made a mistake, all of us got spanked. When it was my turn, I said: Wait! Why do I have to be spanked when I did nothing wrong? If being courageous to express yourself is being feminist, then I am!

My husband died in 2004 in Manila. When I came to the U.S., I worked as a bridal consultant at Boscov’s Department Store in Pennsylvania. There were guys who thought you were helpless and lonely just because you are widowed. I proved them wrong. I wrote poems and published my poetry book, I edited “The Trumpet Call of Grace,” and directed “Coming to Amerika,” which was a big hit among students at Rowan University.

In 2007, I was among the 100 Most Influential Filipinas in the U.S. together with Loida Nicolas Lewis.

One day I got a call to direct “Usaping Puki,” the Tagalog version of “The Vagina Monologues,” and this is where I became deeply involved as a feminist. I was not only a director but doubled as a counselor for abused women. I didn’t know that in the course of rehearsals, there in the cast were remarkable women who were real victims of domestic violence and sex abuse. My heart and soul were bruised and in anguish each time I heard their stories of suffering from the very people they used to love and still love despite all odds.

Kay Habana
Business entrepreneur, Sweet Habana Catering

I would like to believe I am neither a martyr nor a feminist.

My non-belief in this movement or emancipation is defined and shaped not only by how I was raised, but by my understanding of the teachings of the Bible. Yes, I consider the Bible as the absolute truth. Feminism teaches many things that I’m opposed to and its upholders strongly suggest ideas and facts that I believe are very much contrary to what the Scripture says.

Here are my personal thoughts. As a woman, I don’t believe that “men and women are fundamentally the same.” Aside from our biological differences, each gender has been assigned to different roles that highlight each’s distinct strengths and attributes. The book of Corinthians itself lists and emphasizes the respective duties, responsibilities, and obligations of men and women. I don’t believe that “I can do everything.” It’s deceptive to lead women to think that we can indefatigably do everything all at once and with balance: family, career, social relationships, etc. without sacrificing anything and the quality of our given roles.

The need to get into the workforce so that we can contribute financially to the household is an illusion that enthusiasts of feminism make us believe to be true, as if it wasn’t enough to stay home and raise children or a family. The Bible is clear about the distinction between each gender’s essential forces.

I refuse to believe that I am less fascinating and acceptable because of what I cannot do. I refuse to believe that my greatness will be defined by my achievements. I don’t see the need to compete with men. Although this might seem fun and good in the work field, this is in fact treacherous in relationships. If I may quote Psalm 139:14, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
Truth is, my uniqueness and complexity speak volumes about the mind of my Creator, and I trust that the roles He has given me as a woman are just perfect for me.

For now, I manage to run a successful catering business, be a hands-on mother to my son, spare some time for my friends and loved ones, and fuel my passion for singing. Does this mean “I can do it all?” No. Truth be told, when I am out meeting with clients or planning a prospective show/concert, I risk the chance of getting to the bus stop on time to pick up my son. When I’m planning a catering event and I’m busy looking at my spreadsheets, I lose time on playing with my son or simply reading a good book with him. When I’m busy rehearsing for a singing gig, I limit my son’s ability to talk with me because I would need for him to be quiet.

So no, I can’t have it all and I can’t do it all. But I am a strong-willed woman, and I think for myself.

jana photo edward pages
Jana Lynne Umipig
Teaching artist
Creator, The Journey of a Brown Girl

I am an advocate for sisterhood spaces, and the importance of creating empowering spaces around divine feminine energy. My work absolutely supports this. However, I believe that we need to always come back to expanding the circle and finding the connections to global, humane issues.

I believe myself to live as a humanist beyond just identifying as a feminist. I believe that it is important that there is necessity for issues to be looked at separately, to understand how we can connect in these groupings to identify connected struggles, but we all live with such intersectionality of struggles lived, and oppressions faced. I believe we should find ways from these divisions to come back to the root causes of persisting injustice and inhumanity. We stretch ourselves often to focus in on which issue is most currently important in the time and space we occupy, but this can allow us to create importance of one issue over others, or sometimes find competition in which issue to prioritize over another.

I consider myself an advocate of all human rights, those I live to realize for myself and those I can be ally and support of. Identity is so complex, but we are all human at day’s end.

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