The Long View: To be a woman

To be a woman

Monday, March 8,  2004

THAT was the title of an editorial the late Teodoro M. Locsin Sr. wrote, when he revived the Philippines Free Press in time for the snap election of 1986. In the editorial, he wrote, “There has never been anything like it in Philippine history: a woman telling the machos of business and industry to do what she is doing, to stand up to the injustices against which they have been content merely to complain…And one with any sense of morality, of human right and dignity, can only recoil from government by, for, and of one man clearly determined to maintain his rule at whatever cost to the nation. But it took a woman to do what a man, or men, should have been doing: Fight! Being a man was sadly inadequate. One had to be something else. Be a woman-like her! Like Cory.”

Of course critics of President Macapagal-Arroyo will say that she is acting less like a woman and more like a man, based on the above; and yet aside from the very few who oppose her on principle, that is, because of her policies, I suspect there is a greater number who don’t like her simply because she is a woman.


While Cory Aquino was (and is) matronly, the President is more like a school marm: you know, the strict and grim type that tends to be cold, domineering, demanding, and not at all charming. The type that demands performance and doesn’t bother to pat you on the back. Nothing could be a more unpleasant combination for the Filipino male. Cory Aquino, at least, was unfailingly polite, bringing out the gallantry in her peers, even among her enemies, though behind her back they sneered at her. The President, on the other hand, derives satisfaction from doing her work and expects the same of other people: nothing could be more irritating to the ordinary man. In fact, I’ve heard some people muse that the reason the President is fiercely opposed by some people is that she has an emasculating effect on those people. They are simply discombobulated by the fact that the President is young enough to be fashionable, to be feminine when the only thing most men could tolerate in a woman holding a high position is to be motherly, or better still, grandmotherly. Cory Aquino was a widow and grandmotherly; the President is young enough to care about what she wears; she dances; she even talks about sex, and not even in the clinical manner reserved for those for whom sex is but a memory. In other words her very femininity is a threat.

She is also a great organizer, a characteristic most people ignore, but which is her greatest asset as an executive. Cory Aquino, on the other hand, was a great communicator; an inspirer. Despite lacking a direct mandate from the people, she has managed to show that when it counts, at least, government can be mobilized, not by rousing them to action through speeches, but simply by knowing how to wield the levers of power. She is studious, and thorough, and thoroughness is not known as a male virtue.

I once heard someone say that our country would be a lot better off — indeed, the entire planet would be better off — if our country and every country were run by women. Things would be more efficient, more sensible, more compassionate. Such a view, of course, ignores the strange kind of machismo that can inflict the leadership of strong women such as the empresses Catherine the Great of Russia and Maria Theresa of Austria; or of more modern leaders such as Indira Gandhi who attempted a dictatorship in India, and Golda Meir of Israel. But there is something to be said for a yearning for the matriarchal organization of society that seems the original kind of government for human society. Men start wars; women find ways to lessen its hardships, and nurture the young, the weak, and wounded. Men kill for power; women achieve power in other ways. The saying men are from Mars, and women from Venus, makes a lot of sense if you look at the mythological origins of the names of the planets: the God of War, and the Goddess of Love.

We continue to think of leadership in terms of Mars riding his chariot of war (and recall, in Greek and Roman mythology, Ares/Mars was not one of the brighter gods); we think of leadership in women as something sinister, exercised through seduction, in other words, through corruption. And yet the great so-called macho leaders of our past were seducers, after all, courting the populace, plying them with honeyed words and fine gestures: Joseph Estrada understood the feminine aspect of the electorate, and Fernando Poe Jr. does not.

It is the tradition of viewing the electorate in feminine terms — and I suspect, the electorate, whatever its composition, viewing itself as feminine, too — that makes things difficult for women leaders. I have heard a woman say that the President is unpopular among women because women resent a strong member of their sex; women can be competitive, too. Taken to a broader level, a feminine-minded electorate might resent a woman leader with a strong personality in the same, negative, way.

When the Philippine Commission offered to grant a pension to the mother of Jose Rizal, she tartly replied, “if the government has so much money to spend, let it lower taxes.” Could it be that we only want women in our national life to serve as our conscience, but that we continue to believe that their proper place is at home-to be the mothers and nurturers of heroes, and not heroes themselves? To inspire leaders, but not to lead? Simply because they happen to be women!

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

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