So after over a year of feeling like I abandoned this blog, I’ve decided to dedicate more time to it. This is prompted in part, admittedly, by an unexpectedly deep and emotional conversation with an even more unexpected person. It’s prompted by the fact that since inauguration I’ve had a lot more time on my hands (if idle hands are the devil’s workshop what about and idle mind – yikes!). It’s prompted by the realization that soon I’ll be going back to school and after the past 2+ years of CANVAS, NDI, and campaign mode, I’ll have to shift from full-time strategic thinker (or some would say plotter) and good soldier and re-learn how to be conceptual and introspective.
At one point last week I actually read this blog from its inception in 2006 until now. I realized 2 things. First, I actually have always been this way. Magaspang, suplada, galit sa mga elitista (or in hip hop lingo, angry at the man), hungry for justice. Hungry to show all of them, friend and foe alike, that I do not fit into the insultingly narrow limits of what you think I am and what I could be capable of, or as Jay-Z puts it “I can’t base what I’m gonna be off a what everybody isn’t.” Shit, it’s just now that I’m remembering attending a church retreat in high school and when the facilitator asked “what’s your aspiration in life” mine was “to change the world.” At that time I don’t think I had any idea how I would do it – probably through music or something. I definitely never imagined it would be this way.
Second, while I thought I had abandoned this blog while stuck in the corporate NGO machine DC lifestyle, when I went back through the blog I realized that there was still at least one entry each month, and it was almost inevitably about Philippine politics. This ish is in my bone marrow now. I couldn’t quit if I tried.
These past couple months have been a crazy ride. Well, ride is perhaps not the appropriate term – what’s an appropriate metaphor when the means of transpo is 15% you steering and 85% the universe whisking you where it wants? Perhaps the more appropriate metaphor is a choose your own adventure book where you try to be strategic and make informed decisions, but at the end of the day you don’t actually know what the hell you’re doing and at any moment things can blow up in your face. The only thing that makes Philippine politics different from a choose your own adventure book is that in politics, if you’re good enough, there’s always the chance for a glorious recovery. You can always choose to bust through a wall or sneak through a window or, if we’re sticking with our metaphor, tear out half a page here, pencil in a couple lines there…but I digress.
Philippine politics is still a man’s world. We can have two women presidents, women Secretaries of Justice, Supreme Court Justices, Senators and Congresswomen but the vast majority of power players are still men who stay out with each other at night drinking beer, brandy (or Coke) and making sophomoric jokes. The powerful matriarchs do exist, and I would dare to say that the women kingmakers that do exist are lightyears more sophisticated than their male counterparts, but they are few and far between. The vast majority of women you see in traditional political circles are props – either in the sense that they are seat warmers for their husbands, brothers, fathers, etc or cute executive assistants, paralegals or simply arm candy; or in the sense that they are “propped” up by the men that make their political careers. You rarely see women in the seedy side of below the radar operations.
All humility aside, the two things that have most consistently gained me access to places and people where a neophyte like me should be nowhere near are: 1) The Akbayan network and of course my beloved comrade bossing, and 2) People seem to find me pretty. And me, being my brash-ass, no shame self (with encouragement from bossing and ingkong of course) utilize this to the full. At the risk of giving away trade secrets, this is how I go places and attend where I am not invited and probably “don’t belong.” I just go and people tolerate it cause they think I’m pretty. Props. Then I hit them with the shocker – instead of sitting and smiling demurely I conduct myself with just as much swagger and arrogance, and when I’m lucky, intelligence, as any of the “big boys.” They don’t know who I am, they don’t know what I do, but they know I’m nobody’s muther-effing E.A.
I still get the feeling, however, (and this is where it gets depressing) that no matter how brash or witty or smart I try to be, most of these men still look at me and see little more than, in the words of Jill Scott, “good looks and a wet hole.” Maybe that’s why I made the fatal mistake of letting my guard down with the first bolero who said he thought I was smart. Thus, I still haven’t quite figured out if on the whole this physical appearance is helpful or harmful. It’s definitely been helpful in the opening doors part, but I wonder if I’m walking though them – no, I know I’m stumbling through them making the path as I go and running into rocks and stones and shards of glass. Fumbling backwards and then rising up to peek through the door again. Hm, sounds like life.
But what kills me is how they wanna hide me from their legitimate lives as if something is actually going down. Keeping me for the back room meetings and late night drinking sessions as if acknowledging my existence in public or quoting me or openly considering my ideas will somehow let your wife or partner know what you are thinking. I haven’t even fucked you but apparently I’m your mistress.
Anyway, going back to the bane of being a woman in politics. When I was with the Women’s Political Participation Team at NDI, we often heard that the biggest opposition women faced when trying to enter politics was from other women. So true. Of course, the men egg us on, the men assume we won’t get along when there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. And of course, yet another reason why I love my comrades so much – we love each other and celebrate each other’s beauty proudly as sophisticated feminists do and as all women should. But unfortunately not all women in politics are sophisticated feminists. The high school clique, the sexless harem mentality remains and I see them look me up and down as if to say “What is she doing here and who does she think she is?” When are we going to grow up and out of this?
Speaking about the woes of being a young woman in politics, as I was hanging out at the Deputy Executive Secretary’s office, two young (probably around my age or younger) and I’m assuming bright young paralegals came in to talk to the Deputy ES. Both were considering quitting because they wanted to start looking for husbands and having families. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be a mother. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a stay at home mom either. But, you are in a country where good jobs are hard to come by. You’re on the winning side of a victorious presidential campaign and you’re working in Malacanan at a very powerful office. Ok, fine, all of that is fine. But, the killer is that when would you EVER hear a man quitting such a promising position because he felt it was time to settle down and have a family? Even in the Philippines where you have yayas, a woman finds it necessary to end her career to have a family (because of course the idea of asking the husband to take part in raising the child is utterly ridiculous)? Again hurts my feminist sensibilities…