The tail end of Women’s Month
Catching up with the tail end of Women’s Month, I was the guest speaker last Wednesday at the signing ceremonies of a memorandum of understanding “Upholding Non-Derogatory Portrayals of Women in Media and Film” between the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) and representatives of broadcast and film companies.
The memorandum, a product of the MTRCB’s gender and development committee chaired by Bobby Andrews, binds the signatory networks to “adopt a system of self-regulation and policing on matters pertaining to broadcast content,” including upholding the rights of women and promoting the “positive image of women, in their portrayal in media.”
As I told the gathering, what the MTRCB and the signatory networks had done was “not a small thing,” adopting voluntarily guidelines on the portrayal of women in media as outlined in policy and law, especially in the Magna Carta of Women.
Excesses by private media entities often invite calls for government intervention, and as a media person myself (albeit with the “dying” and oldest of mediums which is print), the heavy hand of government in the affairs of the private media has always been anathema to me. But what the broadcast entities had done by signing the memorandum should be viewed not as “self-censorship” or “self-regulation,” but rather as adopting an attitude of “self-awareness,” of knowing their obligations to society, not just as beneficiaries of a congressional broadcast franchise, but also as influential members of society and “change-makers” who shape people’s values and behavior.
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I take it as a sign of the credibility of the MTRCB, particularly of Chair Grace Poe Llamanzares, that it was able to bring to the same table representatives of competing networks. From past experience, producers and creative media folk have viewed the MTRCB as an antagonistic entity that seeks to curb the industry’s creative and independent impulses, or at the very least, tame them into bland and palatable “political correctness.”
One of the major misconceptions about feminists who call for changes in the portrayal of women in the media is that they are “against sex,” or want to expunge any portrayal of or even referral to sexuality in the media. True, we have been raising a ruckus in the past about the “sexualization” of women and children in the media. But as MTRCB member, feminist and poet Marra PL. Lanot pointed out, it is not “sexuality that we are against, but commodification”—that is, using sexuality to turn women into items for commerce. Also, in striving to provide “alternative” images of women, while it is good to acknowledge a woman’s sexuality, it is equally important to portray that woman beyond sex, in the entire and wonderful complexity of her life.
Let me quote from writer Naomi Wolf on what women must do to “own” their image in the media: “We must not only show what ‘no’ looks like; we have to start possessing what ‘yes’ looks like… If we think the sexual imagery out there tells lies about what we long for, it’s up to us to saturate the airwaves with our millions of erotic truths.” More than anything, I believe in “erotic truths.”
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Later that day, I was off to the Manila Polo Club for the International Women’s Day Celebration of the UN Women National Committee (UNWNC), an independent NGO composed of women committed to the rights and welfare of women, and achieving the goals of the United Nations’ prime agency for women.
In the room that evening was such a powerhouse cast of women that guest speaker Solita “Winnie” Monsod wondered aloud why they needed her to talk to them about empowerment. “I have never seen a more empowered group of women!” she exclaimed.
Among these powerful and empowered women were UN National Committee chair Lorna Patajo-Kapunan, whose biggest piece of advice to her audience, referring to her latest sensational case, was for wives and mistresses “to have the man’s remains cremated so you can easily divide them between yourselves.” UNWNC president Kathleen Lior-Liechtenstein reported on how the local group had helped raise funds for the many initiatives of UN Women particularly on violence against women. Shoko Ishakawa, officer in charge of UN Women in East and Southeast Asia, also apprised the audience on the many initiatives of this newest UN agency. Also present was soprano Rachelle Gerodias, who captivated with her rendition of “Mutya ng Pasig.”
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But it was “Mareng” Winnie who posed the key question to all the women in power in the room: “Have we come a long way, baby?”
Certainly, she said, we have come a long way since 1848 (provoking a bit of laughter), quoting American feminist and suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the long list of “oppressions” against women committed by men.
But even as far back as then, said Monsod, one of the major violations of women’s rights was the “invisibility” imposed on women mainly through the non-recognition of their economic and social roles, and a “refusal to quantify” women’s contributions at home and among the family.
And the most invisible women, Monsod added, are poor women especially in rural areas. “They’re confronted not by glass ceilings, but by glass walls,” she said, since they are rendered invisible when their contributions to keeping the home, nurturing children, renewing the energies of family wage-earners and laborers (including the husband) are ignored, marginalized and left out of the “national book of accounts.”
An injustice, certainly, and one, said “Mareng” Winnie, that Filipino women “shouldn’t have to wait another 50 years for.”
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