Gravity” is a form of rebellion. I like to think that there is no conflict between science and art. Poetry is still science. A poet is a philosopher. She tends to understand the forms and meanings around her. As a poet, she is the maker of meaning and as a philosopher, she enlightens it.
The poem “Gravity” is a story of defying gravity as a form of a woman’s escape from the horrors of being a woman. In this case, the only way to defy gravity is to climb a tree and never to fall down.
Women get tired of being mothers. Women get tired of being wives. Women get tired of being women. And so they run away. They become like chameleons, hiding in the trees, in the trunks. Finally, they disappear.
I always have problems with the revision process. It worries me knowing I am rearranging the words because they might change the idea. But of course, the readers always have their own interpretation and it is their right.
And so here are my versions of “Gravity”:
The first draft:
Climb on a
With no thought of gravity to pull you down
Let your feet cling to its body
Forget your children
crawling on the ground now
like hungry beasts waiting to be fed by your
Your skirt sails with the wind
[You would have wanted to let it strip you naked]
And forget about gravity
While your long hair dances
with no gracefulness at all
Let your hands grip tightly
Until your every fingernail scratch the skin of the tree
And not his own skin
that has been scratched many times by different fingernails
Forget about gravity
Forget about falling down again
on his lies
on the horror of the little mouths sucking your now dark nipples
Forget about your clitoris
Forget about your breasts
There is no woman
The final draft:
Climb a tree
With no thought of gravity to pull you down
Let your feet grip tightly to its body
Forget your children
Crawling on the ground
Like beasts waiting to be fed on your sagging breasts
As your skirt calmly sways in the wind
Go on, climb
Forget about gravity
Let your long hair dance
Clasp the trunk tighter
Forget your fingernails you once clawed
On your husband’s skin
Every time he returns home
Scratched by different fingernails
By different sins
Think not of gravity
Of falling down again to his lies
And the horror of little mouths sucking
Your dark nipples raw
Forget about your hair
Forget about your skirt
Forget about your breasts
Forget about your clitoris
There is no woman
“Gravity” was published last March 2008 in Dagmay, a literary journal of the Davao Writers Guild
Years ago, the Filipino sitcom “Palibhasa Lalaki” brought the viewers to their own seats. The Pinoy audience was then exposed and introduced to the lighter side of Filipino machismo. The writers and cast of the sitcom only showed humor reflecting the real lives of the actors involved in the series such as Richard Gomez, Joey Marquez, Anjo Yllana, and Gloria Romero. But then, there were still images of sexy girls wearing shorts and fit shirts who were not entitled to speak more lines because they were only needed in the series to somehow show emphasis on the male actors’ masculinity. Indeed, there can be no theory of the subject that is not masculine.
Today’s Pinoy sitcoms are not making any difference at all to “Palibhasa Lalaki.” Even the Philippine Literature could not escape the visible trend of Filipino machismo, then followed its influence on Pop Literature. The music, the movies and even the Tagalog romance novels still could not go against the molecular influences of machismo, even in the contemporary times. Literature is indeed political.
Tracing back the manifestations of machismo in traditional literature, in the time of Estrella Alfon, Paz Latorena, and Ligaya Victorio Reyes, most of the unified depiction of their male characters was influenced by an ideology about Filipino men constantly asserting their masculinity and power over women. It was the early emergence of the Feminism movement. Such women writers were writing their literary works so as to present what were the society’s views on women during 1970’s and on. The presence of a female character so to understand the actions of machismo is a way to put the lack in the absent. The important thing to say is not that feminism is accusing individual men of being oppressors. Feminism is asking men to own up the ways that they have been privileged by those systems and structures.
Today, feminist writers created strong women characters in their literary works, even the men writers. Jessica Zafra, in most of her short stories, showed the strong personalities of modern women in different situations. Lakambini Sitoy presents the conquests of women over men. And so, with the growth of feminism in its full bloom, machismo is at most overpowered, if not, buried in the fingertips of the writers. But then, it would be such a dangerous thing to conclude that our contemporary literary works are safe from the grounds of machismo. That is not always the case. In Ladlad: An Anthology of Filipino Gay Writing, there is a need to show machismo in the personalities of the male characters dominating the whole stories so to present the binary opposition of masculinity and homosexuality in the personalities of such characters.
In a Structuralist way of thinking, the ideology that there is an existence of the subject and the other could be applied in the study. Among the selected texts to be discussed further are the works categorized as a form of gay writing, still following the concept of present and absent by the Structuralist Jacques Derrida so to discriminate the manifestations of machismo in the Filipino setting. And so, in order to grasp the object, it must be present.
Philippine Literature is indeed male. To read, listen and watch even those who don’t belong in the canon are poisoned by the forces of machismo. In a certain tribe featured in The National Geographic, men measure their manliness by jumping from a high building to the ground with no wounds at all, not even broken bones. And so, only by performing such a risky ritual that they could then call themselves as real men.
In the Filipino setting, however, being a “macho” is to learn how to curse, to be an alcoholic and to talk about sex in the middle of an inuman session. One concrete example of this macho persona is Stan Kowalski in A Street Car Named Desire by Tennesse Williams in which the male character submits to the idea of beating his wife, continuing his drinking habits and the ironic thing is, he is physically a macho. This concept of machismo also perpetuated in early Filipino society.
It is machismo’s relationship to alcohol, violence and homosexual desires that shape the male characters in Edzel Cardil’s story entitled “Par” taken from the compiled gay stories of Ladlad. Par is actually the short version of Pare. The central characters are the male figures, Andang being the gay character manipulating the story and the two other “macho” characters somehow giving a concrete binary opposition of personalities. Par is the name addressed by the gay lover to his so called “siga” live in partner in Caloocan.
“ Astig ‘no, dahil sa lugar namin, siga itong asawa ko, marami na siyang bodyguard, tipong Robin Padilla. Lalaking-lalake, Chang.”
He is the stereotyped figure of a Filipino macho who performs physical violence against his lover to assert his masculinity and sovereignty. He is experimental in terms of sexual conquests that he even tried homosexual affairs, somehow suggesting that his own definition of being a tunay na lalaki is achieving both gay and women. His own penis won’t mind giving pleasure to both anyway because men had always thought of their male organ as their pride of being a man.
“ Marami na raw siyang nakaka-do, pero ako lang talaga ang nakukursunadahan niya.”
And so, when the macho character died because of a fight with another guy to show that he is still the bandido ng Caloocan , Andang, the gay speaker, then spoke to his lover in silence:
“ Par, mali kasi ang pagkakaalam mo sa salitang macho. Di komo marami kang chicks at may mga bakla pa, basagulero’t siga, ay macho ka na. Ang tunay na macho ay ‘yung marunong gumalang sa bawat tao.”
Other male characters also exhibit typical manifestations of machismo. One concrete example is Panchang, the gay lover’s best friend who happens to belong in an army. He accepts the invitation of Andang to have a one-time homosexual affair with him and is even proud, in silence, that he had shared the same lover with his own best friend. It is somehow a conquest for him to prove his manliness. When his best friend, Chris, found out, they both agreed to have a one on one basketball game, somehow a duel, to determine who will own Andang to save one’s male ego so to speak. Both characters are portrayed as men who have very heavy drinking habits. Their nightly drinking sessions were de rigueur among men and husbands.
Another character is Rey, who killed Chris to get his revenge after Chris humiliated him in public by breaking shells of balut on his head. Male ego is really an issue to men that they would even kill only to save his face after humiliating his male pride. It still follows to a male ideology stating that to be male one had to be tough and even behave like a brute.
The work of Cardil could also be a fact to prove that machismo is often observed and practiced by those men who belong in rural communities, especially in slum areas.
Men dominate in the world, women dominate in the bedroom. Alfred Yuson has another specific concept of manliness. In his “A Hill of Samuel,” he focused on how men applied the influences of machismo against the female species. Dignos, the central male character in the story, could be seen as the seducer of women and is the sole reason for their madness. He would rape every woman, married or not and they would then worship him in the hill. He asserts his personality being a macho man by his conquests over women. Based on the responses of the male respondents on the study of Bob Pease on Postmodern Masculinity Politics, among the other manly things to do so as to redeem manhood is to have an active sex life. That is another test of manliness according to them. Men tend to rape women as an act of punishment for arousing them. In the case of the story, Dignos used his sexuality as a weapon to conquer women.
“….He was mad and he made our women mad…”
“….as the man with the black locks and the terrible eyes pressed hard against her. And the laughter came strongly and savagely upon her…”
“…Lumen gasped, and dug her nails into his nape. Then she felt the fever departing, but now the coldness turned severely into iciness in her womb. And slowly Dignos slid away from her and stood erect, surveying his prey naked and prostrate. And the laughter mounted, as the hill echoed its approval..”
Men “require” women’s sexual power to remind them of their heterosexuality and to reaffirm their own masculinity, although they are likely to experience women’s sexual power and their own response as “natural.” Men need women to define their manhood. The more women he gets and conquers, the more macho he becomes to his other male friends. This is visible in our own culture, considering the fact that men metamorphosed themselves into strutting cocks, macho in language and behavior.
Machismo is exhibited differently according to socioeconomic class. Angelo Lacuesta’s “Stigmata” has its lighter exposition. The main character in the story is a rich married banker who is having an affair with a steward in one of his flights. He has sexual affairs with Lene and is never guilty about it. He justified his actions by believing that every rich banker has them, a woman is a part of a lusty weekend and on Monday she will only be a part of the history. He is an epitome of a typical macho who would not submit himself to romantic relationships because it would make them less a man. Being labeled as a womanizer would not even make them less human. In the Filipino setting, married men who have mistresses are not such a disgrace to the eyes of the society, in fact, other men take pride in it. Well, each element of the male gender stereotype is revealed, as in fact, sexual.
Obedient and devoted husbands in Philippine Society are often regarded as “under the saya” by most unenlightened folks especially in rural societies. When the former president Joseph Estrada exposed his lifestyle of having a wife coexisting with three other mistresses, people never questioned such action. As they put it“lalaki naman siya e”. Therefore, he is a true Filipino male, tunay na lalaki. Machismo and all that went with it.
In the story of “I Hope It Won’t Scar,” a college male student nearly killed someone in a boy’s fight when the gang decided to get their revenge for a friend who is in the hospital. The central character conforms to such actions so as to belong to the world of men whose definition of being a true macho is to be able to fight and get even. That’s what will then label them as basagulero’t siga- the stereotyped standard of masculinity.
The other male character’s sister is a complete opposite to the manly personality of his brother so as to characterize his maleness and his sister’s femininity. In a male-dominated society such as ours, men are not entitled to be gentle and soft because ever since Adam, men should be the ones who are not ruled by emotion, rather than reason.
A male member of Philippine society is always told by the same distorted version of the concept of machismo. But then, is there such a right word to defend machismo? The selected texts have unmasked the prevalent machismo which underlies Philippine culture. The social model predicated on machismo has been revealed, considering the fact in the case of our society, our political and historical traditions could also be one of its major factors.
Consciousness is power. To create a new understanding of our literature is to make possible a new effect of that literature on us. And to make possible a new effect is in turn to provide the conditions for changing the culture that the literature reflects.
Machismo is defined and based upon the Philippine context. Macho men are everywhere. He could be loitering in the streets, in slum areas, in heavy drinking sessions until the wee hours of the morning, in gang wars, sleeping in someone else’s bed or he could be sitting on a comfortable couch after beating his own wife. They identify their identities as men by their actions influenced by our own male society.
Contextualization is one way of studying the condition of machismo in Philippine society. Men are merely victims. Ernest Hemingway had always been studied by scholars as to how masculinity operates in Hemingway’s life and works, replacing the celebrated macho persona motivated by various psychosexual desires. It is only apparent that in all kinds of literature, such manifestations of machismo only reflect the society each has.
It as if machismo had infected the entire society that we see in literature and in our own society as well.
Filipino machismo has infected literature in one way or another. As the song says:..”macho, macho man! I want to be a macho man….”
List of Works Cited
Garcia, Danton Remoto. Laldlad 2: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Literature. Manila; Anvil Publishing, 1996.
Lacuesta. Life Before X and Other Stories. Manila; Anvil Publishing, 1997.
Attics do not house humans. Attics are wasted space. Women are considered half monsters, and they are wasted. She inhabits the attics, literally and metaphorically, she becomes a madwoman both as a writer and a character. The fact is, Nathaniel Hawthorne is male and men don’t glorify women.
Nathaniel Hawthorne did not directly say that Georgina is a monster. Only by the way she is presented in the story will it then becomes clear that literature had always been confined to male writers and characters. Georgina’s birthmark embodies the unforgivable flaws of the female body and her position as a woman. She doesn’t make any difference to Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. And the only way to kill the female monster is to destroy male literature.
Georgina is portrayed as a passive character overpowered by her own husband. Aylmer is a man of science who represents knowledge and inventions. Georgina is depicted as a woman who will do anything only to earn her husband’s love to fulfill her responsibility as a wife: to make her husband happy and be of service to him. Since a woman’s intellect is not for invention, she is merely placed in the house and practice domesticity. She even said to Aylmer, “I know not what may be the cost to both of us to get rid of this fatal birthmark. Perhaps its removal may cause cureless deformity; or it may be the stain goes as deep as life itself.”
And so, the reader is introduced to the fact that women are trained by the society, which is patriarchal, to become submissive wives and submit to the idea that men are in control, not the ones being controlled. And so, there is this concept of achieving the “arts of pleasing men”. Even when she was about to die, she still tried to be the sweet angel that she should be. “My poor Aylmer,” she repeated, with a more human tenderness, “you have aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer. Aylmer, dearest Aylmer, I am dying!” And so, the idea of women being selfless is then highlighted in the story. The idea of women being submissive to their husbands is in fact very Christian. In literature, it is as if it must be a norm that the women characters are always the ones who must die and the protagonists must be the male characters.
Georgina’s birthmark signifies Aylmer’s insecurities. This reminds me of Freud’s castration complex in which the birthmark becomes the figure of a penis in the eyes of Aylmer and so he wants to remove the birthmark and have the power all by himself. In literature, male writers never considered writing as an act of women. It’s just that they are too afraid to let the women speak and inscribe power in sheets of paper. It is because of the fact that female authorship means female authority. And women, on the other hand, cannot get out of their shell considering the fact that she is a domesticated being and she has no right to invent and create a world that she can relate to. If she shows resistance, then she becomes a madwoman in her society. Only the men have the right to be a creator.
Georgina becomes Aylmer’s failure when she was born with the birthmark and when she died even if he was confident of his success. She remains to be Dr. Frankenstein’s monster that was created with stitches and flaws. She is an imperfect being.
Georgina is marked as unmarked. She continues to be a misunderstood being, like the other women, in her own society.
Georgina let herself be defined and is never aware that she is defined. A woman is marked as unmarked. The spectral of the woman’s marked body thus violates the fantasy of the woman as a blank page to be inscribed by man. The sign of the female body is cultural legibility and subordination, “staining” the female body, it literalizes the cultural marking of woman as the other. “It was the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her productions. The crimson hand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the lowest.”
Male writers only write for themselves. And so, women writers are the only ones who can write for women. To restate Audre Lorde, only the oppressed could understand oppression, not the oppressors. A female writer must get out of the glass coffin or sleep for a thousand years and wait for the prince to kiss her. We’ve been sleeping for more than a thousand years. Maybe its about to time to wake up and change the masculine literature.
It is clear how Gilbert and Gubar used the attic as a metaphor to emphasize how women writers are secluded and isolated from the world of literature. The attic is also a literal view of women who hide in such a space to write because writing is not a part of their domestic definition as women. They cannot even write the way they wanted to write themselves because of the fact that their husbands are always watching upon their shoulders. Most of them become mothers and they are meant to watch their children all her life, and so their desire to write gets lost along the way.
Georgina died. But then, the other women must not die too only because she is a flawed character and she is a WOMAN. I believe a woman must be dead for her to rise again. And this time, she will be immortal.