Feminism & The Cult of Silence

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that there is a ‘cult of silence’ in the country and the society you live in, especially for issues involving women’s position in society and their rights? If yes, then what are the specific issues? Is it harmful? In what way?

ELIZABETH: I believe that there is no such thing as a “cult of silence”  is practiced here in the Philippines regarding women’s varied levels in society as well as in the exercise of their human rights. If ever there would be some who are “silenced” for whatever they have experienced involving violence and abuse, it was their own choice or could be depending on their circumstances and status in society.

SONGSOPTOK: In case you think that there is no such cult, can you please explain why you think so? With some examples, if possible

ELIZABETH:  Modern Filipino women (Filipinas)  nowadays are more open-minded, assertive, and feisty compared to those belonging to the earlier generation of their parents and grandparents. They exercise more freedom of speech and know more about their different rights. If there comes a time that they are being abused or are victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment at work, etc., there are organizations which help them break their silence and support them psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, etc. Women in the Philippines now are braver enough to let their voices and different concerns be heard by those concerned if not be the instruments of the others who can’t speak up about their predicaments.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that there has always been a cult of silence in human societies regarding certain issues? If yes, then for what reasons? Do you think that it is actually a good thing to perpetuate such a practice? Please tell us know why.

ELIZABETH: There had been a time that discussions regarding certain issues such as sex was a taboo especially in schools populated by youngsters or in certain conservative families where the mere mention of the word was being withheld. This “Cult of Silence” should not be practiced to silence the public in gaining information or learning about some things. It is also a human right to gain access to different knowledge and of exercising their rights to gain justice or get fair treatment from the society regardless of one’s gender.

The unraveling of certain issues bewildering society as a whole is inevitable likened to secrets which are kept hidden but are meant to be discovered in time. Certain issues plaguing our world are but facts to some not until they encounter or experience these themselves that they become a reality that must be embraced.

SONGSOPTOK: Is there a feminist movement in your country? If yes, then what are the specific objectives? In your opinion, is it necessary? If not, then what are the main reasons for its absence?

ELIZABETH: There exist here in the Philippines a feminist organization called GABRIELA. It is a militant women’s movement in the country that advocates for Filipino women  and their rights. They look after the welfare of women and children in the country and if ever there are certain issues involving the abuse or act of violence against these individuals, they are willing to help out to seek justice and fair treatment. GABRIELA was established in the year 1984 and is considered as the forefront of Filipino women’s struggle for freedom and democracy.

SONGSOPTOK: What, in your opinion, is the position of women in the country you live in? Do they have equal rights in every domain as men? If not, then which are the main areas where they receive unequal treatment?

ELIZABETH:  Generally, there is equality of both sexes being practiced here in the Philippines for most of the occupations in companies and the different levels of government. Being a woman living here in our country is not a major hindrance for one to occupy a high position. Certain issues involving abuse and violence against women and children exist though and continue to plague our society.

SONGSOPTOK: A ‘glass ceiling’ is a metaphor used to represent an invisible barrier that keeps women from rising beyond a certain level in a hierarchy. Do you believe in this concept? What is your personal experience in your personal and professional life? In the country you live in are there glass ceilings in different professions?

ELIZABETH: Yes, I do believe and have learned about this concept of “glass ceiling” affecting women in the workforce and I find it unfair of course. I haven’t experienced such kind of issue yet in my personal and professional life and for that I consider myself lucky.

In my observation in the different fields of occupation here in our country the Philippines, this invisible hindrance for women to be on top of the corporate ladder or to assume higher positions in the government and for other organizations or institutions is not that obviously encountered. Both men and women occupy various executive positions in their chosen careers and discrimination based on their sexes is not generally observed.

SONGSOPTOK: What is your opinion about the feminist movement? Do you think it is necessary, both at a global and a more local level? Why? In this context, what do you think are the major achievements of the Feminist movement, if any?

ELIZABETH: There could be varying degrees of perspectives when it comes to the existence of feminist movements. Some countries do exercise equality between sexes while others especially the ones still preserving their conservative beliefs may place women below the ranks of men both at home and in the corporate world or other fields in society. In reality, there is still unequality between men and women even in this age of the millenium.

The term feminism is defined as something that describes a political, cultural, or economic movement which has its ultimate goal of establishing equal rights and legal protection for women. The very first feminist movement started in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the second was during the 1960s as well as in the 1970s and the third wave extended from the 1990s up to the present time.

In my own view, both in local and international level, feminist movements are vital in order to attentively safeguard the rights of women and to help them in attaining justice and fair treatment (in various issues involving reproductive rights, domestic violence, equal pay, maternity leave, women’s suffrage, sexual harassment, and sexual violence, etc.)

If women are given the equal opportunities being given to men, there could exist a balanced society thus a more stable and harmonious family unit will emerge.

SONGSOPTOK: A recent study (conducted by HuffPost/YouGov) concluded that only 20% of Americans identify as feminists, even though a whopping 82% believe that "men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” Do you find this contradictory, and if so, why? What, according to you, would be the result of a similar study in the country you live in? For what reasons?

ELIZABETH: I believe that different studies and researches in various fields almost often if not always “contradict” themselves and the study of Feminism in the USA by HuffPost/YouGov is not an exception. A good example/comparison would be studies regarding the pros and cons of drinking coffee. In some studies, they would tell people that it has good health benefits but on the other hand, in some other studies, they tell them otherwise that it wouldn’t be good. So, the public would then be having divided beliefs.

 And it has nothing to do with the geography or location in which the study was conducted.  One of the major reasons why these studies oppose themselves is that we cannot really ascertain based on statistics alone the real sentiment and actual condition of the subject/subjects we are studying or making a research of.

Our country, the Philippines is generally considered as a conservative one with the Church possessing a major influence in the thinking of people and how they should be “behaving”, morally-wise although there is what we call a separation of State and the Church.

If they would be conducting a similar study about Feminism in our country, it would also be divided although almost all women here would agree that equality should exist between the sexes in all areas. The once conservative view has now gradually changed because of various factors which influence the way of thinking of the citizens and not just of women.

SONGSOPTOK: One of the main areas of the feminist movement is sexual objectification of women almost all across the globe, especially on media. What is the reality in the country you live in and / or your country of origin? What is your opinion about this? Do you think that there is a cult of silence around this issue? Why?

ELIZABETH: Sexual objectification of women has always been one of the major issues involving the abuse of women in different fields worldwide. Here in the Philippines, women also experience sexual harassment at work or in any other places attributing to the notion that women are merely sex objects. While some are brave enough to report their horrid experiences to the authorities, still a large percentage of sexual violence are left unreported for they chose to keep silent on the matter. The main reason they just kept quiet and decided to hide the case is that they don’t want their families and loved-ones to be dragged into sexual scandals and one other reason could be that they fear for their lives especially when their harasser/rapist comes from an affluent and/or influential family in society.

SONGSOPTOK: Finally, according to you, to what extent is feminism relevant in today’s society?

ELIZABETH: Feminism will still be an integral part of our modern society since it just not focuses on women’s different human rights alone for it can affect the whole family as an important unit of society. If everyone would be given the access to what feminism is all about and I mean not just concentrating on one’s gender, both men and women and the coming generation will come to understand what real equality is all about.

This is not a question, but more like a game. You may or may not choose  to this. What would be your word picture of a feminist?

My word picture of a feminist would be “Eccentric”.

Elizabeth Esguerra Castillo: Is an award-winning International Author/Contemporary Poet. She is the author of “Seasons of Emotions” (UK) and “Inner Reflections of the Muse” (USA) and a co-author to more than 60 international anthologies. Elizabeth is a member of PEN International and American Authors Association (AAA).

We sincerely thank you for your time and hope to have your continued support.
Aparajita Sen


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