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The Importance of Equal and Accurate Representation to Inform and Shape Identity


Girls demand a new story2

I recently attended a discussion by Plan International Philippines on the agenda of equal representation of girls and young women in the Philippines. The hashtag they used was #RewriteHerStory.

I have tried to use this column and this platform to discuss female issues and the feminist agenda. I do recognize, however, that it may be difficult to understand the issue when it does not directly affect you. So today I write about an identity we all share, that of being Filipino. Before I go on again about “herstory” in the weekly columns to follow, I draw a parallel with Our Story.

Often attributed to the victorious Winston Churchill, although no concrete evidence supports that origin story, it is often said that history is written by the victors. So is our present, as an amalgamation of conscious and subconscious efforts. The historiography of battles and wars paint the defeated in a biased light, repeated on and on that they even start believing that version themselves.

We can see this in our own history, particularly after the American colonial era. In his groundbreaking essay re-examinating Philippine historiography, “The Miseducation of the Filipino” (1954) , Prof. Renato Constantino writes: “The majority of our educational leaders, however, still continue to trace their direct lineal descent to the first soldier-teachers of the American invasion army. They seem oblivious to the fact that the educational system and philosophy of which they are proud inheritors were valid only within the framework of American colonialism. […] From its inception, the education system of the Philippines was a means of pacifying a people who were defending their newly won freedom from an invader who posed as an ally.”

The Philippine Revolution began in 1896, spurred by growing Filipino nationalism and resentment of Spanish colonial authorities. When the Spanish government ceded control of the Philippines to the Americans in the Treaty of Paris in 1898, we had new colonial forces upon us. The ensuing Philippine-American War could be interpreted in several ways, most notably as a continuation of the Philippine Revolution, the struggle for freedom against colonial oppression; or as an independent uprising against the legitimate United States Military Government.

rewrite her story

The question is of invader encroaching on our liberty or ally in our process toward independence a la Tydings-McDuffie. The answer is ultimately biased by the history we are told.

The victor’s storytelling of the defeated’s past frames the latter’s own perception of their history and heritage, providing the background for their present selves and society, subsequently affecting their future.

As the Thomas dictum goes, “If men define situations as real, they are real in consequence.” The future effects are informed by how society defines and interprets their situation, and I put forth an addition to that by writing that it also informs how society defines and interprets itself.

As Constantino noted, the post-American era education was still a colonial education. Historian Ileto Reynaldo suggests that the historical treatment of the Philippine revolution as the “origin myth of the present Filipino nation state” under the “tutelage” of the Americans can be traced back to American-era textbooks, which downplayed the violence and focused on the civics oriented revolution as a means to “pacify” the colony.

The American-era textbooks were used to teach the next generation of Filipinos who would write textbooks. Despite not being under American rule, their curricula, and more importantly, their version of our history, remained, even if it was a local author.

Isn’t that a scary thought, how the way history is written and taught can inform our perception of whether or not we are even free people? We still celebrate our Independence Day on June 12 to commemorate our independence from Spain, despite not being fully independent then.

Let us move forward with another essay. While Constantino wrote after the end of the American era of the Philippines, James Fallows of The Atlantic wrote “A Damaged Culture” in 1987, after the overthrowing of Ferdinand Marcos. Despite a return to democracy, Fallows was pessimistic about our country’s future, particularly with the lack of economic growth and industrialization compared to the post-war economies of countries around us, such as South Korea and Japan. This was ultimately, he concluded, down to the culture of our country.

“In its brief fling with running a colony, America undeniably brought some material benefits to the Philippines: schools, hospitals, laws, and courts. […] But American rule seemed only to intensify the Filipino sense of dependence. […] Whether I was talking with Marcos-loving right-wingers or communists who hated the United States, whether the discussion was about economics or the US bases or the course of the guerrilla war, most of my conversations in the Philippines ended on the same discouraging note. ‘Of course, it’s not really up to us,’ a soldier or politician of communist would tell me. ‘We have to wait and see what the Americans have in mind.’”

Stories are a powerful tool that can be used to manipulate, but also to empower. As Filipino revisionist historians like Constantino and Reynaldo re-examined our national history, we began to question and grow as a people, to find greater national unity and pride. There is still a long way to go.

The same goes with the stories of women in the Philippines and around the world. The same goes with the stories of any group of people, of minorities, of communities. We all have some warped history that has informed and shaped our identities, and once we begin to accept and understand it, we can begin to recognize the struggles certain communities face.

Your Girl Friday is a youth column that discusses social issues and current culture that are young, female, and feminist in the opinion of the author. Kerry Tinga is based in Metro Manila and can be found teaching at Meridian International (MINT) College.

Source: Manila Bulletin

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