COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
It was only a few years ago when I learned that March is Women’s Month when a friend gifted me with a book PINAY on the International Women’s Day that falls on March 8. The book is a collection of essays – an “anthology of autobiographical narratives of Filipino women writers who belong to different generations.” Oddly enough, the stories that I liked the most were written by Pelagia Soliven who was neither a journalist nor a literary writer, but who later wrote her memoirs in full-length books. Married at 18 but widowed at 33, she raised her remaining nine children who earned their school degrees with distinction, and received the Mother of the Year Award at 52.
It was also only a year later when I learned that March 8 was a day of mourning, when in 1911 thousands of people in New York City marched in silence for the burial of 175 female textile workers who died in a fire a few days earlier. Composing mostly of young women belonging to migrant families from Europe, these textile workers in the Triangle Shirt Factory were trapped inside when a fire broke out because management “locked all the doors to prevent theft.” Some were burned to death while others jumped out of the fire from the 18th floor of a tall building. So it was the outpouring of sorrow and anger that led to the massive silent parade, and henceforth commemorated yearly as International Women’s Day.
Well I find it appalling that International Women’s Day is being celebrated as a result of that horrible and stupid fire incident. If the textile workers were composed of men, would we celebrate March 8 as International Men’s Day? Actually there were more men who died in the coal mines, factories, plantations, and at the war fronts simply because they were the ones primarily sent out to do those hazardous jobs. But I have not heard of an International Men’s Day.
I can understand the Women’s Movement and the fight for Human Rights but liberation must be for all peoples – men, women, and children. Women have been culturally treated as subordinates or even without personalities because of their body constitution, tradition, and some religious prescriptions. But women are physically designed so for the continuity of life, otherwise if there were only men in this world they would have all died at the beginning of time. Life still is, first and foremost, biology.
Women’s Day ought to be celebrated as the transcendence of the woman from a mere physical body to a full human being with diversified personalities. That she has intellect and can be a research scientist. That she possesses physical skill, intelligence, and character to fly an airplane or climb Mt. Everest. That she can write poetry and the annals of humanity. And that she can be the head of any society.
Feminism or the Women’s Liberation Movement has not really caught up with me. It may be because that I grew up with a very strong mother who lived beyond her milieu, accomplishing things at great odds while steadfastly keeping her faith. Besides, the women I knew who lived as homemakers – tending house, family, and gardens were happy housewives. And even the poor women in our part of the countryside working in the farms, doing menial jobs, or selling fish were persons in their own right and dignified.
Well I guess women should have more choices in order to maximize their potentials. They need to be educated to have more power over their bodies and over their lives. They need to develop their talents and work out their dreams to become fully human and fully alive. And that they should not hate themselves for being women, or hate the men for taking an upper hand on many things. For like anyone else, no one should be given more freedom and responsibility than one can handle – be it a man or a woman.
March 3, 2013