Friday , April 27, 2018

Watching the women go by

MUCH has improved in the lives of women in the last 35 years. More girls and women today have access to education, live longer, and enjoy a greater ability to lead independent lives than their mothers or teachers did in 1982.

To start a series of features for our 35th year—and also to cap the celebration of Women’s Month—we at SunStar Cebu chose some of our favorite photographs of women and reflected on what they said about our community.

We left out one of our earliest photographs, that of a woman being questioned by a police officer shortly after a raid on a bar. She didn’t have a stitch on. The photograph showed her back, while she faced a police officer who was studiously jotting down notes on the interview, his eyes averted from the woman before him.

Talk about the male gaze, no?

Truth be told, our photographers have taken hundreds of photographs on the same theme. The women weren’t nude but their faces and bodies were arrayed as objects of desire and fantasy. They gazed back at us from the covers of magazines or from fashion spreads: beautiful and mysterious, but also fixed. Unchanging.

Painters had presented women that way, long before photographers and advertising whiz kids took that tack. “From earliest childhood, a woman is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually,” the English art critic John Berger said in 1972, in a BBC series (“Ways of Seeing”) that later became his most famous book. “How she appears to of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life.”

The images here are of a different sort. The women in them are beautiful, but they are more than that.

What emerges from their photographs are signs of their endurance and focus, their drive and wit.

After all, in the last 35 years, we’ve seen two women ascend to the presidency and survive the toughest challenges anyone in politics can possibly face. For all their flaws, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino (1986-1992) and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2001-2010) stretched the limits of what was possible for a Filipina to achieve. Closer to home, Cebuanos elected our first woman governor, Gwen Garcia, in May 2004. Voters in Lapu-Lapu followed suit six years later, and chose Paz Radaza as the city’s first woman mayor.

This is an incomplete document of achievement: many other women who have set records or broken the proverbial glass ceilings in many fields are not featured here. We would run out of room. We also want their absence to be a challenge.

May we all keep striving for a future that allows women to transform all their promise and potential into real power, including the power to change our communities for the better.