WHEN we were girls, my sister and I pretended we owned an island and did absolutely nothing we did not want to do and everything we wanted to. At those ages, our indulgences ran to: not doing house work, sleeping when we wanted to.
Remembering that childhood game, I wondered if it had been at the backs of our minds then to not marry, not bear children, not lead domestic, thoroughly domesticated, lives in that Isle of Not’s.
Couching that fantasy requires a series of negations. No, sustaining the imaginary demands exploding social myths, for instance: if a woman is not a wife and a mother, what is she?
Cebu in the 1970s was a bastion of traditions bookended by family, school, church and state. Even just conscious of the first three, my sister and I created the Isle of Not’s as a backdoor, almost as if we already foresaw our futures.
It was then with a shock of recognition that I came across Dolores Stephens Feria’s essay, “The Patriarchy and the Filipina as Writer,” which is part of her book, “The Long Stag Party” (1991).
Dolores knows the women of the diaspora. Before global migration, colonization imploded the Filipina. An American who married a Filipino academic despite the anti-miscegenation tide in the US, Dolores joined her husband in returning to the country after the Second World War. She taught English and literature at the Silliman University and the University of the Philippines Diliman. Shortly after martial law was imposed, she was arrested and detained without charges for three years.
In the journal she kept clandestinely during her incarceration, Dolores wrote how state oppression made Filipinos stateless in their own country. For women, the oppressions were more restrictive.
Likening to one “long stag party” the Spanish and American colonizations that subjected women to the double bind of imperialist and masculinist domination, Dolores argued in her essay that the colonialist and androcentric writing of Philippine history buried women who, in pre-colonial times, were the “babaylan,” “dumandang” and “mandadawak.”
These pre-colonial healers, psychic interpreters of a tribe’s inner life and priestesses were supplanted by men by way of the pulpit, the bedroom, the classroom and the political sphere. When assimilation did not work—most women had their uses as wives and daughters—society turned these ill-fitting ones into Others.
At the turn of the century, women who wrote were regarded as treacherous as uncharted islands on which men could dash and lose all plans and ambitions for progeny. Outside of my sister’s and my imagination, these female Isles of Not’s existed. Who was Dolores referring to?