Padilla: Yentl at the bukids

MY BUKID trips in recent weeks had Streisand's "Yentl" running through my head as background music because as if warped by time, the women in the mountain areas remain to be second class citizens. But who or what is Yentl?

"Yentl" is based on Isaac Singer's short story "Yentl: The Yeshiva Boy." Set in Poland in the early 20th century, Yentl Mendel is a young girl who decides to dress like a man so she can study Talmudic law. Her thirst was fueled by growing up in a household where her rabbi of a father secretly taught her the Talmud despite the proscription of such study according to Jewish customs. Yentl's curiosity, ambitious character, and her talent were considered masculine and by dressing up as the boy Anshel, she defies the traditional ideas of gender roles in her society.

Streisand's musical stays close to the premise of Singer's story. The music of Legrand and Bergman translates Yentl's defiance of an oppressive society in memorable pieces like 'Papa, can you hear me?" and "Where is it Written?" And it is the latter that run through my head when I was told that in some informal classes on basic literacy in these "bukids," there are more illiterate men than women yet the women lack visibility in community decisions. Or in some instances, there were more men attending the basic literacy classes because the women had to stay at home, whether to take care of children or to prepare food.

When the men come home from the classes, it is rare and almost non-existent that they would teach the women what they learned. In one area, the men who attend the classes were between ages 20-40 years old while the women were between 16-30 years old. It is not that the 30-something women have suddenly become literate but they have become invisible and almost negligible after being reduced as solely responsible for raising children and keeping the home.

In the musical, Yentl refused such fate by excelling in the yeshiva as a boy. Despite falling in love with Anshel and revealing the truth about herself, she finds strength in leaving home and moving to another country that embraced the same ideal that she had.

How many women from the bukids have left the comforts of home because they sought to be better persons somewhere else? Some have succeeded but some who failed have not returned home, afraid to be condemnation that seems to be tougher on women.

The haunting opening lines: "Tell me where, where is it written what it is I am meant to be" ran through my head when I saw an IP woman, barely out of her teens, carry a baby in one arm and lead an almost naked toddler in another towards the line where my travel partners were distributing food. The husband, probably in his 50s, was in a huddle with men his age, chewing betel nut, and waiting for their women to bring them food.

In the movie, Yentl is in a huge ship while singing the song, presumably on her way to a 'free country' but where I was while the song played through my head was all mud and can only be reached through by navigating 4-wheel or mountain drives through treacherous roads. No ships.
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