“Filipina” is a term used to denote a woman who is a Filipino national. It is a term that is laden with two intersecting political concepts: gender and nation. To be a woman and to be a Filipino can be a difficult identity because she, Filipina is marginalized twice. First, she is marginalized by her gender. Being a woman takes her out of the patriarchal center. Second, her belonging to a “third world” nation marginalizes her from the “first world” center of economic order.
Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters gives us a narrative from which to study Filipina and how the concepts of gender and nation operate to construct it. The novel’s women characters give us the site from which to analyze how the concept of nation delineates the concept of gender and how the concept of nation delineates the concept of gender. Nation as a Construct Benedict Anderson in his seminal book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism defines nation as “an imagined political community. . .
It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nations will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives an image of their community” (Anderson, 6) . It is a community because the nation is “always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (Anderson, 7). In other words, the nation is a social construct that people regardless of race, language, or color share and this construct binds them as one community even though they do not see each or interact with each other.
Anderson adds that what facilitates the formation of nation as imagined community is the development of the print culture. Because of the print culture such as the news, all the readers of the news see themselves as belonging to one community. This is true in the context of the Philippines. With the economic development of the country during the 1880’s, a group of descendants of wealthy “mestizo” landowners start to identify themselves as “Filipino”. Before this, the locals in the country are segregated and without any national identity (Werrlein, Par.
3). The print materials that facilitated the formation of their national consciousness came in the form of discourses that they learned from education abroad, “discourses of colonialism, international capital, Western politics, and Enlightenment philosophy” (Werrlein, Par. 3). Gender as a Construct Anne Louise Keating examines the concept of gender by looking at two ways in which it is defined. The traditional definition of gender is based on the biological male and female, thus she calls this as the “binary model of gender” (4).
Keating argues that this definition is problematic because it gives normative rules as to how a male and a female should be. In this definition, if the gender is male, then he is expected to be masculine and if the gender is female, then she is expected to be feminine. Keating favors more the constructionist definition of the concept of gender. In this model, the category of “sex” and “gender” are differentiated. Whereas “sex” pertains to the biological classification as male or female, “gender” pertains to the social meanings cultures assign to the female or male (5).
What this highlights is that the concept of gender or what it is to be a female or a male is a construct. The female traits of being feminine, weak and emotional belong to the category of gender and not inherent traits of the female. In the same way, the traits of being masculine, strong and intellectual are not inherent traits of the biologically male. The traits are constructions of society. In the category of a “woman” which is what this essay will use, “woman” is “never a pre-given entity but is created in the social process” and it is a corrective stance against essentialism (Aguilar, Par. 13).
For Aguilar, essentialism means the thinking that “there is an immutable essence or unchanging humanity that all women share” and this is the “universal woman — white, middle class, and have the authorial voice that could speak of her own experience of subordination and appear as though she were representing womankind (Par. 11). The meaning of “woman” then, is now constantly deferred and never fully established since this depends on how gender intersects with multiple other axes at any given moment” (Par. 13). In this essay, we study the category of “woman” “Filipina” as it intersects with the axis of nation.
Nation and Gender in Dogeaters How do the concepts of nation and gender as constructs operate in the novel Dogeaters? They operate in the site of the Filipina. In this paper, I use the social constructionist view of the concepts of nation and gender to argue that the specificities of the nation imagine (thus form) the Filipina and the Filipina imagines (thus forms) the nation. The specificities of colonized experience from the Spanish to the American to the neo-colonial era of the nation forms the Filipina as a wife, an infantile adult and a little brown American.
The Filipina through the images of women in the novel imagines the nation as a nation whose beauty is superficial. The Filipina as the embodiment of the nation forms the concept of the Philippine nation as deplorable when the mask of superficial beauty is taken out. Imagining Filipina How does Jessica Hagedorn imagines Filipina in her novel? To answer the question, I will first trace how the Filipina is constructed by the colonization policies of the Spanish and Americans.
This is to give the discussion of the novel which is set during the neo-colonial Martial Law a background history. First, the Filipina is formed historically by the colonial policies of the Spanish conquistadores. As Diaz argues in her essay Postcolonial Theory and Third Wave Agenda, the woman of the pre-colonial Philippines have equal status with men (Diaz, Par. 14). When the Spanish colonized the Philippines, Hispanization of the Filipina means that they “imbued her with the servile cultural identity that Iberian men preferred in their women.
From the freedom of self-determination that she once knew, the Filipino woman’s world shrank to a cloistered existence” (Diaz, Par. 15). From community healers and epic singers, Filipina became domesticated in the houses serving their husbands or nuns serving the Catholic Church and the Spanish priests who promulgate Catholicism to the pagan locals. The American colonization of the Philippines formed the Filipina as an educated but still domesticated woman. She is given the right for suffrage but that aside from this, the social participation of the Filipina is still limited.
Thus Diaz concludes that there is a contradiction to the formation of the Filipina by the American colonization— “while seeming to promote greater equality and social justice on the surface through institutionalizing changes in women’s status, American colonial rule genders Filipino society more subtly in ways detrimental to Filipino women” (Par. 25). In the novel Dogeaters, Hagedorn imagines Filipina as the result of the two Spanish and American constructions as outlined above and by the cultural imperialism that is the defining character of the Philippines after it emerges from being a colonized country.
The first construct of a Filipina that Hagedorn shows in the novel is the construct that a Filipina should be a wife. For the Filipina to remain in the center of society, she should have a husband. If she is at the marrying age and chooses and cannot have a husband, then she is relegated to the periphery. This is the result of the Spanish construction of Filipina. In the novel, almost all of the women characters are married or want to be married. The only ones who are not married are Rio Gonzaga who migrates to America and Daisy Avila who becomes a revolutionary rebel hiding in the mountains.
In short, they are in the periphery of the Philippine nation. Pucha marries Boomboom Alacran not for love but for convenience. In the first part of the novel, when her cousin Rio learns that Pucha is interested with Boomboom, the son of one of the wealthiest and most powerful man in Manila, Pucha tells Rio: “I don’t care if he’s a little gordito, or pangit, or smells like a dead goat. That’s Boomboom Alacran, stupid. He’s cute enough for me” (6). Boomboom Alacran’s mother Isabel used to be a hostess at a night club but she becomes a movie actress after winning a beauty pageant.
When she meets Severo Alacran, she knows that Severo will make her life better. She marries to become part of the center of society. When Isabel marries Severo, she stops working and becomes domesticated: She stops making movies , spends her time shopping for clothes. . . She concentrates on becoming thin, sophisticated, icy. Her role models include Dietrich, Vicomtesse, Jacqueline de Ribes, Nefertiti and Grace Kelly. She is an asset to her husband at any social function. She is manicured and oiled, massaged and exercised, pampered like some high-strung, inbred animal.
(20). Hagedorn exposes in the novel that the Spanish construction of Filipina as a wife operative in her women characters even if the women characters live during during the 1950’s more than 50 years after the Spanish cede the country to the Americans. The second construct that Hagedorn exposes in the novel is that a Filipina is an infant that needs protection. This is the result of America’s colonial policy of benevolent assimilation. Werrlein analyzes the Dogeaters by arguing that in the novel, women characters are “infantilized” by the benevolent assimilation policy.
This policy discourses that America colonizes the Philippines as a good will because America believes that the Philippines is not yet ready for self-government. Werrlein analyzes that the character of Rio is infantilized in the same way as the Philippines is infantilized by the Americans: In the tradition of benevolent assimilation, Rio’s parents indoctrinate her into their historically sanitized world so that she may progress from a literal and figurative child of American culture to an infantilized adult who serves the interests of white American capital.
At a Gonzaga family dinner, Rio’s teenage brother Raul interrupts their parents’ gossip to ask for details about a Manilan prison camp. Distracting responses ensue, including Aunt Flora’s outrage when her husband swears in front of “the children! ” Despite such vulnerable moments, Rio’s family life successfully reinforces her infantilization. Almost all of the events she recounts occur behind the protective walls of theater and home. In these insolated settings, consumer images of film and magazine substitute for political and social awareness. ” (Par. 15)
In the novel, Hagedorn constructs the Filipina as a child who is innocent and is not aware of the realities of her nation. Lastly, Hagedorn imagines Filipina as a little brown American woman. The women characters all mimic the Hollywood actresses they see in movies. Delia Aguilar criticizes her fellow Filipinos: “it is a second nature to us to assume the persona of our colonizer” (Par. 12). This construct of the Filipina as an American is the result of America’s cultural imperialism specifically the movies. Hollywood movies and actors are central to the novel Dogeaters.
In fact, the novel opens with a scene at a movie house. Rio and Pucha are watching an American film entitled All that Heaven Allows which star Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead and Gloria Talbott. They idolize Gloria Talbott: Cousin Pucha and I are impressed by her brash style; we gasp at Gloria’s cool indifference, the offhand way she treats her grieving mother. Her casual arrogance seems inherently American, modern, and enviable. (Hagedorn, 3-4). Rio ang Pucha dreams to be like the characters that they see in the movies.
This is the same with Rio’s mother Dolores who idolizes the Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth. Indeed, one of the chapters of the first part of the novel is entitled, My Mother, Rita Hayworth. This is Rio’s narration about how her mother becomes constructed by the Hollywood movies: My mother the nonswimmer has smooth skin the color of yellow white ivory. She stays out of the sun. She thinks it’s bad for the skin, that she will age much too fast and have crow’s feet and freckles. . . She uses creams, moisturizers, takes daily naps. . . She is a beautiful woman who works hard at it.
Every couple of months she has Chiquiting Moreno tint her black hair auburn highlights, just like Rita Hayworth (Hagedorn, 82) With the Hollywood movies, the Filipina constructs herself as the Hollywood actresses that she sees in the dark theaters. Hagedorn imagines the Filipina as trying hard to be an American as a result of the cultural imperialism of America. Filipina Imagining The second question that this essay purports to answer is: How does gender affects the construction of the concept of nation? In the context of the novel Dogeaters, how is the Philippine nation imagined by the images of women?
How is the concept of Philippine nation constructed by the Filipina women in the novel? Hagedorn imagines the Philippine nation by using first, the character of the First Lady and second, the character of Lolita Luna, as the embodiments of the Philippines. The First Lady as an embodiment of the Philippine nation is absorbed with beauty and the arts. She has beautification projects and one of these is the Film Festival: The Manila Film Festival is the First Lady’s latest whim. She orders the city and slums rejuvenated with fresh coats of paint, windows and doorways lines with pots of plastic flowers, the streets swept.
. . Funny thing is, it all looks fake. (Hagedorn, 130). These projects construct the Philippines embodied in the First Lady as a nation with superficial beauty. Outside, everything is beautiful but it hides dirty and inhuman structures in the form of the Martial Law. Hagedorn more clearly shows this in the scene wherein construction workers are killed because the ceiling of the basement of the film center where they are working suddenly collapses. The First Lady orders that the construction continues and the bodies of the workers cemented.
The First Lady as the embodiment of the Philippine nation imagines the nation as a sad and deplorable nation that looks good and beautiful to the outsiders but the outsiders do not see violence and killings of the Martial Law Conclusion In this paper, I argue that the social constructionist concepts of gender and nation are operative in the novel through the site of the Filipina. I argued that the Philippine nation’s history of colonization and neo-colonization constructs the Filipina as a wife, an undeveloped adult and a little brown American woman.
They are the results of Spanish and American’s construction of the Filipina through their colonial policies. In this way, I have shown that the category of gender (woman) delineates the category of nation (Philippines). The Filipina on the other hand constructs the Philippine nation as a nation whose good traits are superficial. In this way, I have shown that the category of nation delineates the category of gender.
Aguilar, Delia D. “Gender, Nation, Colonialism: Lesson from the Philippines”. The Women, Gender and Development Reader. Nalini Visvanathan, Lynne Duggan, and Lau Nisonolff, eds. London: Zed Books, 1997.Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983. Diaz, Angeli R. “Postcolonial Theory and Third Wave Agenda. ” Women and Language 26 No. 1 10-17 Spr 2003. Hagedorn, Jessica. Dogeaters. New York: Penguin Books, 1990. Keating, Ann Louise. “Gender. ” An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. 2002. <www. glbtq. com/literature/gender. html>. Werrlein, Debra T. “Legacies of the ‘Innocent’ Frontier: Failed Memory and the Infantalized Filipina Expatriate in Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters” Journal of Asian American Studes 7, No. 1 (Feb 2004), pp. 27-50.