OPINION | Faux feminism: when women empowerment becloud systemic oppression
By Alexandra Kate Ramirez
When asked about the epitome of an empowered woman, one’s train of thought may often lead them to big names and modern girl bosses. More often than not, it lands on various success stories of women who — amidst the patriarchal hegemony — managed to forge their way into a man’s world upon breaking the formidable glass ceiling.
Generally, people might say that their rise to power is already a glorious triumph for women. Having women in places otherwise dominated by men, however, should never be the reason for us to dial down our legitimate calls for genuine change. To limit what we can critique on the basis of gender alone will only inhibit us from seeing the multifaceted challenges that require an intersectional perspective. Besides, a woman seated in a position of power does not, in any way, warrant the advancement of women’s rights, let alone the fight for collective liberation.
By way of illustration, let us take a look at the infamous legacy of none other than the first female president of the Philippines, Corazon “Cory” Aquino. Also deemed as the beacon of democracy for replacing a dictator, it is somewhat easy to paint Aquino as the female role model. However, with her victory that is supposedly emblematic of women empowerment, did she ever do something — anything — to advance the interests of women and minorities? And how about Cynthia Villar, who topped the senatorial race during the 2019 midterm elections, ultimately outrunning every other male candidate. Is her win also tantamount to a feminist achievement?
Although this short narrative could not possibly elaborate the policies they enforced, it is not an overstatement to say that Aquino and Villar are a far cry from feminist icons. Their triumphs were only for a select group of privileged women and those who actually benefit from their neoliberal agenda. Moreover, both of them blatantly reinforced imperialist and bureaucrat-capitalist structures, which only shove the underprivileged into the depths of poverty. Instead of upholding the rights of the oppressed, these women deprived farmers of their lands and displaced thousands of families for their economic gains.
In a society that reeks of male-dominance, women’s representation in various sectors is quite a step forward. The struggle, however, does not quite end there. While it is just right to close the gender gap in the workplace, we must also challenge the rotten system itself that brutally enables and perpetuates these gender disparities in the first place.
Food for thought: replacing male leaders with female ones without actually catalyzing structural change is not exactly an impetus for progress. The trouble with these chains of commands is not found in the leader’s gender identity but in the power structure at its core. Case in point, a she-Duterte does not make the extrajudicial killings less inhumane, nor does it make the president’s misogynistic remarks less discriminatory. In order to actualize the very essence of feminism, we have to actively denounce these atrocities regardless of the perpetrator’s identity. After all, feminism is not just for women.
While amplifying the voices of minorities is one thing, responding to their calls is another and a much more difficult task at that. Women in authority should start using their power to lift up the marginalized by granting them living wages and not further contribute to their exploitation. It’s high time they pursue an intersectional approach in order to recognize the overlapping forms of oppression that women experience. As Fannie Lou Hamer, a women’s rights activist, proclaimed, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
That is the feminism I choose to uphold.