BOOK REVIEW: Filipino Housewives Speak

by Rose Churma

In commemoration of Women’s History Month last month, we feature another book on women, written and edited by women.

This was published more than 30 years ago but content and intent are just as valid in today’s context. The book examines through the prism of women’s eyes the power structure within families as revealed in the way home life is organized.

As the author writes in the foreword: “ I wanted to hear women tell me about the sexual division of labor…how they thought and felt about their roles as women, about equality, their relationships with their husbands and children, and how they viewed themselves in the context of the larger society…and capture as much of the varied textures of their lived experiences…”

The interviews with ten women were done in the summer of 1984 when the Philippines was experiencing an “electric political atmosphere” where an ongoing revolutionary struggle prevailed in the country. (The assassination of Ninoy Aquino occurred in August 1984 and triggered political tensions that eventually led to a mass upheaval in 1986).

The author chose ten women that represented the cross-section of Metro Manila’s population and consisted of a factory worker; a housewife whose husband was a migrant worker in Saudi Arabia; an upper-middle-class housewife; a middle-class secretary; a poor office worker; a struggling widow; an affluent interior designer; a housewife of independent means; a slum dweller; and squatter.

All were living with a partner, except for the widow and ranged in age from 25 to 45 and each caring for at least one child at home. With the exception of the factory worker (interviewed at the union meeting house), the rest were interviewed at their homes.

The author notes the “acute jolts I received in traversing back and forth the short but impossible distance between the slums and the shielded, ornate villages of the wealth…” – an experience difficult to forget, to see the wide disparity of wealth and privilege.

All the oral interviews are transcribed in English. It is not noted in what languages she conducted the interviews, but the transcriptions are all in English. In each interview, the author provides context – describes the surrounding area where the interview took place, how she was able to contact the interviewee and added observations that may be of interest to the reader (i.e. if there were others in the room or a brief background on the subject).

The testimonies presented by the ten women were all engaging and captures ones’ attention and interest. The transcriptions were easy to read – flow smoothly and distill the lives of each woman well.

For the foreword and afterword, where the author explains the rationale for this research project, she says: “My position as an investigator was originally non-neutral.  Posing problems derived from theoretical knowledge and catalyzed by the stress of my own personal concerns, I was striving for “intersubjectivity”, a dialectical relationship between research subject and research object from which socio-historical truths can begin to emerge in the process of integration.”

What is she really trying to say?  The use of simple language and words would very much advance the appreciation for this research.

Clearly the intent of this publication is to speak to her fellow academicians, especially with the use of phrases like “presupposition of dichotomous socio-economic spheres” or “absence of a libidinal investment in the style and physical appearance of one’s home” dominates the writing style. Which is a pity.

Lay people who have no pretensions of being highly educated but are simply curious about the lives of other women will find this book fascinating – just ignore the foreword and afterword and focus on the interviews: it contains a wealth of information on fellow Filipinas.

This publication also contains endnotes that list the author’s sources, a bibliography, and a glossary of Filipino terms. The book is a good reference for those contemplating the oral interview as a tool for research or resource for historical narratives.

ROSE CHURMA established a career in architecture 40 years ago, specializing in judicial facilities planning. As a retired architect, she now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books and write about them, as well as encourage others to write.

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