Sharing Filipino literature to our audience has always been a joy on my part. While distribution of Filipino literature is mostly limited within the Philippines, the accessibility of the language, being mostly in English, has made it easier to talk about it. However, this particular book made me hesitate a bit, being written in our native tongue. But I felt, the honesty, rawness and somewhat sarcastic narrative of the author deserves a greater audience. So indulge me. I will roughly translate or paraphrase certain quotes to express best my thoughts on the matter.
The Title is Not a Grammatical Error
This book straddles between our previous theme and our present theme, both being written by an Asian and tackling issues on womanhood. The author is a new name in Filipino literature. When I purchased the book, I didn’t have any expectations. My impulse to pick it up and buy it was motivated by my hunger for some Filipino non-fiction literature. At first, I thought of Bebang Siy as the female version of Bob Ong in her funny with a bite narrative, but in many ways, there was a different depth and angle to her writing. It’s a Mens World portrayed a girl-woman’s experience of the world as her title would indicate. And no, it’s not a grammar error, but a play on both the idea of males and the colloquial term for menstruation—mens (well, that’s how I see it).
Saying Goodbye to Girlhood
Appropriately, her collection of essays begins with a story of her sister, despite being younger, getting her period first. As an opener to a collection of essay that are both personal and relatable, Siy establishes herself as naïve-late bloomer who navigated the world without malice only to discover the hidden meanings in the rules of society. Maybe, it’s because I am a Filipina (Filipino and female) living in this century that I find her stories seemingly familiar. Siy takes us into the private female experience of getting her period and how it in many ways changes a girl’s life. As she puts it towards the end of the first essay with the same title as the book:
“Pumasok ako sa kubeta. Sibibukan kong umihi. Doon ko nalaman na dalaga na pala talaga ako. Malungkot kong tinitignan ang mantas sa panty. Ay, ang dami mo namang hinihinging kapalit. Demanding, parang ganon. Napakademanding naman pala ng pagdadalaga.”
[I went to the bathroom. I tried to pee. And there I discovered I was truly a woman. Sad, I looked at the stain on my underwear. So much is demanded in exchange of womanhood! How demanding becoming a woman is.]
The transition to girlhood to womanhood is marked by a woman’s menstrual period. No longer is the girl allowed to climb up trees or play with boys. Pagdadalaga (the transition to womanhood) brings in new meaning to every interaction.
The opening essay sets the tone for the reader. It clues you in on the kind of narratives the reader can expect, it life experiences, honeyed by a humoristic/sarcastic voice, tied together by hard lessons learned.
Woman, Her Experiences
Further color is added in the narrative with Siy’s stories on her life as half Chinese-Filipino and how she grew up uncertain of her place in the family and at the same time in the midst of poverty and marital arguments. The author introduces us to her family, the dynamics and craziness that made her who she was. In many ways, the reader is treated as a friend being told these stories as they unfolded. In her essay, Milk Shakes and Daddies, she talks of her father who orders milkshake for her while slowly painting a picture of a very bad mother. It is through these stories that lead her to a simple conclusion about her mother:
“Bakit ko nga ba susundin ang babaeng ‘to? Wala naming kuwentang babae. Wala namang kuwentang asawa. I therefore conclude, wala ring kakuwenta-kuwentang nanay.”
[ Why should I follow this woman? She is a worthless woman. She is a worthless wife. I therefore conclude, a worthless mother.]
This statement struck a chord for several reasons. First, that I shared a similar experience. Second, that my perception of my mother shaped my definition of what it is like to be a woman. In many ways, we are taken to Siy’s journey towards defining herself as a woman. That in the midst of these experiences she was slowly discovering who she was as both Bebang Siy and as a woman.
The author’s experience aren’t all tame. Some of them, sort of stopped my heart. Her essay Sa Ganitong Paraaan Namatay si Kuya Dims [It is in this way that Brother Dims Died], the reader is immediately introduced to a hateful/angry voice.
“Sori pero natuwa ako. Dahil patay na si Kuya Dims” [ Sorry, but I was happy because Brother Dims is Dead].
This statement alone tells you something happened. Something did happen that stole the author’s innocence and stained her view of herself as a girl/woman for a long time. And as a psychologist, one also could see through her other essays how this was the period in her life that she needed to transcend to move forward. And she did.
While I tackled the thread of transitioning from girlhood to womanhood, this is but one of the many threads that Bebang Siy’s book brings to light. After all, life is a web of roles and experiences. The echoes of growing up as woman is heard in all her essays, after all she is a woman. Yet, like all of us, male or female, we too have grown to be the people that we are through our interactions with our family, our friends and with the greater world. So, while this book may seem to cater to the female audience, men shouldn’t shy away from Siy’s sarcasm and humor. It’s a Mens World is equally funny and poignant. Bebang Siy’s voice is fresh, unadulterated and honest.
This is the author’s first book. To know more about the author, Bebang Siy, you can read the feature on her in one of the local papers, Inquirer. Check it out here.