Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Interview Cecilia Brainard: "Woman with Horns" and Different Facets of the Filipino Woman

A freshman student at the University of Santo Tomas, Kin Rish Daguio, interviewed me about how my work relates to the different facets of the Filipino Woman.  She wrote, "My group mates and I have chosen your work "Woman with Horns and Other Stories" for our research paper in the course, Philippine Literature. We just want to ask you some questions about the said work because our topic will be: The Different Facets of the Filipino Woman: Personalities, Traits and Beliefs within Filipino Culture and Society."

She sent some questions, which I answered. My short story collection, Woman with Horns and Other Stories, is popular among students, and so I'm sharing my answers in this blog:

1.  What is the difference between your portrayal of Filipino women and how society portrays Filipino women?

This is an interesting question because Philippine society has a dual image of the Filipino woman.  First, there is a sweet and passive image, someone helpless,someone in the background, with Man in the forefront.  Second, there is the woman who is the matriarch, who is strong, hardworking, smart, and so on. 

I've talked to academics about this and some have suggested that the Filipina was a powerful figure before the Spaniards came.  We had a matriarchal society. We had Babaylanes, women priestesses, who were powerful and important members of society.  The Spaniards brought with them their machismo, the notion that men are superior.  Now, curiously, like the Babaylanes who had to go underground, the Filipina in a sense went underground and "pretended" that the man is superior, that he is the boss of a home, that he is stronger, smarter, and so on.  But, note that in many cases the Filipina holds the purse strings; she controls the money in a family; she gives her husband an allowance.  Think about that for a minute and consider who is really in charge.

2.What makes Tecla (in the "Miracle of Sto. Nino Church") different from all your other characters?

 I love Tecla in my short story "Miracle of Santo Nino Church", the seemingly addled doctor's wife who lost her family during World War II, who waits for a miracle, when she in fact is the miracle. To answer your question, as a writer I work hard to make each of my characters unique, so Tecla is different from my other characters. Her background is different; her conflicts are different; her appearance is different; what happens to her --- her story --- is different.

3.What is the significance of the Balete Tree in the story of the same title? and also the tadpoles that Milagros got in the end of the story?

In Philippine lore, the Balete Tree has some kind of mystical power. It is the home to enchanted beings, including the Agta or Kapre (in Tagalog).  The Balete Tree stands for something scary, something of a challenge.  The boys in the story, who are products of the Spanish-Filipino machismo society, are allowed to go to the Balete Tree, and they go there to prove they are brave. Milagros, on the other hand, is a girl and is taught "women's work" - sewing, cleaning, and so on. 

She is defying the so-called traditional woman's role by going to the Balete Tree and by deciding to catch tadpoles (activities allowed to the boys).  Her journey allows her to see another non-traditional woman, the wild Agustina, who suggests to Milagros another way a woman can be.

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