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The Male Gaze

One year of Filipina punk feminism and rebellion

It’s been twelve months of GRRRL GANG MANILA, a collective of young Filipino women grouping together to fight for their rights

Recently, GRRRL GANG MANILA, a feminist collective inspired by DIY ethics and punk aesthetics, celebrated its first anniversary in the Philippine capital. A long discussion of women’s issues, a film screening, spoken word performances and art exhibitions, and then hours of outspoken and confidently excellent music, brought together a frankly impressive gathering of young Filipinos fighting for women’s rights at a crucial moment in their country’s history.

We caught performances by the magisterial Joee & I, a member of Heresy, a multi-talented all-female art and music collective, La Loba Negra, which gave the crowd an hour of surf guitar and military drums, and The Male Gaze, the riot grrrl band that was formed within Grrrl Gang itself.

Performing in Girl Scout uniforms adorned with feminist pins, they offered an indirect but explicit rebuke to the conservatism of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has overseen a drug war which has taken thousands of lives. As other members rolled around or danced into the (large, happy) crowd, the guitarist repeatedly yelled out, “I haven’t slept in thirty hours!” It was unclear if she was joking or not.

It’s not a coincidence that Grrl Gang formed under President Duterte, who has often been accused of misogynistic comments. Mich Dulce, founder of Grrrl Gang and the singer for The Male Gaze, said she realised the importance of organising in the Philippines when she saw a sign at the Paris Women’s march that said, “Against Trump, Putin, Duterte.”

After the show, we caught up with Mich to talk about what Filipina feminism means today.

How and why did Grrl Gang come about?

Mich: Well, I myself became a feminist through music. I was really into bands like Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and Bratmobile. And I feel like if a really sheltered girl like me, from a Conservative Catholic family in the Philippines, could be touched by these bands from all the way in the First World, there’s no reason that other forms of creative protest can’t do that for other women.

But for my generation it was sort of hard to learn about feminism and discover what it all meant. There weren’t a lot of welcoming spaces or safe groups that you could just learn and join. Feminism is not new to the Philippines – feminist spaces exist. But looking at what was happening worldwide recently, we decided to create something really accessible for anyone curious, and ended up attracting inspiring friends and collaborators that often shared our interest in learning, in discourse, and in creative protest.

What has it been like organising and protesting under the Duterte administration?

Mich: Well, it’s complex. On the one hand we do get together openly, we have these fun, non-intimidating meetings where we feel really free from everything that’s going on outside us. On the other hand that we recognize that we’re in a privileged space to be even able to do that, we are meeting in central Manila, and the reality for many other women in this country is very different.

But even while there’s no harassment for us in real life, there are the trolls...

The pro-Duterte groups online? (Many believe they’re paid)

Mich: Yes, them. They are active...

At the top, The President is in the habit of making really misogynistic statements. And we like to get together and sort of just talk about what that means, how we process that and how we can respond. At the same time, we are open to people from all political backgrounds, and we even had a great discussion with a Duterte supporter about what she liked about him, but also his effect on the discourse about women in the country.

What have been the main political and creative projects to spring from Grrrl Gang?

Mich: It’s evolved from just being a safe discussion space, to a platform for working with NGOs, or campaign with other activist groups. For example we campaigned against the total restraining order on contraceptives last year, and we are working with a senator to pass a safe streets bill, and there’s a lot more, all volunteer-run.

Of course there’s the music. Bands being formed and shows being organised. The other activities range from writing gender-neutral books, to film screenings and documentary curation, to creating informative infographic, working with our own art, or with other collectives like Kababae Mong Tao.

“The President is in the habit of making really misogynistic statements. And we like to get together and sort of just talk about what that means” – Mich Dulce

Is feminism different in any way in the Philippines? What’s next for your movement?

Mich: One problem we have is that if you look at sort of the global tables, and reviews, the story is that Philippines is quite an equal place. And yes, we had two women presidents, and a lot of women are in positions of power. But below the surface there is a real struggle, especially at the level of social norms and who suffers and who toils.

Women do all this but they’re still expected to act a certain way, and to come home from their jobs and to bear multiple additional burdens as well. The struggle here is at the level of social norms, I think. And then most obviously, you have a man up there saying stuff like ordering his soldiers to shoot women in the vagina.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.