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Human beings are not born violent: Associate Professor Leny Mendoza-Strobel

SAN PEDRO—”Perhaps if women had never lost parity with men and we live in a society that honors both genders equally, we wouldn’t even need an International Women’s Day,” declared Dr. Leny Mendoza Strobel, an Associate Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University, and a cultural and community advocate.

The celebration of International Women’s Day, which began in 1911 and celebrated in 63 countries and 982 events this year, is a “gesture of multiculturalism in its conservative form,” according to Dr. Strobel, who spoke at the Men Reading Women’s Writings luncheon held at the Ports of Call Restaurant in San Pedro on Saturday, March 28. Her speech was entitled The Power of Healing: Remembering our Babaylan Spirit.

“Human beings are not born violent, do you agree?” she began. “We now have access to accounts that tell us of prehistoric huntergatherer societies that lived in balance with nature and harmony with each other and with other species. They had conflicts, but they did not have war.”

Dr. Strobel said that even today, according to Filipino author Katrin de Guia, in the Philippine island of Palawan, there are still indigenous peoples that do not have a word for war in their language. “When developers began to encroach on their ancestral domains, they mainly avoided the conflict by moving deeper into the forest.”

Historians write that matriarchal societies ended at the beginning of the agricultural era 10,000 years ago. That era also marked the beginning of patriarchal civilizations. “Matriarchal societies,” says Dr. Strobel, “are non-hierarchical, egalitarian and deemed the relationship to the universe and all species as sacred. With the rise and evolution of patriarchy, these feminine values and energies were repressed and exiled into the narrow spaces of expression under the control of patriarchal institutions and systems.”

Philippine Society in general is under-guarded by an egalitarian, lateral kinship system, according to a talk by Filipino professor Jaime Veneracion, at a lecture he delivered to a group of Fullbright scholars that included Dr. Strobel. “This is the reason,” says Dr. Strobel, “why we have a difficult time adjusting to the requirements of modernity because underneath all these modern impositions is a bilateral egalitarian system.”

Dr. Strobel said she recently had a discussion with her Fil-Am classes At Sonoma State University in which they talked about the values of “kapwa” (fellow humans) and “Bathala na” (God’s will), the value of “loob” (inner self) and “dangal” (honor) and “pakikiramdam” (sensitivity). “Many of the white students remarked how beautiful these values are, and that they would like to live their lives being more in tune to those values,” Dr. Strobel revealed. “Our modern lives dismember and fragment our lives by exiling our feminine or female energies in the bedroom and in the home and the service of men’s needs,” Dr. Strobel asserts. “Men are dismembered by cultural values that tell them that they must not cry or show emotions, or that the only way to survive and make it in the world is through aggressive competition,” she adds.

She said that the psychology of “kapwa” (self) is geared towards the “babaylan” (ancient healer/shaman) practice that each human embodies male and female energy. “That’s what makes a person whole,” said Dr. Strobel.

Linda Nietes, owner of Philippines Expressions Bookshop, which organized the event, thanked the men for coming and for reading stories and poems written by Filipino women. The readers were Robert J. Little, Jr. (Linda Nietes’ husband); who read Love ‘Em, Leave ‘Em and Speak Up Woman!, A Dalaga’s Debut, from the book Twenty-Five Chickens and Pig for Bride, read by Stephen Adamu; To the Man Who Thinks He’s in the Market, poetry by Rowena Penaflor Festin and In the Name of the Mother:100 Years of Philippine Feminist Poetry, 1889-1989 by Lilia Quindoza Santiago, read by Robert J. Little, Jr., The Legend of Lola Amonita, poetry by Elvira S. Mabanglo, and Silence, a story by Marianne Villanueva, read by Craig Diamond; and Beauty and the Brit by Joselle Concio Harkin, from the book Speak Up, read by Steve Austin, and Fruit Stall from the book, The Kissing: A Collection of Short Stories by Melinda Bobis, read by Steven de la Vega.

“Men are present because in our last event last year, we had made it an all-woman activity. Now we thank the men for coming,” Nietes said. “This is an advocacy that we women cannot do alone…; to be able to highlight the fact that men and women are partners in their journey in this life.”

Published on April 4, 2009 in Asian Journal Los Angeles, p. A3, accessed 4/24/2009.

Contributed by Leny Mendoza-Strobel

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