Insiang (1976)


(feminist reactions about the movie)

This is a very, very, very good movie; and I mean it with all my heart. We know for a fact that Filipino movies are a bit lagging behind western or Hollywood movies since they have more technological knowledge and gadgets, but this movie “Insiang”, which was set in the slums of Manila was so realistic, true-to-life, it has no pretenses meaning there was not too much exaggerations – just right, and a very empowering tool for women despite having shown many things that are proofs of men’s perceived superiority over women. I have felt a dense and saddening energy about the first parts of the movie projecting the slums and people being idle on a bridge. Maybe this heavy feeling was only a result of the collective sufferings of the people living in that area. Nevertheless, it’s still good because we get a fuller picture of what’s really happening our own country.

As many viewers may notice, there were lots of instances, besides the rape of Insiang, shown in the movie that women are being disrespected by men. These acts of disrespect, although men may only perceive as katuwaan lang, can really make strong imprint in women. If ignored, these women may develop low self-esteem or a rejection of their own femaleness. Furthermore, they may also feel unsafe and insecure in this world still dominated by men. One instance is that when Dado was trying to help Insiang carry her loads in the street and she refused, another man told him, “Sino ba talagang pinupuntirya mo, yung anak o yung ina?”

There was also a scene wherein drunkards sit by a store and they catcall a random pretty lady with her mother. They also grabbed the breasts of the young lady who was in charge of the store. The maniac who did that was actually Insiang’s nephew; and when the father of the victim went to their house to punish Insiang’s nephew, she answered, “Lasing lang ho ‘yun, ‘di niya naman sinasadya.” It’s funny how guys can easily get away with their sexually harassing acts just because they were drunk. It’s not an excuse, right? The problem is with the internal belief imposed by patriarchy that women are inferior and sexual objects, and not with the drunkenness itself.

I personally hate it when I am shown evidences that men can just have sex with a girl and leave her behind afterwards, as if she was just a vagina and not a human being. Dado is surely the villain in the movie, but the character who inspires a more negative reaction from me is Bebot. Don’t you just hate it when the person or people whom you trust and depend on to love and save you from this cruel world turns their back on you in the end? And as they say, betrayal comes from those closest to you. Bebot even said “Wag kayong mag-alala pare. Pag may nangyare, kayo’ng unang makakaalam!” to his guy friends in the slums and it made me feel sorry for Insiang since she thought that love existed between the two of them when in fact Bebot only courted her because he felt lust for Insiang because she was beautiful. I also remembered that after Insiang was already raped by Dado, he justified his action by saying, “Hindi ako makapagpigil. Mahal kita eh.” It seems like he was only using love as an excuse to get sex from her, like Bebot. And I do not like it when men do that to women. They often say “Magtiwala ka kasi sakin, wala ka naming tiwala eh,” to persuade women into having sex with them or reasoning that if the woman loves them, she would have sex with them. Intimacy can be a part of love, but forcing another person to have sex with you is already some kind of a power play or a selfish act and not love.

Also, some misconceptions about masculinity that men believed for a long time were portrayed in this movie. Some men think that through violence and inspiring fear through others, they may look bigger. Bebot and Dado are big examples of that. Dado also said this to Bebot: “Nakahikaw ka nanaman eh. Kaya nabubwisit ako sayo eh! Alam mo, ang naghihikaw, hindi lalaki!” It seems to me that men prove their masculinity by steering away from things that are feminine, as if they are completely opposing poles, rather than express themselves freely. Or, it may also mean that feminine things were perceived as “lowly” that they don’t suit them as men. Rape is also one way men show their control over women, like what Dado did to Insiang. In societies wherein patriarchy unquestionably dominates like the community Insiang was in, men think of rape as an okay thing, and an opportunity to prove their masculinity. And another sad thing was that Insiang developed a bad reputation even though she was the victim only supports the fact that women are indeed perceived as inferior and promiscuous.

And the last issue shown in the movie is the way girls hate each other because of men. Of course men also get in conflict with each other when it comes to women but girls are actually harsher to each other. I was frustrated by Insiang’s friend because she ignored her now that rumors about her spread instead of asking or understanding her perspective as a friend. Her mother also hates her, not only because she reminds her of her father who left them, but also because she sees Insiang as a threat or a competitor. She even said “Nakakahiya…Ang sabihin mo nagpapaganda ka para mapansin ka ng mga lalaki,” to Insiang even though that’s not really the case. Maybe she was only projecting, or maybe that statement is a proof that she is threatened by the sexual attractiveness of her own daughter. Not all women are like this, but this is also a sad fact of life. We girls can just hang out with each other and indulge in the nurturing feminine energy and yet we think negatively of each other. I think it is a little impossible to reach women empowerment if we hate our own sex.

Now, regarding third world feminism, I actually have mixed opinions about this – and what pleases me is that my whole thoughts about this subject was fully encompassed by this amazing movie. Women were truly oppressed, subjugated, and treated as sex objects for thousands of years; and this movie has captured this fact. However, what I do not agree with in radical feminism is that they stay focused on the victimization of women. It is very important to be aware and fight for women’s rights, but I don’t think that it benefits our psyche or our well-being to be in a constant state of resistance and hatred. Insiang, as it seems to me, was devastated by what men did to her but she found empowerment within her through avenging (I am not saying this is good) herself. She did not stay in the role of a victim. Revenge does not make us feel happy, but at least she found power within herself and realized later on that it really did not do her any good. And that act of finding power within, for me, is a challenge for us women living in third-world countries since we cannot wait forever for our countries to be industrialized and comfortable to live in before we reclaim our power that has been long-suppressed by men. 

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