(This story was originally published June 1, 2017, in the Honolulu Star Advertiser in response to Alex Tizon’s “My Family’s Slave” in The Atlantic. We are re-publishing it here for free and open access.)
On last night’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, the new world learned the real name of Offred, who had been renamed “of Fred” to signify the Commander she serves. She asserted, “My name is not Offred.” Unlike June, “Lola” (nee Eudocia) from the Atlantic article did not get to tell us her story and when it was told it was to sell magazines and make a dude’s credentials better. Eudocia didn’t even get ownership of her own damn story — this is why many women in our circles cannot get through reading Tizon’s piece. The commentary emerging is giving all the glory and power to the author for having the bravery to tell his personal story of an evil family. We are disturbed by much, especially the author’s victim-blaming and expectation that Lola tell him about her sex life. There was never an apology to her family. It shows that storytelling only goes so far.
To say that the author gave her agency is to assuage our own guilt. How is this any different from The Help? We should not center our struggles around coming to terms with our own privilege.
We must instead, in the words of Ninotchka Rosca, end these practices which “served at one point as poverty escape valves — but became rife with abuses and exploitation.” To do this, we will have to fight a hard battle against capitalism to “entitle everyone to free education, free health care, free housing, etc., because when the most basic of human rights is monetized, then we have slavery — from outright slavery in banana plantations to individualized slavery in the household to wage slavery. We must simultaneously fight against patriarchy and white supremacy because these basic human rights must not be distributed on any racial or gendered axis. This will require a transnational feminist movement. Look to the organizations that are doing the actual work to build it.
We are glad that this article disrupted our innocence and exposed our big Filipino secret: a present-day caste system of “helpers” whose lives cannot leave the orbit of the richer. It was a visceral indictment of Filipino culture. We have to own that. It is time to say, “I am complicit.” It is absolutely unacceptable that we continue to funnel millions of women into household work as the end-all point of their lives.
There are so many complicated layers to unpack not the tale of a poor, unwitting woman or the “slave” hyperbole but how we all survive capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy and resist it while none of us have clean hands. We grew up around this culture. We saw child servants, mainly young girls, sent to work for a richer family. We know the lamentation practice, the dung-aw, the dirge. This culture is built on a feudal sense of entitlement from the working class to those who get to pay for others to do the ‘dirty women’s work.” This is about how certain care and labor is feminized and beneath certain people.
Housework should not be the ultimate destiny for poor women of color. Childcare must be socialized. Work inside the home, while it can be made decent, is numbing, repetitive, and brutal to the human spirit and body. In the worst cases, women report wearing three or four pairs of underwear at night to guard against rape, a common occupational hazard when the power balance is so askew. We refuse the term “domestic worker” for the same reasons we refuse “sex worker.” We must destroy our patriarchal relationships to sex and household, not enter them, because all women have the right to dream.
The R in AF3IRM stands for “re-feudalization” of labor, which we work every day to oppose.