Loving the Beloved

Sylvia Estrada Claudio

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The querida creates a conundrum for the feminist critic. Does she represent the liberation of women fromsexual norms, or does she merely affirm the power of philandering men?

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Querida: An Anthology
Edited by Caroline S. Hau, Katrina Tuvera, and Isabelita O. Reyes
Anvil Publishing Inc., 2013

Disclosure: The book reviewed was edited by MR’s Senior Editor, Caroline Hau. Ms. Hau, however, neither commissioned this review nor had a hand in its editing.  

Not too long ago, I told a group of women overseeing a Manila-based, international women’s network that I was writing a review of a book about the querida. “What do we think of queridas?” I asked them.

A pioneer of the Philippine lesbian feminist movement answered, “We are conflicted.”

That, in essence, sums up the contradictory emotions that queridas inspire. Feminists are particularly flummoxed. What are feminists to think of women who have gone sexually rogue? Is the querida a sexually liberated woman, resisting the norms that insist women have sex only in marriage? Or is she a betrayer of another woman? A homewrecker? Someone who enables the double standard that allows us to be classified as whores or Madonnas even as Don Juan rides off into macho sexual conquest? Or is all this feminist angst just an indicator of feminist querida relations with heteronormativity? After all, the querida-chaste woman-Don Juan triumvirate is constructed by heterosexual marriage.

In their introduction to Querida, editors Caroline S. Hau, Katrina Tuvera, and Isabelita O. Reyes invite us to “a feast,” not just of great writing by both noted and up-and-coming authors, but also a feast in terms of “the insights they yield into the vicissitudes, the pleasures and lacerations, the quotidian and eventful” of the illicit sexual relationship.

I read the introduction with as much enjoyment as the stories, poems and plays in the anthology. The authors begin by explaining to us the history of the querida, as indeed they must, because they have chosen works that span more than a century.

The book starts off with Rizal’s chapter on Doña Consolacion in Noli Me Tangere. Benedict R.O.G. Anderson’s translation and annotation allows us to appreciate Rizal’s subtle yet caustic portrayal of this particular querida. Anderson gives those of us who cannot read the original in Spanish an insight into why Rizal was so dangerous to Spanish colonialism. His mockery of Doña Consolacion is not the macho bullying of the poorindia by a moralistic ilustrado man, but rather an attack on the institutions, cultural assumptions, and social relations that were spawned by colonial occupation. Nothing perhaps frightens tyrants more than that they are made to look both desperately pathetic and laughable.

From there, we are carried decade by decade into the present. The selections are delightful not just in the elegance of the writing (Nick Joaquin never fails to enthrall me) but also in the variance and nuance of what is portrayed. Here, the point of view of the wife; there, that of the mistress; and over there, that of the two-timer. But it’s not just about men being unfaithful to women. It is also a woman being unfaithful to a man, a man being unfaithful to his wife with another man, a woman being unfaithful to her husband with another woman. In one story, even a ghost gets her revenge and, in another, revenge is taken on a man’s testicles. (I have not mentioned the titles here, to avoid a spoiler. They were exceptionally pretty baubles in a treasure trove.)

Indeed, the anthology makes so abundantly clear that the reasons for becoming, taking up with, or getting revenge on a querida can be political, economic, social, or personal.

The sexual portrayals range from subtle to tawdry to wonderfully erotic. I was so disturbed by the portrayal of a young girl’s sexuality in the short story “Bigaon” that I thought it was going to be an incest story. It wasn’t. The tale is written by a man, Vicente Garcia Groyon, and I still don’t know what to feel about it.

The anthology is a feast indeed, of who-is-doing-what-to-whom-and-why-they-are-doing-it-to-each-other-and-to-the-other-person-and-oohlala-how-they-do-it-to-each-other. For someone who believes that sexual/reproductive relations are as much a force of social development as class relations, the anthology provides ample data for a dialectical and historical analysis of the political economy of that pleasure system.

Which brings me to my discomfort with the book.  In the introduction, the editors talk about the history of the querida system, thereby explaining to us the forces that put it in place. For example, Spanish colonialists were mostly men—priests, soldiers, and administrators—and so sexual liaisons with the native women were inevitable. The introduction tells us that the laws and moral codes that came with Spanish colonization also set up a regime of bodily control that instigated the querida system. And yet, the underlying criterion for inclusion in the book (apart from obvious literary merit) is an historical one: that the work speaks to the betrayal of the promise of monogamy. It matters not that the betrayal is perpetuated by a man or a woman, in heterosexual or gay or lesbian relationships.

Unfair as it is to the book itself, I must say, I wanted more. I wanted to know why one would not be classified as querida in pre-colonial Philippines (the concept did not exist as such, though betrayals of monogamy were occurring) and as a querida thereafter. Should Doña Consolacion, the querida of the late 19th century, be placed in the same category as Enrico, the male lover of the married Larry, whom he meets in a contemporary gay bar?

I want to know because like many Filipina feminists I am conflicted about the querida. Or perhaps as a Filipina feminist psychologist I am even more conflicted.

I have counseled enough victims of abuse to know that infidelity is one of the most painful experiences women go through. Furthermore, the abuser often engages in several forms of abuse, and infidelity is an element in the mix. Many times, the controlling, jealous husband is also the one who is unfaithful, the kind of man clearly portrayed in the play, “Relasyon,” included in this anthology. The abuser can also be both economically profligate and unfaithful. It seems strange to me that none of the works in the anthology discussed how economically calamitous affairs can be to the family. But perhaps this is too mundane to be the stuff of art.

I have also seen brazen and serial infidelity as a “pure” form of abuse, and it is psychologically devastating.

All these clinical observations hold, regardless of whether the abuser is a man (an overwhelming majority of my cases), or a woman (an amazingly small minority). These also hold true for same sex relationships.

Feminists, macho men, and everyone else understands that patriarchy privileges men in this game: It is men who are expected to fool around and that it is easier for them to do so. The only difference is that feminists have the temerity to say, “Well, that is wrong,” because feminists believe that equality extends to the intimate. No one should have a bigger share of sacrifice and another, liberty. To give men the privilege to betray women is to say to them that they are more human than women.  It says to men that society is more committed to their well-being—nay their pleasures—such that it allows this to take precedence over the dignity of women, their right to equal nurturing, and their expectations that those they love return that love in equal measure.

Thus, I have seen feminists condemn the querida (even one engaged in lesbian relationships) as a brainwashed tool of patriarchy and a betrayer of feminist solidarity. Furthermore, a feminist becoming a querida is subject to even greater opprobrium. She should have known better! Strangely, when feminists condemn the querida, they find themselves in bed (pun intended) with the most conservative sectors of society.

Feminist theorists of various stripes view heterosexual monogamous marriage as a trap for women. I believe that patriarchy and capitalism would not survive without heterosexual marriage and the families they initiate. Thus, the struggle for sexual and reproductive rights is always met with great opposition particularly by capitalist patriarchal institutions like the Roman Catholic Church. To many feminists, sexual and reproductive rights are as central to the struggle for liberation as are workers’ rights.

The querida like the woman-in-prostitution/sex worker, presents social movements with the yet unsolved conundrum of the relationship between social structure and individual agency. No wonder I found those stories of the wives avenging themselves on their philandering husbands most satisfactory. Here the personal striving directly challenges patriarchal norms, resulting in a personal liberation that contributes seamlessly to feminist solidarity.

But what do we think of the querida herself—the one that amasses wealth and/or fulfills her sexual needs though her liaisons? Are we to condemn her, without tipping our hat to her?  Queridas challenge class inequity and the stifling norms of pious monogamy. The querida challenges patriarchy, either by declaring herself a woman who has a right to sexual satisfaction or by reminding us, as the radical feminists do, that all sex in patriarchy is a trade-off. When Kerima Polotan’s character Glo trades upward from the has-been Bello to the newly-crowned Gorrez, are we to congratulate her for winning in a man’s game or condemn her for playing the game?

In most of the stories, attempts at personal liberation and solidarity with women do not always fall in place as feminists would like. But this is the truth of most lives, even those lived by feminist paragons. Feminists and activists in general, should read this anthology and learn to love the querida, in all her imperfections. In this way, we renew our commitment to a social movement of inclusion and learn to forgive our inevitable complicity with oppression. To be a feminist and to enjoy the book Querida is an exercise in resisting the easy and essentially tyrannical flight into dogma, in favor of the compassionate embrace of women as they struggle.