Feminist Rock Is Shaking Up the Philippines
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because they have Girl Scout–like uniforms, a pink megaphone and punk.
By Ana P. Santos
“Listen up! This is a public cervix announcement!” Mich Dulce shouts into a pink megaphone. She belts out fast and furious vocals over thrashing guitars and pummeling drumbeats, ringlets swinging with her frenetic dance moves. “Spread my lips and make me quiver / This girl needs orgasmic shiver / I’m no toy to serve you / Mutual pleasure’s what I’m into.” The crowd cheers, beer bottles raised, and the women pump their fists in the air in salute.
This is the Male Gaze, a feminist rock band that has been kicking up a storm in the Manila, Philippines, underground music scene since the start of this year. With a sound that is grunge and surf, with thick riffs of punk, the four women are out to flick a polished middle finger at gender stereotypes and “perverts.” They have only six songs so far — each a pumped-up call to arms — but the band is more about making a point than making a record or a hit song.
“Most of our songs are about what triggers us at the moment,” says guitarist Mariah Reodica, who along with Dulce writes the songs. Right now, triggers include a Tinder date gone wrong and the pressure to whiten skin. Oh, and the championing of female pleasure — which Dulce plays out by enacting an orgasm onstage.
One of their songs, directed at the government, warns to “keep your politics out of my uterus.”
Inspired by the riot grrrl feminist punk movement of the ’90s, Dulce and Reodica formed the Male Gaze. Their twist: wearing Girl Scout–like uniforms, which are more statement than costume. Like their songs, the uniforms are meant to challenge the stereotype of what a good girl is in a conservative society like the Philippines. For these women, a “better” girl is one who thinks and isn’t afraid to channel her opinions into lyrics meant to provoke, challenge and wake people up. Still, they insist that, while decidedly feminist, their messages are ones of inclusion and the freedom to choose. One of their songs, directed at the government, warns to “keep your politics out of my uterus.”
“I learned about feminism through music. This is how you reach an audience who are not usually interested in being woke,” says Dulce. Like the pioneering punk rock women before them, the goal was to take feminist conversations from living rooms and coffee shops to a platform that everyone can get behind — music. For Dulce, feminism is breaking out of a very sheltered bubble and asserting herself. To Reodica, who is a flimmaker, feminism is rooted in empathy for others, especially the oppressed. Drummer Ristalle Bautista, who is also an architect, is passionate about human rights.
Guitarist Ymi Castel is already thinking of a song that will help people better understand lesbian-gay love and relationships. She routinely gets hit on by men asking to “share [my] girlfriend,” she says. “Why can’t people respect a lesbian relationship as a real one?”
The band has been welcomed into the local indie music scene, but there have been some mixed reactions on social media. “Good luck getting people to watch you,” one naysayer commented recently.
That’s just the kind of reaction the Male Gaze relishes giving the finger to.
- Ana P. Santos, OZY AuthorContact Ana P. Santos