Aligning Practice with Approach: Checking In About Patriarchy in Decolonization Work
We cannot have a true conversation about Decolonization and Liberation if you’re not willing to also have a conversation about Patriarchy. As a Pinay in the diaspora of Turtle Island, I understand intersectionality of oppression and intertwining of struggle, and I hold very firmly to the belief that “nothing is separate, all is connected.” The term Kapwa is a core value in the Philippines that describes this notion of seeing ourselves in all others. When we forget the truth of interconnectedness, we remain in states of division that uphold colonial practices.
I particularly speak on the construction of Patriarchy here because I have found it to be one of the most pervasive illnesses of colonization that stops us from being able to humanize one another. As a womxn of color who roots her entire living in decolonization and re-indigenization work, I have encountered the ways Patriarchy continues to create divisiveness and unhealthy power dynamics that are counter to the core principles of decolonization work. Patriarchy never works alone; as bell hooks writes in “Understanding Patriarchy,” the foundation of United States politics is “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy.” As I continue this talk about Patriarchy in relation to decolonization work, I want you to keep in mind all of the other interlocking political systems that influence this struggle as well. We cannot fight against injustice without understanding what role we have played and will play in the process of our liberation from injustice. Psychotherapist John Bradshaw speaks on the rules of Patriarchal governance as based on “blind obedience - the foundation on which patriarchy stands - where there is a repression of all emotions except fear; the destruction of individual willpower; and the repression of thinking whenever it departs from the authority figure's way of thinking.”
When I think about the core principles of decolonization work, I come to understand four foundational channels:
- The remembrance of our ancestral beliefs that denounce oppression inflicted on one another in the forms of divisiveness, degradation and dehumanization.
- The reclamation of practices, language and mentality that root us in indigenous ways of living that connect us to the divinity of all, around us and within us.
- The emphasis on unity and interconnection for collective betterment, sustainability, and elevation – inclusive in this collective are not just Human Beings, but all living creatures, plants, and the Earthly elements that make up our world.
- The understanding that there is no separation, that we all are of each other and thus the individual is the other, is the shared self, is the universe, is Kapwa.
I bring these up to root us in this examination of what it looks like when Patriarchal language, practices and ideas enter a space of decolonization, and to speak on the importance of calling it what it is when it shows up in these spaces.
I have been confronted on a number of occasions by individuals who come forward with very necessary political and academic lenses but who do not put these core principles on the forefront. If our practices don’t reflect what I have learned from my elders and the indigenous leaders that I have crossed paths with - that we must move in a way that upholds the dignity of all - we cannot truly walk in liberation. Sometimes this requires us really inviting others to see when their practice is not aligned with their intentions, and this can be extremely difficult - especially when Patriarchy is in question.
It is important to acknowledge that pre-colonial teachings that didn't uphold Patriarchal constructions of relation and connection between the binary gendered identities of Man and Womxn, are still existent through Indigenous peoples - like our Lumad kin whose lineages still persist on their native lands and continue to pass down traditions, beliefs and practices that are not influenced by colonial rule. As we in the diaspora excavate our roots and trace them back through our efforts to Decolonize and “Re-indigenize,” we must pay homage to those of our Indigenous kin whose lineages survived despite colonization and remain the keepers and living knowledge holders of what was lost to us through displacement from slavery, occupation, militarization, and the destruction of our ways of life. The work of Decolonization is a continual balancing of an identity as a child raised in Colonization and one that longs to reconnect to their indigenous roots. As a colonized daughter who uncovered that her indigenous roots came from an egalitarian construction of societal relations, I am in a constant practice of making relations with those upholding ancestral knowledge and learning how to move in this work in a respectful way.
The following are a couple of main points that I want to note for reflection and as an opportunity to create understanding about how Patriarchal and colonial language constructions and practices can show up in pervasive ways, even in conversations about Decolonization theory. If we do not allow ourselves to be aware of this truth - pushing past our ego, guilt and shame - we cannot truly be free.
Issue #1: The Patriarchal Notion That Personal Healing Work and Prayer is “Womxn’s Work” and therefore Shallow and Inessential
One way that Patriarchy often shows up in Decolonization work is through the idea that personal healing work from colonial mentality and in decolonizing Self is shallow, “weak”, and inessential to the movement. Since it is often the womxn doing this crucial work, it is implied that this is simply in our nature - to be nurturers, to be healers – and therefore is work that men do not have the capacity or necessity to do. This idea in itself demonstrates how identity work, self-healing, and self-preservation are perceived and gendered from a Patriarchal perspective. Identity work is complex, difficult, and lifelong labor that grows in us an awareness of interconnection of self to all and shifts the way we relate to others, making us more greatly accountable and responsible for our thoughts, words and actions - and is not solely limited to womxn.
Seeing this internal healing work as insignificant or minor next to the fight against external constructions of systemic oppression upholds colonial and Patriarchal constructions of what constitutes womxn’s vs men’s work, and places one above the other. It also poses that this internal work does not ultimately effect these larger scale issues, which is false. This idea diminishes internal labor and disregards how it's what fuels the ability to move beyond a state of victimization to be able to resist and rise up at all. Any liberation work is elevated when the individual becomes aware of their oppressions and their traumas; when their resistance and revolution movements come from internal realizations in their individual divinity and the want for justice to be upheld - justice rooted in the upholding of Life being valued in all. I invite us to understand that decolonization work in this way begins with the individual and expands to the interconnectedness - this is a part of the core principles I spoke of earlier rooted in Indigenous beliefs (Kapwa).
Leny Strobel, co-founder of Center for Babaylan Studies, writer of “Coming Full Circle- the Process of Decolonization,” and one of my mentors in this crucial work writes: “I use the term Indigenous to refer to the self that has found its place, its home in the world. Emptied of projections of 'inferiority,' 'third world,' 'underdeveloped,' 'uncivilized,' 'exotic and primitive,' and 'modernizing,' it is the self capable of conjuring one’s place and growing roots through the work of imagination, re-framing history, and re-telling the Filipino story that centers our history of resistance, survival and re-generation.” I say this to speak that ALL work is necessary. To discount the work of the soul and the spirit allows the trauma rooted in colonial practice to eventually affect our mental and physical wellness. Those who adopt Patriarchal beliefs and practices perpetuate the idea that heart/soul/spirit/healing work is womxn’s work, and therefore less immediately necessary and inferior to the “man’s work” of physical resistance/survival. This dichotomy is falsely represented, as throughout history/herstory we have seen the presence of many warrior womxn who contributed to the physical survival of their families and communities through armed resistance. These gendered roles come from the Patriarchal beliefs that were forced upon us by our colonizers, as womxn in Spanish society were traditionally subservient to men.
The pre-colonial Philippines was a mostly egalitarian society, where womxn were respected and honored for the sacred work that they contributed to their communities. Babaylan is a Visayan word that refers to womxn who did divinity work connected to healing, mediumship and miracle work - and some of whom were also on the frontlines of resistance. Learning of their presence in my lineage has been essential to my continued work of dismantling Patriarchy as a core principle of Decolonization.
As Marjorie Evasco writes in a piece in Women Reading: Feminist Perspectives on Philippine Literary Texts: “The respected anthropologist, F. Landa Jocano, in the book he edited in 1975 entitled The Philippines at the Spanish Contact, notes that “The babaylans occupied a position of power in pre-colonial barangays. They were the holders of wisdom, being the spiritual leader, counsel and healer of the community. Their psycho-spiritual functions were directly related to the survival and growth of the community. Theirs was the burden of memory in the continuum of life. They were the ones who kept the values and beliefs alive in the ways of the people. From the planting season to the harvest, from the rituals of birth to the burial wake, these women gave voice to the ancient truths of the human condition in their prayers, spells, lullabies, stories, and poetry....These priestesses were the first to suffer the brunt of Spanish domination; they were the ones who led the earliest uprisings against the Spaniards. After the loosely recorded accounts of sporadic attacks on the pueblos led by the babaylanes against the Spaniards, the records of history bear scant witness to the women who struggled to be heard by their people. Their story become submerged in the deluge of the new patriarchal order."
Decolonization work is identity work. It is healing work. It is work of body, mind, and spirit. It is work of community and collective consciousness. It is work of the individual. It is work of the divine.
Issue #2: Colonial Constructions of Learning that View Academic knowledge and Language as Superior to Indigenous Belief and Practice
The colonial constructions of learning and relaying information models Patriarchal culture which discounts knowledge beyond what has been “proven” and what has been archived and written. These constructions also see us as anthropological and societal subjects of study, devaluing the individual whose unique triumphs and traumas can teach us about the complexities of the human experience. As valuable as written knowledge is, to consider it the most valuable and most credible in conversations about Decolonization is further perpetuating these colonial, Patriarchal constructions of learning. It makes the knowledge-keepers those who are literate or have access to literacy, which feeds into the idea that oral traditions of storytelling and account recording in symbols through crafting and artisan workings are inferior.
I think about how much destruction, silencing and re-programming our colonizer had to do in order to stop our ancestors from continuing those traditions and get them to adopt the practices, stories and beliefs of the colonizer that diminished our egalitarian ways of living. The core belief I have about the shaping of our existence as people is that If you control a people's belief, you control those people. Colonization forced us to believe that those religions with written words of God were most valid, with those religions being extremely Patriarchal and placing men at the center. Man's word through these teachings would become THE Word by which our worlds would be shaped.
All knowledge sharing is important, but some of the deepest pre-colonial knowledge will not be found in a book; it will be found within the minds and spirits of our indigenous peoples, and by those who have been able to sustain their traditions through the passing down of practices, stories, beliefs, and values. What I have learned from my elders, and the indigenous teachers I have crossed paths with, is that universal knowing, knowing of Spirit connected to the land, the waters, the sky, and all creation - can sometimes not be put into words. Knowing is intuitively within us, and those deep truths can only survive through those who are willing to listen beyond the tellings of a constructed colonized existence. When individuals enter a conversation about Decolonization valuing only the written accounts and the quantifiable evidence that is published and credited over the people in their individual lived experiences and their processes of becoming and understanding - I invite them to see the problematic nature of this that draws away from the practices of decolonization. Every individual's life is valuable and holds deep lessons for us to bear witness to and to learn from. This is what our indigenous traditions of knowledge teach us, that truth comes from living - it doesn't just come from a book or an essay - and we must relearn to value one another's lives first and foremost. Each time we place value on another and allow ourselves to listen for the lessons of those lived experiences, we uphold a way of relating that has been diminished by colonial and Patriarchy methods of learning.
Issue #3: The Misconception That the Work of Dismantling Patriarchal Constructions is separate from Decolonization Work and Is solely Womxn’s Empowerment Focused
bell hooks says that “Dismantling and changing patriarchal culture is work that men and womxn must do together.” Something crucial to my learnings is the understanding that we are all responsible and accountable in all aspects of decolonization work. The discussion of dismantling Patriarchy is often solely connected to the liberation of womxn, without the understanding that Patriarchy is an epidemic that affects all of us by constructing the male identity in a way that is not honorable and that diminishes the dignity of self and other.
To all the men who are taking part in reading this, understand: your approach towards a womxn will be questioned and an invitation to see how it feeds into Patriarchal norms of dominance and relation will be all of ours to bear. In whatever privilege we walk in, we have to be in understanding of our impact as much as, if not more than, our intention. When you enter an exchange with a womxn, know that Patriarchal constructs will arise in their most amplified, magnified forms. It is important to be aware of whether your approach, actions, and words in exchange with a womxn present themselves as influenced by Patriarchy. And at moments you may not be able to see it, your sister, your mother, your lover, the womxn in your life that are closest to you or that you may just be in momentary encounter with, have every right to let you know; in fact, it is important for us to let you know. However, it really is your own responsibility to evaluate and reevaluate all the ways your role as a man, who holds privilege in this world, affects your interactions and exchanges.
If you have an unwillingness to check this in yourself, especially in conversations on decolonization, you become disaligned with your intentions and your agenda; because all is connected, all is related. You cannot denounce colonization but be unwilling to dismantle one of the core means of upholding the colonial mindset: Patriarchy.
There are a lot of sisters that I have been seeing doing deep decolonizing and dismantling of Patriarchy work. Some of my favorites are @indigenousgoddessgang and @wokebrownfeminist. I also want to note that Zahira Kelly (@bad_dominicana) is one sister who I’ve also seen readily equipped to call out misaligned practices of Patriarchy with clear intention and huge impact. She does so well to protect the sacred space she creates on the internet for sister community to be uplifted and for brothers to be educated.
There's so much to contribute to the conversation around decolonization. There are many perspectives to be upheld, supported, and acknowledged for their different levels of bravery, progress and influence they have to offer. The challenge is to be willing and open to receive the invitations to walk with one another in this work, in a way that reflects anti-colonial practices and that humanizes us all. One of the reasons I am sharing this is also because of the encouragement at home from my own partner. It really begins there, in our most intimate spaces where patriarchy shows up. If you can invite constant examination of the presence of perpetuated social constructs of Colonial practice in your own home spaces, you will be better equipped to confront it in all places in your life in ways that demand that all of us rise. The overall thing I hope for us to reflect on together as a community and in relation to our individual contributions and relations to decolonizing work, is how we can work to align our actions with our beliefs, with our theories, with our words, rooted in Indigenous practice and humanization of all.
Jana Lynne "JL" Umipig is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and activist who seeks to elevate the narratives of Pilipina wom*n as a reflection of her own life's journey toward decolonizing, re-indigenizing and humanizing self. She is the creator of the acclaimed Movement Theatre production "The Journey of a Brown Girl," noted as a "transformative human experience through the lens of the Pinay Narrative." She is a core member of The Center for Babaylan Studies, an Inner Dance facilitator, and founder of Butikaryo mga Babae, which creates sacred space for Pinay Womxn Healers seeking to learn and remember healing practice and knowledge connected to our ancestral traditions.