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erlinda b. sialongo
erlinda b sialongo IN COUNTRIES where this day is the biggest holiday for women, men might be in for the biggest headache of their lives—how to please all the females in their lives within twenty-four hours on March 8. The day might start with breakfast in bed for the wife, prepared and brought into the bedroom by the husband, of course. In addition to breakfast, naturally there is still lunch, later dinner. During breakfast, the wife anticipates a gift—it might be as simple, but no less thoughtful and sweet, as a single rose, or as expensive as a diamond bracelet. Rich men may give their wives brand new cars, new homes, or world tours. Breakfast for the wife is only the beginning, however. There are also the daughters, mothers, sisters, sisters-in-law, aunts, nieces, female cousins, female friends, female co-workers, and, most important, mothers-in-law.

On this holiday, it is worth noting that many women have made their marks in their families, their environs, their countries, and the world for various reasons.

There are a number of reasons why a female gets noted. On the positive note, a female gets noted because she is the first to think of, or do something. Corazon Aquino is primarily noted as the first female President of the Philippines. Because of her, the Philippines came to have a Freedom Constitution (prior to the framing of the country's prevailing 1987 Constitution) and Philippine movies have Kris Aquino, however this is interpreted. Maria Montessori is not only the first woman to receive a medical degree in Italy (1894), she is also the originator of the Montessori method of educating young children.

Then, women may get known for what they have achieved. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, but she did not become famous merely for this literary work. She became famous because, as the story goes, the late President Abraham Lincoln said as he welcomed her to the White House, "So, you're the little woman who started the Civil War." It was this novel that outraged people in the North of the US about slavery in the South, and it so outraged them that the rest is now history, so to speak.

There are also women who have made their mark simply because they are so amazing. Mother Teresa is a big example. It is no surprise that the Vatican has fast-tracked her into sainthood. Talking of saints, Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is noted for being the first native-born American saint. The French martyr Joan of Arc is another amazing woman. As is Florence Nightingale of England.

Surprisingly, a number of women have become famous simply by being themselves. They have not necessarily achieved great things. A good example is the late Princess Diana. Although she was known for her charity works, Princess Diana was not unique and singularly known for charity work—her friend Mother Teresa was more known for this. Yet, she was famous and greatly idolized. Perhaps because she married a prince, and was beautiful, a would-be queen, yet one with a sad story, until her tragic death?

On a related note, Camilla Parker Bowles, not as beloved as Diana, has become both famous and infamous for doing the same thing—famous and infamous because she married Princess Diana's former husband, and famous and infamous because she is the woman that Prince Charles has loved in the last 35 years or so.

From among those born in the 1940s, who does not know Jacqueline Kennedy? Many consider her the most famous woman ever in the US and beyond, yet she did not do anything extraordinary in her life. Although she is credited for bringing elegance into the White House, this is not something extraordinary—any paid interior decorator/designer worth his/her salt could have done just as good a job. But she just happened to marry into the charismatic and powerful Kennedy clan, her husband became President and an assassin's victim, then people themselves made her into an icon.

In October 2005, a very simple woman died, yet this woman received honors accorded to Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, among others, and in a resolution signed into law the next month by President George W. Bush, this woman will be honored in perpetuity with a statue. In her simplicity, this woman has changed the course of history. Her name is Rosa Parks; she was a seamstress. What she did was simply to remain seated on a bus one evening while a white man was standing. By law over 50 years ago in the US South, it was a crime for a black man or woman to be seated while a white person was standing. Rosa Parks, a Black woman, refused to give up her seat, was arrested, and this later snowballed into the civil rights movement that produced Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people thought Rosa Parks was so tired that evening, that is why she did not give up her seat. Rosa Parks corrected them: "I wasn't tired. I was just tired of giving up my seat." It is accepted that Rosa Parks' greatest legacy is not giving up her seat that evening.

Today, another Afro-American woman, Oprah Winfrey, is also changing history. Oprah is the first Afro-American woman to make it to the billionaire's list. She is also adored by many women—and men—as the Queen of Talk.

At present in the Philippines, perched on the highest seat of power, is a woman—Her Excellency President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (PGMA). Virginia Woolf, a famous French writer, once wrote that if a biography were to be written of the seven selves of a person, then the biography is more or less complete. Pres. Arroyo is already worth writing about for her first self, as the daughter of the late President Diosdado P. Macapagal (PDPM). After all, a British biographer has described PDPM as "the incorruptible." PGMA's second and third selves, as the second and third female President of the Philippines, are also worth noting and writing about. Four other selves can easily be attributed to PGMA. Despite the controversies surrounding her at the moment, she is still a woman of note not only in the country but also outside of it. It is not for nothing that she has been described as the 9th most powerful woman in the world.

Talking of power, there are women who have become famous either because they have been elected/appointed into positions of power or because of how they use power. Considered the most powerful woman in the world today is Dr. Condoleeza Rice, US Secretary of State. She is noted not only for her present position of power but also for being the first Afro-American woman to hold this position, the highest echelon of power ever reached by a woman of her race. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir are other prominent examples. All of these powerful women have been described as equal—or superior—to men in their use of power. In the Philippines, the best example of this category of women is former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos. There was a time when she was considered the most powerful person in the Philippines, excepting her husband, then President Ferdinand Marcos. She is also a good example of a person with many selves. Despite her fall from power, Imelda is still credited for putting the Philippines in the international scene, a feat still not easily repeated.

Gloria Steinem has made history as a feminist. Because of her and a number of her friends, women's issues became strong, controversial, and emotional, and they have yet to die down. Feminism became such an issue that even the English language had to be changed for a while. "Woman" was spelled as "womon" and "women" as "womyn" in order not to antagonize women like Steinem—or simply to humor them. Like pioneers of issues before her, Steinem was also controversial. She said a woman needs a man like fish needs a bicycle, then when she was 66, she married. To this day, Steinem remains a respected feminist.

Talking of men and women, Genevieve Coy, a psychologist, wrote that attitudes of men and women towards each other is largely a matter of cultural conditioning, and it is so ingrained that it is very difficult to change. To think of men as superior to women, of the father as the master of the home, and of daughters as second in importance to sons is unconsciously ingrained beginning childhood. But, talking only of facts, what is the human race without the equal partnership of men and women? This must explain why the English language is back to spelling "woman" as "woman," "women" as "women" and saying "mankind, history, and human," etc. without feeling guilty.

So far, the names mentioned here are those of women whose names have appeared in published and broadcast materials, or films. But there are a far greater number of women out there who deserve no less.

Every day, as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, there are women who labor and toil just as astonishingly as their famous counterparts. They may be the mothers and wives who never tire of making sure that the home is a man's castle, that children are well taken care of, and that marriages remain intact. Many nowadays have extended their boundaries and work to earn a living, either here or abroad, then they join the rank of OFWs, unsung heroines who also contribute to the country's economy. Boundaries extended also means there are now women who work as drivers of taxis, buses, trams or trains, engineers, painters of buildings, firefighters, electricians, and mechanics, with no apologies to their gender. There are women in both low-paying and high-paying jobs. There are women who do not work, but they contribute to society just as well. In fact, women are now everywhere. They are in the academe, the workplace, and the work force. They are in government, in the arts, and they now wield greater power and have more social leverage than ever. Many have yet to liberate themselves from violence, it is true, but awareness of this truth is far stronger now.

On December 6, 2005, National Geographic channel ran a feature on evolution which mentioned that one thing that baffled Charles Darwin—something he could not fit into his theory of natural selection—was the cumbersome, albeit very attractive, tail of a peacock. It was not until a hundred years later that other scientists came up with another theory—the female selection or choice. A peahen would choose to mate with a peacock that has the most cumbersome tail because this is the most attractive to a peahen, and in making her choice, the peahen ensures the perpetuation of only the best genes. This must explain why Esteé Lauder toppled Charles Revlon from the pinnacle of the cosmetics industry. After all, who knows how to make a woman beautiful but another woman? Generally, women indeed have come a log way. It's about time.

Happy Women's Day!

[About the author. Erlinda "Linny" B. Sialongo has been teaching English and literature subjects for 33 years. She has a BSE in English from the Ateneo de Davao, an M.A.Ed degree, major in English, and a Ph.D in Educational Management from the Angeles University Foundation, Angeles City, and a certificate of special training (Family Planning and Responsible Parenthood, Public Administration, Production of Instructional Materials) from Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro City. She also has special training on journalism. She taught English as a Foreign Language in Severobaikalsk, Russia, for seven years and authored a book, 'Personally Yours,' about her life in Russia. She is author of various articles and researches, and has co-authored and edited four textbooks. She has traveled to Mongolia, China, South Korea, Kazahkstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgistan, India, Vietnam, and has been to Hong Kong, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, and Amsterdam.]

-Posted: 8:11 PM 3/1/07 | More of this author on eK!