If you’re a regular teleserye watcher like I am, you’ll know that Philippine pop culture doesn’t have a lot of leeway when it comes to portraying your average Filipina. If you’re not the naive and yet extremely sexual ingenue from “Katorse”, you’re the vindictive femme fatale from “Rubi” — the classic Madonna/Whore dichotomy. I don’t know about you guys, but these two “types” get pretty tiring after a while.
That’s why it’s refreshing to comes across something like Bebang Siy’s collection of essays, “It’s A Mens World”. Written over the course of several years and submitted as a master’s thesis, Siy’s collection is a candid, sometimes funny, and sometimes bittersweet look at the life so far of a Filipino Everywoman.
Made up of 20 essays written in Taglish — a mix of Filipino and English — “Its A Mens World” opens by demystifying the mysteries of the menarche, as Siy talks about how her younger sister had her period ahead of her. This soon devolves into a retelling of a particularly bloody superstition about what you’re supposed to do with your first period. The wryness with which Siy recalls all of this will leave readers laughing, squirming, or a combination of both.
This wry recounting of the many things that happen on or around the vicinity of Siy’s vagina is something that occurs a lot in “It’s A Mens World”. “Hiwa” is about the collective tizzy that Siy’s relatives go into once it appears that she may have injured her ladybits after falling off a chair. “Sa Ganitong Paraan Daw Namatay si Kuya Dims” is a more sober story, recounting an incident of molestation.
It is when Siy completely strips herself of any of the mystique and glamor that her gender usually affords her that her essays resonate the most. Rather than be off-putting, the awkwardness and the unforgiving candor with which she talks about the most sensitive of topics only ends up endearing her to readers.
The fact that she’s lived a childhood that’s extremely relatable doesn’t hurt either. The Manila that she takes us to in essays like “It’s A Mens World”, “Pinyapol”, and “Sibuyas” would definitely be familiar to a lot of people, much more so than some of the popular works currently aimed at a female audience.
The glimpses that she allows us into her unconventional life as a child of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother are also a pleasure to read. It’s an entirely different way of looking at the culture, especially for someone who has only been exposed through it via Mother Lily’s seemingly endless series of “Mano Po” films.
All in all, “It’s A Mens World” just shows that Siy is as good in non-fiction as she is in fiction (Siy is also behind “Mingaw”, an erotic novel written for the Literotika line). It’s exciting to wait and see what other tricks she has up her sleeve.