“But first, I wanna be clear: there’s no fixed group and we don’t have a so-called leader ha,” milliner Mich Dulce says over a Facebook Messenger call at about 10am Manila time sometime in early March.
But Mich wasn’t in Manila. She was still in Paris where it was 4am. Listening to her speak about Grrrl Gang Manila did not seem like it was in the wee hours of the morning. She was bubbly as ever.
Grrrl Gang is a new project that she helped put together alongside Marla Darwin, Claire Villacorta, and Earnest Zabala, all of them feminists, but with different concerns each. Claire is a single mom who put up Jawbreaker, a feminist zine in the early noughties. Marla advocates feminist parenting and radical empathy, while Earnest, who is a mother to a teenage daughter, pushes for self-image.
“I’ve always considered myself a feminist but I was hesitant to use the word. I feel inferior to other feminists, and this is why I was so happy about Grrrl Gang. I want to learn from other feminists.”
It all started sometime in December when Mich was preparing to freeze her eggs. “I was super hormonal and super emotional, so I posted something about it, my egg freezing journey on my Facebook wall,” Mich begins. “I couldn’t believe some people took offense. I was sharing something very important.”
It awakened her feminism. As she was going through the process in January, Mich saw and experienced the kindness and generosity of women, some of them strangers, around her. “I did it in Belgium and I was alone, but a woman offered to pick me up from the hospital, you know? Small things like that. It really made me value the female community.”
She picked up the phone and called her bandmates, but suddenly, writing songs wasn’t enough anymore. Ideas kept popping in her mind: “I wanted a venue where we can talk about feminism, but not in a classroom type setting. I space where it was non-threatening and non-judgmental. I thought being an activist shouldn’t be daunting.”
At the same time, she attended Women’s March in Paris where she realized there were so many kinds of feminists vocalizing different things. “I was so empowered by that movement. It really changed my life,” Mich said.
And then she reflected some more: she was active in women’s movements abroad, but in the Philippines, what was there? “There’s a misogynist leader to deal with, so parang I need to be more active here.”
On Facebook, she saw writer and graphic designer Marla Darwin post about the Women’s March and sensed she too must be looking for an outlet for her feminism.
“It was a starting point in our discussions. I think she got in touch with me because I lamented Manila’s lack of participation during the march,” Marla told MB Life through email. “Feminism is one of my biggest advocacies. If it’s coming from a good place, I will always lend my time and resources to help out.
Still in Paris, Mich phoned 46-year-old homebaker Earnest, a long-time feminist who is raising a teenage daughter, lending yet another angle to the group.
Mich had already called the other women when she phoned Claire. “She explained that she wanted a space reminiscent of women’s lib in the ‘60s and riot grrrl in the ‘90s and how they would meet and discuss the issues that affected them,” Claire narrates. “I was like, yes, I totally get it. Let’s do it!”
The four women would correspond through Facebook Messenger all through February and March, across time zones and continents, to put out ideas, grow them, write a manifesto even.
The idea of having a safe space for women wasn’t a product of their lengthy discussions or compromise; from the onset, they knew they all wanted it. “I think all of us have wanted a space like this, or mused about it, even if we had never discussed with each other prior to Mich contacting us about taking the plunge,” Claire says.
“It was also reaffirmed when all of us talked about how we became feminists. Most of us came into it because of personal experiences,” says Marla.
But Earnest takes it a step further: “A safe space is the ultimate aim, of course, but it’s really hard to guarantee. In the meantime, we hope that we can collectively come up with practices and habits that ensure respect for all kinds of experiences without judgment, shame, or stigma.”
Because issues are as many as there are kinds of women, and Grrrl Gang aims to be “intersectional” as it acknowledges there are as many issues as there are the types of women. Marla advocates feminist parenting and radical empathy, for one, while Claire puts forward issues unique to single motherhood. “It makes feminism imperative,” Claire says. Earnest says it’s girls and self-image for her, while Mich is about being a single, career-driven woman.
“There are many kinds of feminism in much the same manner as there are many kinds of women. Within the community of women are specific communities of women: transgender women, rural, women, urban women, and now we have a new category: widows/daughters orphaned by EJKs, and so on and on. We each have our specific issues. So yes, there are many strains of feminism. But we must remember that we are nonetheless linked.”
“Feminism is very broad and your contribution will be more powerful if you single out issues that are aligned with your strengths and experiences,” Marla continues.
On Saturday, March 25, Grrrl Gang will hold its first meetup at the Bulwagang Tandang Sora in UP Diliman. “We won’t have a speaker, because we really want it to be a casual and non-intimidating gathering. We will talk about our issues, what we want to achieve, how we can turn it into action. We’ll look into feminism in the Philippines, go bottoms up and engage the audience; we will ask everyone about issues that need to be covered and what everyone wants Grrrl Gang to be. It’s really like a high-school club,” Mich says.
Grrrl Gang will function through donations—everything is free—with a meetup occurring every six weeks or so. “We really want to take opinion offline, exercise face-to-face relations, and nourish real-life friendships,” Mich says. Boys are not allowed, at least for the first meet, and neither is media coverage.
You know how promising Grrrl Gang is? As early as March 8, they’ve started organizing carpool rides to and from the first meetup. How’s that for sisterhood?