Monday, July 29, 2013

Did Dr. José Rizal ever behave Badly against Women?  Yes, he most certainly did… just like a Macho Male Chauvinist Pig✴:  See his Travel Diary, 1891.

En route back to the Philippines, in 1891, Rizal boarded the “Melbourne” at Marseille to Hong Kong.  He kept a recurrent journal of that trip. I am always enamored of Rizal’s travel diaries.  

In 1882, on the boat “Isla de Panay,” he was an astute observer of nature and humanity especially women. In 1884, his diary entries were superbly written with imagery, colorful and highly descriptive and irreverent observations. This time, on the way to Hongkong in 1891, as I read his travel diary, something ignited my thoughts, and like a comic cartoon strip, a light bulb popped up over my head.  I was stunned on how he described and observed a woman passenger.  

In this article, I want to be straightforward at the very start.  Please consider this article as an anachronism.  I am looking at Rizal’s travel diary from the lenses of a 21st century woman, weaned from the writings of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. 1975.   During Rizal’s time, it was ordinary to put down women who stand out.  It was called being "Macho." Rizal was only doing what was the trend in the 19th century of his times.  So, when I call him *!@# (Macho Male Chauvinist Pig), I’m not dissing Rizal.  No disrespect intended.  Please do not be offended.  I use this cultural marker only for emphasis..  

Besides, sorry to say, the phrase sounds so empowering.

Back to Rizal’s journal.

Of his cousin Margarita or Itay, he writes:  My cousin is simple, much addicted to confessing and penance. Florentina, on the other hand, is a little girl of vulgar qualities.” P. 9.

Arcadia was a tomboy of an inflexible character and irritable, though she had a simple and frank nature.” P 59.

In 1888, this time, he was a “Licenciado,” a qualified medical doctor.  He had traveled widely.  

His attitude towards women, at first in his earlier travels, were full of romanticized admiration for the women.  Later, he became more critical.  For example, in his travels in Germany, he admired the women, but he gave them a left-handed compliment: 

The German girls are serious, they walk in a lively manner like men, they cut their hair short like the men, They have only gray and drab colors for dresses and they are not interested in wearing jewelry (some don’t pierce their ears) like our women in the Philippines.  P 114.

FYI Rizal, women generally want to be described as feminine, and not seen as "like men."

Of some Japanese women, he writes:  Tokyo, 1st Mar 1888.

The Japanese women are short, stout, fair and their cheeks are red. Their hair is stiffer and thicker than ours and I have seen few with good denture.”  [Rizal, do you think you are, by any chance, in a horse market examining dentures?]

However, this time around, in 1891, his attitude towards the women passengers on board the ship was…. pardon my language horrible and abominable.”   In other words, in today’s contemporary lingo:  he was behaving badly like a Male Chauvinist PIG, a real true-blue "Macho" man.

“The Lady” who came aboard the Melbourne from Marseille on the way to Colombo, Oct-Nov 1891.

Rizal notes a woman boarding the ship.  He finds out who she is from some twits.  

A handsome woman, well painted with the look of an actress, Madame de Block (?) is attracting attention for her beauty. They say that she is travelling for a scientific mission.  We shall see.  P 159. 

[Rizal,  *!@#! (you Macho Male Chauvinist Pig,) what do you mean “We shall see.”  You are thinking like:  "Who does she think she is?  I don’t believe that a woman, who, like an actress who wears make-up, can be travelling or for that matter, heading a scientific mission."]

Rizal notes her dress and makes a bet among the other Macho Male Chauvinist Pigs how many changes of dresses they would see on her during the trip!!! What a bunch of losers!

19 Oct.  The lady was dressed white this morning. We bet on how many dresses she has.  She travels gratis for a scientific mission and she stops at Colombo. P 160.

Rizal, did it ever occur to you that it was not gratis?  She could have gotten a "travel grant" plus a "research grant."

20 Oct. The lady has changed her toilette and wears a lace collar.  P 161.

[Rizal, *!@# (you Macho Male Chauvinist Pig),  as a comparison, can we count how many suit changes you and your male friends have during this trip?]

Rizal entertains gossip chatter, that is, she traveled with a Russian Admiral, that the admiral left his wife and children to travel with her.  Rizal is cavalier about the perceived pretentions of "this woman."  Her name is Mme. Block/Bloch yet Rizal refers to her as “the lady in question,”  in a derogatory manner of speech. When he says “the lady” it is always in reference to Mme. Bloch.

The lady in question has Greek features, straight nose, narrow and low forehead, big eyes and the mouth is too big. P 161.


21 Oct. The lady in question is wearing a new dress. She embroiders on canvas and continues flirting with the Russian. She is not as pretty as the day she embarked. She looked much older.  P 162.


24. Oct.  It seems that the dresses of the lady is question is becoming fewer. P. 164.  

Wishful thinking, Rizal. You are now hedging your bet. 

Rizal finally figured out who she was, but his sources of information are simply unreliable blurbs.

27 Oct.  The lady in question, it is said, is going to India to collect data and documents about the French generals before Dupleix.  [Marquis Joseph Francois Dupleix (1699-1763) was a French colonial administrator in India) …that is before the loss of the French colonies.  P. 165.

28 Oct. Now, they told me that she is going to study the women of India, that she speaks six languages, very learned and correspondent of many scientific societies. P. 166.

Take that, Rizal,  you *!@#!  She is definitely something else!  By now, Rizal, 10 days a sea, begins to change his colors.  This time he writes:

29, Oct. Last night I had a delightful time listening to the lady in question play the piano and sing. P 170.

It took Rizal two weeks to approach and talk to Mme. Bloch, who plays the piano and who can also sing delightfully!

31, Oct.  At night a hypnotism session was held. The "lady" hypnotized a woman , the Austrian’s wife.  I spoke with "the lady" who impressed me as very amiable. She practices medicine and is engaged in the study of various tropical diseases, for this reason she is going to India. P 166.

By this time, our hero (*!@#!) had left his stinking pigsty behind. Why?  Because, to his utter amazement, and perhaps dismay at his own bad behavior, Mme. Bloch was indeed very well educated,  mirroring his own practice, just like him:  doctor, physician, scientist, artist-pianist-singer, author in scientific journals, hypnotist, well connected, and above all Beautiful and Rich, (proof: her trunkful of clothes).

However, Rizal, the ever  loyal *!@#!, is still commenting on her toiletries. 

4 Nov.  The lady has put on her suit that she was wearing when she first embarked.  P 172.

Let’s look at it this way, Rizal,  you (*!@#!).   She embarked on  the 19th of October, and on 4th of Nov. she came back to wearing her original wear. Assuming that she never repeated her clothes, (otherwise you would have gleefully announced it), she had actually demonstrated that she was loaded with a trunkful of outfits:  16 dresses to be exact! She had fortified her monetary Means beyond the reach of others and maybe even you. 

As an inveterate bettor,  (Rizal  always bought lottery tickets in Madrid and in Dapitan) he must have lost his bet:  a week change of clothes? He loses.  Two weeks change of clothes? He loses badly!

By the beginning of the month of November, Rizal had changed his piggy snout pouch for a sow's purse of silky pearls.

5 Nov. I had a long conversation with the lady of question bearing on medicine, the ethnography of peoples, women writers, artists, and her sentiment on literature.  She is going to India to study Indian women. P 173.

I have been talking with a delightful young woman. She spoke French, English, German, Italian, Hindi,  among others. P 173.  (Rizal, you polyglot, she's got one over you. You never included Hindi among your language skills.)
Poor Rizal! When Mme. Bloch disembarked at Colombo, his journal entries appeared sad.  At one point, he wrote that he missed her presence.

6 Nov. There are now few passengers left.  There is a void among the people. I had so many thoughts and I think myself to sleep. P  175.

Hey, good for you, Rizal.  Your journal entry, which now is open to scrutiny, corroborates my title statement in this article.   Serves you right, you thought yourself to sleep thinking how unfairly you made mincemeat out of Mme. Bloch's reputation with your  *!@#!  comments.

However, in the end, Rizal, you may be a  bloody, blessed *!@#!, but you finally barely redeemed yourself -- saved by the times you lived in.   In terms of your 19th century attitude towards women, we, the 21st century women, forgive you.



✴ For   *!@#!  say  "Macho Male Chauvinist Pig."

1. All journal entries and citation were taken from
Reminiscences and Travels of Dr. José Rizal, 1878-1896. Centennial Edition, José Rizal National Centennial Commission. 1961.