When my sister Rone and I were little, Mama would play Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman’ for us over and over again, and we would have a seventies version of a karaoke party minus the screen. I still remember the words, ‘I am woman, hear me roar. The number is too big to ignore…you can bend but never break me, for it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goal.’ It was a fun song, and I do strongly advocate what it espouses. However, in my culture I don’t think women ever felt the need to roar.
I come from a line of women who never felt that femininity and strength were at odds with one another. This perhaps is one of my life’s greatest gifts, that from the very beginning I understood completely the texture and chemistry of a woman’s strength. To better understand this, let me tell you about my paternal grandmother whom we called Nana, Mercedes Cacho Valles. I have many wonderful memories of Nana. They involve amazing parties she would throw for the family and Abuelo’s colleagues in the oil and energy industry, and she is always a shining light in these pictures in my mind. They involve Spanish lessons on Saturdays, with her determined that her grandchildren would not lose their Spanish tongue. They involve golf lessons and lunches at the golf club. In all these memories Nana is a vision of grace, strength and joie de vivre.
It is difficult to pinpoint what it was in Nana’s life that gave her such a strong sense of her own authority. Born into privilege, she went to finishing school in Switzerland and spoke the four romance languages. She studied nursing, and never wanted for anything in life. If she did want anything, she most likely got it. The biggest evidence to this is her love story. She had may suitors whose family backgrounds were similar to hers and yet the man she chose to love, my Abuelo Tots (Totit was Enrique Viaplana Valles’ nickname), was a simple man with big dreams. His parents were separated early when his father was exiled to Shanghai by the Philippine government. His mother, Monsterrat Viaplana made the brave choice for a pre-war era woman not to follow her exiled husband and instead raise their children on her own. This was my great grandmother, a highly skilled seamstress who made fine children’s clothing, a tradition carried on it the family by my very successful aunt. There were many things about my Abuelo that were impressive, not only was he gorgeous and a star athlete – 1939 basketball team captain at his University- he was a self made man.
But this is about Nana. Her romantic choice to love Abuelo was also a decision to take a different path. One that leads with the heart. They had a family together, she was a full time mother whose passions included her husband, family and her sport. Of all the sports, she loved golf the most. To this day golf remains a predominantly male sport, so consider how progressive it was for a woman in the 50’s and 60’s, but Nana was undeterred. A pioneer of ladies golf in the Philippines and perhaps Southeast Asia, Nana’s golf career which took her all over the world included being president of the Women’s Golf Association of the Philippines. Testament to all her efforts are the annual Ditas Valles Invitational ladies’ golf tournament held at Baguio Golf and Country Club, where she also served as a board member for a period.
There are many lessons my sister and I learned from Nana, too many to detail. What is most magical to me is that these lessons, taught primarily by example, are what I sense encompasses a new brand of feminism. One deeply rooted in embracing being female, pro-woman and not anti-man. One that finds strength and power in the feminine, embracing the Yin usually characterized as slow, soft, tranquil feminine energy. The energy of the night, when regeneration and the birth of a new day happens. Rone and I are lucky enough that this new brand of
The women of the feminist movement fought to bring womens rights at the center of civil rights. Many women of my generation are now benefiting from this work. It is in this spirit that we move forward fully empowered in the female factor and continue to advance the cause of women. Two years ago today my dear friend Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke and I came up with a dream, which we are now turning into a reality.
We asked a simple question: Imagine what would happen if we were to weave the web of women we knew. The question begged another question. Imagine what would happen if our webs began to interweave with the webs of other women throughout the world. That was when we staked our claim to our Female Factor. We have embarked on a journey that envisions a world where women and children are empowered with the much needed skills and support to make the right decisions to transform their lives and the futures of their families. We dream of a world where every woman and child finds the light within them that will propel them towards better tomorrows.
The female factor is our brand of power, what’s yours?