Nene – a ten year old girl from Angeles City, Philippines
Diday – Nene’s mother who works as a prostitute
Tilda – girl who is Nene’s friend
Bic-bic – girl who is Nene’s friend
Jenny – girl who is Bic-bic’s friend
Jacob – a middle-aged white male
Scene A—A poor town in Angeles City at around 6pm. When the lights come out, the town is seen, characterized by slum houses and dirt road. Shirtless men round a small makeshift table enjoying their bottles of beer and gin could be seen in front of small convenience stores. The area is lit by a few fluorescent bulbs mainly in front of these convenience stores. There are some women who occasionally buy necessities from these convenience stores.
The spotlight focuses on one slum house. Nene and Diday enter. The two are inside their slum house. Diday fixes herself in front of the mirror while Nene looks on. Nene wears a stained sleeveless shirt, an old pleated skirt, and worn-out slippers. Diday wears a tight, sleeveless, stripped, and colorful blouse, black miniskirt, black low-cut boots, and cheap jewelry.
Diday: Nene, have you prepared our dinner? I’ll be late for work.
Nene: Mom, I just need to buy dried fish from Aling Mina’s store. I already cooked rice. We could have dried fish and rice for dinner.
Diday: No, no, I am tired of dried fish. Better buy omelet instead. Tell Aling Mina to add the omelet to our credit list. I’ll pay her tomorrow. Now hurry. I don’t want to lose customers.
Nene: Ok, ok, I’m going. I’ll be quick.
Nene goes out as Diday continues to fix herself, talking to herself in the process. In a short while, Nene enters again, this time carrying two eggs. She goes straight to their rickety bamboo table and puts the omelet on a plate. The cooked rice is already on a serving plate on the table.
Nene: Mom, lets eat.
Diday approach their makeshift dining table. The two dining chairs are wooden tripods. Both sit to eat. They converse in between bites.
Nene: Mom, when will you have money to buy me those earrings we saw in the mall?
Diday: Ayayay Nene, I think we owe Aling Mina’s store three hundred fifty pesos for all the goods we have put in our credit list. If I get enough customers tonight, we might have enough money for tomorrow to buy you those earrings. Which pair is that specifically?
Nene: The big rainbow-colored one, remember? Those I pointed out to you when we celebrated my birthday?
Diday: Oh yeah! I think that fits you quite well! You know what? I think we got the same taste when it comes to jewelry.
Nene: Of course! I’m your daughter remember? Mom? Can I go strolling around the plaza later? I think I prefer to wait for you with my friends in the plaza than to stay here at home. I got nothing to do here. Besides, there’s this show in the plaza. I’m sure it will be fun to go around with Tilda and Bic-bic.
Diday: And how about school tomorrow?
Nene: Mom! We just finished with the quarterly test. I’m sure there wouldn’t be many things to study.
Diday: Ok then, just promise me that you’ll stick with Tilda and Bic-bic alright? There’ll be that show and I’m sure that there will be so many people also.
Nene: Don’t worry mom. I’ll also try to make us some money. I’ll help Tilda sell some of the garlands she made.
Diday: Oh whatever Nene! Maybe you can earn enough money to buy your earrings tomorrow. Anyway, it’s already 6:45pm. I better be going. Customers arrive at this time. If you’re going out anyway, come with me. I’ll bring you to Tilda’s house. I’ll meet you in the park after work ok? Oh, do I already look attractive?
Nene nods and both leave the house. Lights off.
Scene B – The plaza. It’s 7:30pm. There are many people, some of them are Caucasians, Japanese, and African Americans who are obviously tourists. Some Filipinas are seen strolling with some of these tourists. The plaza is well-lit. There are also a lot of food stalls and novelty kiosks.
Nene, Tilda, and Bic-bic enter. All three girls are seated on a park bench, carrying Sampaguita garlands
Nene: I really love it when the plaza’s this full of lights! Wooooh!
Tilda: Yeah I know. So many people also! Look at all the food! How I wish we have lots and lots of money! It would be a dream come true if I could buy all the kinds of food I see around me!
Bic-bic: Me too! My mouth waters at the sight of so much food! You know what? Last month I was able to nab some barbecues from that stall without being caught! I don’t think I’d like to do that again though. I’d be dead if my uncle finds out. So who do you think would be interested to buy these garlands?
Nene: It might be good to stay here. There are just so many rich foreigners here.
Tilda: Don’t these foreigners look so handsome? I particularly like the white guys. When I grow up, I want to be like my aunt. She was able to marry an American guy. She’s now in America, rich and all. I don’t really get to talk with her that much, but the last time she visited the Philippines, she gave me chocolates and these (pointing to her bangles on her wrists). She promised to send me nail polish, those glittery ones!
Bic-bic: Good for you! Mom just stays at home. Uncle Pipo usually goes into fits every time mom goes out to have some fun.
Nene: But doesn’t your mom work?
Bic-bic: Oh she does. She gets to do the laundry for those big houses from Ferndale Subdivision like three times a week. Uncle Pipo is fine if mom goes out to work, but not if she goes out for a stroll or something like that. There are times when I feel bad for mom. Uncle Pipo can get really drunk and sometimes slap or beat mom up.
Tilda: What does your mom do when your uncle does that?
Bic-bic: None really. Uncle Pipo is the man. He ought to be followed anyway. Oh look, it’s Jenny.
(Jenny enters and approaches Bic-bic. She wears a lot of fancy jewelry and wears nice colorful clothes. She also wears lipstick and has her nails polished with glittery blue. She holds a sandwich on her hand.)
Bic-bic: Jenny! You look so beautiful! Where did you get all of that?? Oh by the way, these are my friends, Tilda and Nene.
(The girls exchange big smiles.)
Jenny: There is this white guy. His name is Jacob. He was nice to me. He bought me these things. I think we’re friends.
Tilda: How did you meet this guy, Jenny?
Jenny: Mang Narding, the cigarette vendor, introduced him to me. Mang Narding told me, though, not to tell my parents about Jacob since they might get mad.
Bic-bic: Oh, I envy you! How I wish I could also be friends with a rich white man!
Jenny: Well, Jacob is really nice. He just makes me do some stuff. At first I felt awkward and a bit nervous. I was hesitant at first, but he explains to me that it’s all natural and ok. He also makes it a point that he gives me what I want. Yesterday, we ate fried chicken at Max’s. I never imagined that fried chicken can be that good!
Nene: Yum! I always wanted to eat there! Was it that good??
Jenny: Yes! It tasted like heaven! I wanted to bring some for mom but Jacob reminded me that our friendship has to be kept a secret.
Nene: Ok, but why should it be a secret?
Jenny: Well, I remember Mang Narding tell me that parents don’t want their children to be friends with strangers.
Tilda: So what else do you do together? What else does he do for you? Tell us more!
Jenny: There are times when I get to go up in his air conditioned room in the motel. We stay there and eat. There are times when he asks me to pose and he takes my pictures.
Bic-bic: Take your pictures?
Jenny: Yeah, he shows me some photos in the magazine, I imitate the models in the pictures, and then he takes my pictures. Jacob said that I should think of that as having a good time, and that adults find that fun too! He said that our moms would love posing and having their pictures taken, too.
Nene: So do you say cheese before he gets your picture?
Jenny: Not really. Sometimes I need to pout my lips. There are times when he massages my body first before taking my pictures. He rubs me here (points to her shoulders), then here (points to her torso), then here (points to her thighs), then here (points to her feet). He said that he’s not going to hurt me and that he just wants to make me feel good. Oh, I’ll be meeting him in a short, would you want to meet him also? He said he wanted so much to meet my friends. Just be sure you don’t tell your parents, ok?
Tilda, Nene, and Bic-bic: Of course!
Jenny: Ok, let’s go!
Scene C – In another part of the plaza where there are less people and fewer lights. Jacob sits on a park bench. All four girls are standing in front of him.
Jacob: Hi Jenny! Are these your friends?
Jenny: Yes! This is Bic-bic, Nene, and Tilda.
Jacob: You girls look very pretty. Would you want us to eat at McDonald’s? We could eat then buy some stuff for you in those novelty stores.
Nene: Oh that would be great! I’m very hungry! By the way, do you want some garlands?
Jacob: (laughs) Sure! I’ll buy all your garlands (gets the garlands from Tilda, Nene, and Bic-bic). So shall we go?
All the girls: Yes! Yipee!
Scene D – The park. At around 5am. Nene sits on a park bench and Diday arrives from work. Nene looks satisfied. She wears a new pair of earrings, big, colorful, shiny ones.
Diday: Hey Nene! You don’t look hungry. Have you eaten? Were you able to sell all your garlands? What do you have here? New earrings??
Nene: Yes! I sold all the garlands. I bought you hamburger also. You like my earrings?
Diday: Yes, not exactly what you pointed out in the mall, but it’s equally beautiful. Are you saying that the money you earned from the garlands is enough to buy me a hamburger and these new earrings?
Nene: Er, yeah! I sold all of them. These earrings are on sale in one of the kiosks also, so it didn’t cost much. So let’s go?
Diday: Yeah, let’s go.
Sheila Jeffreys and the Play, Earrings
I. Sheila Jeffreys’ Lesbian Feminism
Sheila Jeffreys, an associate professor of Political Science from the University of Melbourne, is a known radical lesbian feminist. For many years, Jeffreys has been active in causes that should lead in the recognition of prostitution, children and women trafficking, and other practices such as breast implants and other “cosmetic” procedures as manifestations of male supremacy. Sheila Jeffreys has this basic premise: that male supremacy is preserved and maintained through sex, the eroticised manifestation of this supremacy, specifically through the power difference exhibited in heterosexual relationships (Jeffreys, Anticlimax 3). It is this main premise that will be expounded on in this essay. This theoretical perspective will then be related to the play, Earrings, afterwards.
Male supremacy is immortalized in many ways, though probably the least conspicuous at the same time the sexiest would be through sex. This includes not only the very act of copulation but also all other things that go with or simulate male-female attraction. As Luce Irigaray claims in her many works, this world is basically “phallic,” and even women have been unconsciously serving this system. This dominance could easily be exemplified in copulation, for example, where men most of the time manifest their “strength” and “virility” through penis size, endurance, dominant sex positions, the use of dominating devices, etcetera. Heterosexual relationships also manifest this dominance, most especially in developing countries, where “the man is the leader of the household” still occupies an unquestioned position. As such, for Jeffreys, the heterosexual couple is “the basic unit of the political structure of male supremacy” (“Anticlimax” 292).
Now, any political structure is kept in such a way that societal norms and mores support its continued existence. The same could be said about male supremacy through sex. Jeffreys mentions that women have exhibited a certain dislike over heterosexual sexual acts:
Other reasons which emerge in the case studies for women failing to have enthusiasm for sexual intercourse or to achieve vaginal orgasm are all quite reasonable from the woman’s point of view, i.e. experience of male sexual violence, a preference for loving women, a disinclination to become pregnant. (“Anticlimax” 25)
These female reasons to dislike heterosexual sexual acts were obviously a threat to male supremacy. If sex is to remain the “eroticised” sign of male dominance and female submission (“Anticlimax” 145), then that which threatens this dominance should never be taken lightly. As such, something much more than a concerted effort was launched. Just like an intelligent tactician whose enemy ought not to be killed but merely subdued as the enemy is one’s own steward, some sort of “psyching” happened. Men convinced women that heterosexual sex is truly pleasurable and any female who disagrees is “sick” (“Anticlimax” 24). This has led sexologists, for example to
[identify] women’s ‘inhibition’ as the main sexual problem of this century. They have identified as healthy sexual feelings those which the male ruling class experiences and have chosen to avoid recognizing the political reasons why women might feel differently. (“Anticlimax” 250).
No wonder that sex therapy clinics are everywhere where sexologists, clinical psychologists, and psychiatrists put up enough effort to pronounce a female’s lack of desire as a disease that women would not want to have. “Frigidity” (“Anticlimax” 24) seems to be universally acknowledged as a disease and women would need to psyche themselves and seek “professional help” if necessary just to overcome this sickness. Women would need to be convinced that “vaginal orgasm” is truly pleasurable and not to acknowledge such may be considered an abnormality. The pronouncement that women are sick if they are incapable of attaining satisfaction through penile penetration have kept men’s preferred mode of sexual practices “primary” and “unquestioned” (“Anticlimax” 30).
That men’s sexual practices are primary and unquestioned lead to many things. For one, Jeffreys observed that in the present, having a sex life has become compulsory: “sexual activity was mandatory and backsliding was unforgivable” (“Anticlimax” 110). It seems true that nowadays, no one, even a true-to-life spinster, would ever admit choosing not to have a sex life. Being sexually active is a societal requirement to be “in.” Presumably, making “sex life” a necessity is the preferred mode of sexual practice of men. Actually, for Jeffreys, “sex life” is a necessity because both married and unmarried women nowadays are required to be “experts in sexually servicing men” (“Anticlimax 110), to be capable of giving up their own preferences and instead be efficient men pleasers. Women have become the servants of men, they are, in Jeffreys’ term, “sexualized women” (“Anticlimax” 110). Women, to be accepted, are to be “conscripted into compulsory heterosexuality” (“Anticlimax 110), and those who do not accept this role are lesbians. This simply means that women’s desires, if they are to be socially suitable and psychologically healthy, should ensure an acceptable, i.e., male defined, sex life.
One of the best methods to “advertise” the “acceptable” sexual practice is via pornography. It is the best “consciousness-raising” tool that male supremacy offers to women (“Anticlimax” 281). As such, pornography would be male medium to make known their wishes to women. It is the publication of their “laws” to their subordinates. These publications set the standards: women need to wear such clothes, have big breasts, have pouty lips, not be fat, not be too intelligent, be fully made up, and must be comfortable at wearing high-heels and push-up bras. This has led to the proliferation of “aesthetic” clinics (Jeffreys, The Ugly Side of Beauty) catering to breast implants, clitoral and vaginal repair, liposuction, botox treatment, diamond peeling, laser body trimming, butt enhancement and a host of many other “treatments” to make women palatable to men. This has also made many otherwise adverse practices acceptable. It has been common for example for some countries to consider “voluntary” prostitution as legal. Human trafficking (of women and children) and prostitution, two practices that somehow simulate slavery, are unsurprisingly unresolved. It is interesting how prostitution, after being declared by the UN in 1949 as against the “dignity of women” (Jeffreys, Trafficking in Women versus Prostitution: A False Distinction 3) is now livelier than ever. We know for a fact that prostitution is legal in places like the Netherlands and is condoned in probably most countries in the world. Women and children are trafficked into white slavery, sometimes legally as their “consent” are used as license, at the rate of thousands per day.
All these practices cannot stop and no liberation can ever occur since in the end, “inequality (is perceived to be) sexy” (“Anticlimax” 4). The liberation of the female could only happen by the “reconstruction of male sexuality” specifically “to sever the link between power and aggression and sexual pleasure” (“Anticlimax” 312).
II. The Play and Sheila Jeffreys
The play entitled Earrings works on the theme of male dominance and female subservience. It is situated in the prostitution and trafficking capital of the Philippines, Angeles City. At the beginning of the play, the theme of the “immortalization” of male supremacy is symbolized by Diday’s openness to Nene on matters regarding her job as a prostitute. Even at the beginning, we see Diday talk about the need to please customers and the need to get customers before other prostitutes do. The theme works as an undercurrent throughout the play as Diday and Nene both strive to look “attractive” even at the absence of financial means. Diday, being a prostitute, is obviously caught up in a world where men ought to be pleased. Nene, the little girl is catching up. Not asking for toys or things that kids usually look for, she obsesses over a colorful pair of earrings.
We see this theme continue in the play as the three kids (Nene, Bic-bic, and Tilda) talk about the desirability of being married to rich foreign males. They dream of being the housewives of these males when they grow up, just like some women they know. This foundation makes it easiest for someone like Jacob to easily get into the lives of these innocent young girls. He represents the concentration of power: he is male, he is a foreigner, he is “rich” (at least in the eyes of these kids), and he could give their needs and desires. In the end, it was Jacob who gave Nene the earrings. Jacob now has Nene.
The play is a realistic portrayal of the themes that Jeffreys have been talking about. It shows the confusing web that male dominance has created on the lives of women and children. Their desires and ambitions are defined by the world that men offer.
Jeffreys, Sheila. Anticlimax: A Feminist Perspective on the Sexual Revolution. New York: NYU Press, 1990.
__________. “The Ugly Side of Beauty,” Guardian Unlimited, 2 July 2005. 25 April 2007. <http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/politicsphilosophyandsociety/story/0,6000,1519268,00.html>.
__________. Trafficking in Women versus Prostitution: A False Distinction. Keynote Address in the Townsville International Women’s Conference, James Cook University, 3-7 July 2002.
Production Hotsheet for the Play, Earrings
Earrings is a socially relevant play that portrays how the lives of females are defined and constructed by the world of men. The play is situated in a city in the Philippines, a South East Asian Country that is known to have an abundant amount of prostitutes and trafficked women and children. In the play, A prostitute and her daughter goes through their regular evening: the mother going to “work” and the daughter going around with friends selling garlands. The story ends with a pedophile being welcomed into the world of young girls, the daughter of the prostitute included.
The play is a presentation of the world that Sheila Jeffreys, a political theorist and a lesbian feminist, has been putting forth: a world dominated and defined by men and women not having much choice but to embrace what has been granted to them by men, either wittingly or unwittingly. It presents a grim world for these women who satisfy themselves with the dregs, hoping for some graces from the superior men, the tyrants as well as the savior of women who have learned to make their ambitions and desires revolve around men.
This play does not only bring to our attention the desperate situation of women who cannot control their destinies as this world is not theirs. It also brings to our consciousness the lives of those who live faraway from us and experience the crises that we experience in a hundredfold.