Reclaiming Herstory: A Look Into Feminist Ideas and the Women of the Philippine Revolution

Olivia Barredo
June 10, 2023

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The Philippine revolution, spanning from 1896 to 1898, was a defining moment in the country’s history, as Filipinos rose up against Spanish colonial rule in their quest for independence. While the narrative of this period often centers around the heroic deeds of male revolutionaries, it is crucial to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of women who fought alongside them, not only on the battlefield but also in the intellectual and ideological spheres.


In the annals of history, the contributions of women have been overlooked and marginalized, overshadowed by the narratives of their male counterparts. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the context of the Philippine Revolution, a time of great upheaval and resistance against colonial rule. Here, we aim to shed some light on the multifaceted nature of the women’s role in the Philippine Revolution, and connect them to feminist ideas and observations from scholars who have studied thoroughly the treatment of women during revolutions around the world. 


It is important to note that although the points made in this article are geared towards the female revolutionaries who have been undermined, this does not erase the fact that we must remember to celebrate the struggles faced by the heroines of the Philippine revolution, and how they have triumphed over such adversities. Regardless of their participation in the revolution, whether it be nursing soldiers back to health, or being the mother and wife of iconic heroes, these women are most certainly worth honoring this Independence Day. 


What Feminists Have Said about Revolutions

Cynthia Enloe


Cynthia Enloe, the prominent scholar and author of “Bananas, Beaches, and Bases” has offered fascinating insights into the relationships between women, nationalism, and revolution. It is important to recognize that there were still limitations on women’s involvement, despite the participation of women in revolutions. In many revolutions, there existed a gendered division of labor within the armies of national liberation. Women were often assigned support roles, while men took on combat duties. Enlo’s work prompts us to reflect on the complexities of women’s participation in revolutionary struggles, shedding light on persistent gender inequalities that permeate even movements fighting for national liberation.

Floya Anthias and Nira Yuval-Davis


Floya Anthias and Nira Yuval-Davis, two insightful scholars, have highlighted a consistent pattern in nationalist movements worldwide–despite the diverse roles women have played, their participation is often marginalized and downplayed. They argue that while women’s involvement  in revolutions is acknowledged, many historians tend to link their participation to prevailing gender norms and stereotypes. They said, “Women’s role in national liberation struggles, in guerrilla warfare or in the military has varied, but generally they are seen to be in a supportive and nurturing relation to men even where they have taken most risks” (Yuval-Davis, 10). 


This means that women’s contributions are often framed within the confines of traditional gender constructs, limiting the recognition of their agency and broader impact. Their analysis urges us to critically examine the ways in which women’s roles in revolutionary movements have been perceived and represented throughout history. 


How These Apply to the Women of the PH Revolution

Now, let us take what these feminists scholars have said and see just how it applied to our own female revolutionaries, making use of what has been said by Christine Doran in her work entitled “Women, nationalism and the Philippine revolution”, published in a journal of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism (ASEN).  In her work, she highlights numerous prominent figures in history, and expounds on certain areas that align with the works of Cynthia Enloe, Floya Anthias, and Nira Yuval-Davis.


From Enloe, Doran also states that many Filipino women who followed their husbands to the battlefields during the Philippine Revolution had undertaken domestic tasks. Cooking, cleaning, and nursing were the most prominent tasks assigned to women, and that only a select few of these were able to rise above the usual domestic tasks and proactively take a leadership role. She says, “Those women who did engage in combat or espionage usually did so as a result of persistence in the face of strong opposition from military authorities and male soldiers, as well as from friends and family”. (Doran 249) 


She mentions that in “Recalling the Revolution: Memoirs of a Filipino General”, Santiago Alvarez, a general in the revolutionary army, he mentions several instances of the constant pressure being put on women to stay out of combat, with accompanying snide remarks and belittling comments about the inferior strength and skill of a woman. (Doran 249)


She cites Teresa Magbanua, although now a celebrated military leader, was once on the receiving end of protests from her husband and many local army commanders. Her ferocity and determination to lead troops into battles was one that was not well received amongst many in her hometown, her gender being yet another important divide within revolutionary forces, in addition to region, religion, and class. 


Doran also suggests that the involvement of female revolutionaries during the Philippine revolution were also often downplayed. She relates this to what authors Anthias and Yuval-Davis have said, and explains that many historical female figures are recognized in terms of their feminine qualities and other feminine characteristics, especially considering the country’s Catholic background (Doran 252). 


To prove her point, Doran makes mention of Trinidad Tecson, who is known for being the “Mother of Biak-na-Bato”, being celebrated for nursing revolutionaries back to health at the iconic Biak-na-Bato, and not for her valiance and strategic prowess, having fought twelve major battles over the whole revolutionary period. She continues that despite her participation in battles and combat, Trinidad Tecson was only recognized for the brief time she had spent nursing the soldiers back to health. (Doran 252)


Another example Doran used in her work was Patrocinio Gamboa, who is still most recognized for being the woman who sewed together the Philippine flag. While this is certainly a feat that must be acknowledged, Doran explains that Gamboa must also be remembered for performing other revolutionary tasks, such as her expertise in espionage and logistics. She reiterates that her other contributions to the revolution were undermined, while her recognition was gained for a characteristic associated with females at the time. (Doran 252)


Femininity at a Time of Adversity

While it is important to recognize that the women aforementioned did face struggles, especially in terms of their participation in the revolution, this does not serve as an attack to the women who did contribute to this event by embracing the feminine stereotypes. 


At a time of struggle and adversity, it is imperative that women be given the recognition they deserve for serving as generals, strategists, and leaders to a people simply seeking freedom; at the same time, we must give credit to the mothers and the nurses who were the sources of solace and comfort during those trying times. These women most certainly did what they could, regardless of whether these contributions were as involved in the frontlines like the likes of Gabriela Silang, or whether they were back in the bases, tending to every wounded soldier similar to Melchora Aquino. 


This Independence Day, let us remember and pay tribute to the women who fought passionately alongside their male counterparts, reclaiming their rightful place in history. By amplifying their stories and recognizing their agency, we strive to create a more inclusive narrative that embraces the full spectrum of contributions made by all individuals in the pursuit of freedom and social transformation.

Works Cited



Alvarez, Santiago V. Recalling the Revolution: Memoirs of a Filipino General. University of Wisconsin, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, 1992. Accessed 10 June 2023.


Anthias, Floya, et al., editors. Woman-Nation-State. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1989. Accessed 10 June 2023.


Doran, Christine. “Women, Nationalism, and the Philippine Revolution.” Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism, vol. 5, no. 2, 1999, pp. 237-258. Sci0hub, Accessed 9 June 2023.


Enloe, Cynthia. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. 2nd ed., University of California Press, 2014. Accessed 10 June 2023.