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The Dilemma Of The Filipino Woman

Of all the segments in the population, the women seem to be the most changed by the forces of modernity and industrialization. Some of this change is more apparent than genuine; it is not that they have changed but that their behavior has become more visible. Some of it, however, undeniably represent a recent acquisition of new patterns. Modes of appearance and behavior are so uneven among women, not only s compared with one another but also in the same woman, that generalizations are difficult to make. Thus, a young Filipina girl may wear the latest styles and use florid make-up yet panic at the thought of being alone with a man; a young mother, filial to parents and devoted to her young children, may go off by herself to the United States for a year or more of post-graduate training.

Likewise, their psychological strengths and weaknesses do not always present well-defined forms. Naive yet wise, dependent yet motherly, the Filipino woman appears to derive her strength from her weakness and conversely, to be vulnerable where she is strong. She is least secure when confronted with a mature, sexual role and when appraising herself as a woman; she is most confident when she fills a nurturing role and when she strives to increase self-esteem through achievement. These impressions, however, do not give cognizance to the endless number of ways in which these strengths and weaknesses are combined or balanced in order to gain approximation of the psychological-cultural ideal of femininity.

The cultural concept of femininity still emphasizes the traits of being reserved, soft, yielding, enduring, anxious to please. Physical attractiveness, from an aesthetic but not “sexy” (womanly) point of view; is also considered important. The element of womanliness in a woman being considered as a prospective sexual partner has not been clearly integrated into the image of what is considered feminine. Thus far the Filipino woman has gotten away with conforming to cultural expectations without coming to grips with her own womanliness.

To Filipino men, she still looks “feminine” so long as she retains the external appearance of being non-aggressive, soft, yielding, enduring, and anxious to please. If, in addition to these traits, she is also maternal, then the Filipino male in search of a wife asks for no more. (The wife and mother is also expected to be actively supportive and permissive towards the husband and decisive about the children in addition to the above traits.)

The validity of such assumptions about her femininity is now being challenged by increasingly obvious changes in her Outlook, behavior, and activity. Two sets of reactions play a part in what seems to be an impending change in cultural concepts of femininity. Firstly, from the women themselves have come increasing doubt and discontent about their limited role as a woman and their adequacy in fulfilling that role. This soul-searching on her part has been sparked not only by exposure to more “emancipated” women from other cultures but also by certain experiences on home grounds. In particular, having her man walk into a quefida’s (paramour) arms, presumably for more sexual satisfaction, can be an ego-devastating but sobering experience for any woman, especially so for one innately competitive with other women. Secondly, the Filipino male himself is revising many of his old ideas about her. Previously content to regard her s a second edition of mother, she has made him sit up she take a good second look at her. Although she has always been regarded as the pillar of the family, this has mainly been in an emotional sense, in order to keep the family together and the household well-run. Now, she is making him sharply aware of her other talents. These talents have always been there, but were regarded as occurring only in isolated or exceptional cases. Somehow, her “femininity” successfully concealed those assets which are more usually associated with masculine strivings, e.g., professionalism, business acumen, political skills.

At the present time, these abilities are demonstrated all too frequently to be dismissed as insignificant. The remark heard many decades ago from an American governor-general to the effect that “the best man in the Philippines is the Filipino woman” is now repeated countless times, in varying contexts, all proclaiming her competence and drive for achievement. “The Filipino women are a generation ahead of their men.” “Filipino women look like they have just stepped out of Fifth Avenue; their men are way below in care for appearance.” Every year, there seem to be a greater number of women cum laudes than men, in coeducational schools. High school teachers remark that girls, in general, tend to be more highly motivated than boys.

The time seems to have come indeed when there is reason to wonder if her much admired femininity is more apparent than real. True, she still gives her husband the limelight and the entire credit for success which may have been hers, too. At parties and gatherings, she stays with other women, sorority-like, talking about banal topics, leaving the men to engage in more lusty, earth-shaking discussions. Despite such behavior and despite a hang-over from “Maria Clara” days, the evidence is incontrovertible that she is a force to be reckoned with, by men. Without directly meaning to compete with them and thereby impugning their masculinity, she emerges as a challenge to him and his capabilities.

At the same time, she is also challenging herself as a woman. She has to start relating to men in a different way. Although equal statuses between men and women obtain in economic, legal, and even in some social situations, the psychological (meaning in the private and personal, sexual context) situation has always seen a double standard, with women having much less freedom and privilege than men. As women begin to demand limits to these masculine prerogatives, she must also make herself over into more of a woman and not merely a second edition of mother. She has to replace the cultural aura of a nurturing figure with that of being more of a total woman, particularly with regard to sexual maturity. It will mean seeing herself primarily as a woman in a man-woman relationship. This will involve a shifting of her primary emotional investment from the children to the husband. Beyond the relationship with the husband, she will have to be capable of handling herself in situations with other men. She can no longer seek sanctuary in marriage as protection against other relationships. The problem is whether she will or not be able to face up to these changes.

She may find herself moving in one of two alternative directions. She may become truly feminine, very much aware, confident, and unafraid of her womanliness. She will not have to resort to her children to keep her husband interested in her. She will detach herself from her parents, particularly from mother, and cast her lot completely with the man in her life. There will no longer be any need for pretense at femininity through assumed submissiveness and defenselessness. She will have to give up childlike fantasies of attack by the aggressive male and instead draw the lines herself. What she will do should her husband’s interest stray to another woman will depend on the circumstances, but at least it will not rip her narcissism to shreds or she may take flight from the feminine role and become aggressive as only a strong person can. She is especially equipped for this because of her nurturing skills as well as her capacity for driving herself towards competition and accomplishment. As wife and mother, she may capitalize on her vantage position in the family by wielding power over husband and children.

Her dilemma is the culture’s dilemma, too. The culture seems to grant the Filipino woman much more room to express her aggressive drive than to move towards sexual maturity. Tensions and hostility between the sexes will tend to increase until mutually satisfying relationships are arrived at.

 

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