Friday, March 04, 2005

Aissa Rivera's "Filipina in Perspective"

I will start to post here or on my websites the best research papers written by my students in English 10 last semester. This first one is among the best of the best.

Now and Then —The Filipina in Perspective

by Ma. Aissa Francesca Rivera

“I’m just your wife.” This was Sharon Cuneta’s bitter retort to her domineering and demanding husband in the 1997 Filipino blockbuster hit “Madrasta”. Is the Filipina just a wife? How different is the contemporary woman nowadays? Although the sands of time have trickled down to centuries, some things have not changed. Women constitute a large portion of a country’s human resource, and yet our society remains a patriarchal one (Ibe, 133). There are more women than men in our society. Statistics have shown that fifty-two percent of the Philippine population is composed of women. Yet with these astounding numbers, misconceptions about the Filipina are indelibly printed in our minds and hearts, all because of the Spanish Colonization. The infamous Maria Clara image exemplified the romantic and ideal Filipina who loved purely, and only once (Alzona, 15). According to Cynthia Nolasco, “The law considered the Filipino wife as occupying a position of inferiority, of minority and incurable debility of absolute incapacity.”

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the contemporary woman—a woman who supposedly knows what she wants in love and in life. The contemporary woman has somehow transcended the stereotype, but retains remnants of the past. It is clearly shown in the way Philippine society treats women. The Filipina during the Spanish colonial period and the contemporary Filipina greatly differ in several aspects; they differ in beliefs and practices. Likewise, there are also multifarious differences in their characteristics, mannerisms and activities.

The Filipina during the Spanish colonial period had many facets and characteristics. Accumulated beliefs, practices, traditions and customs in the Iberian Peninsula during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries determined the Filipino woman’s position and role (Mananzan, 49). Spanish customs, religion and laws constrained and debilitated a woman’s freedom (Feliciano, 10). Likewise, colonial rule changed a woman’s status. Rules were passed that constrained a woman during the Spanish colonial period (Feliciano, 11). It designated her to an inferior position. The Filipina was regarded as her husband’s servant because of these laws (Borden, 1-3). Filipina wives were dependent on and were subordinate to their husbands. The Filipina was fashioned in the image and likeness of the perfect woman in Iberian Society (Mananzan, 50).

The Filipina during the Spanish colonial period had a different way of dressing compared to her Western sisters. A half-chemise, bodice or a light jacket camisa and an ankle length skirt called a saya were what she usually wore. No footwear was worn inside the home. Outdoors, she needed to wear a tapis and wooden clogs without heels called bakya. For her accessories, on the other hand, she tied her hair in a bun with a small comb adorned with flowers. Long hair was considered to be a woman’s pride and joy. Ornaments like earrings were worn as well. As the Filipina was very meticulous and finicky, nails were likewise given special attention.

The Filipina during the Spanish colonial period was generally described as sweet, demure, honorable, coy, kind, affable, pure in heart, obedient, respectful to their parents and elders, sympathetic, mild mannered, humble and unaffected. Meanwhile, religion was the focus in a young girl’s education, since they were thought to “have a natural inclination to piety” (Mananzan, 50). The Filipina was trained to submit to religious authority (Molina, 21-22). She was taught by the local friar to be self-conscious, to keep in mind the values of fidelity and not to be friendly with men. Independence of mind, courage and education were frowned upon by the religious authorities; that is why women were only educated to regard strict obedience as an essential feminine virtue (Alzona, 2). In that sense, the Spanish friars and encomenderos were triumphant in producing a shy and puritanical woman (Molina, 21-22).

Girls were educated in colegios and beaterios (Feliciano, 12). Those who were sent to colegios and beaterios had to undergo the education which promoted the values of docility and obedience. The courses offered to girls were different from those for boys (Feliciano, 12). General subjects were reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead of Spanish, geography, history and practical agriculture, which were taken up by the boys, girls were required to take up deportment and needlecraft (Feliciano, 12).

The Filipina was not only considered to be biologically inferior, she was also supposedly racially inferior (Molina, 21-22). Although any form of sexual activity was considered taboo during the Spanish colonial period, she was regarded as a sex object who was confined to the domestic chores of the household (Molina, 21-22). In addition, men during the Spanish colonial period valued the chastity of young women. The Filipina woman during the Spanish colonial period believed that losing her virtue meant losing her value of being a woman. If she lost her value, she became an outcast who was condemned to live a life of obscurity by society (Alzona, 11-12).

The Filipina was portrayed in novels as more exotic, submissive and feminine than her Western counterparts (Borden, 1-3). She had a disposition that could be described as being exaggeratedly humble, innately good and ignorant (Alzona, 3-4). She was shy, reticent, passive, yet surprisingly business minded (Borden, 1-3). However, the Filipina seemed to lack the freedom to think for herself (Alzona, 3-4). Unquestioned obedience was required of her. She had no voice in family affairs and no social life outside the home. Along with that, she is excluded from political activities. Her activities and aspirations never left the domicile.

Women during the Spanish colonial period had different roles, and these roles differed for each tier of society. Some women during the Spanish colonial period were laborers. Although other women were mistresses, most Filipinas were legal wives. Prostitutes also roamed the cobbled streets during the Spanish colonial period.

Roles and responsibilities of the Filipina during the Spanish colonial period varied. A peasant woman during the Spanish colonial period worked. She did the weaving, fishing and gold panning. She also raised farm animals. Her life revolved at home. She cooked meals, and she washed the clothes. She took care of children. In addition, she kept the house and the yard clean. She prepared buyo for visitors. It was considered to be polite if the woman smoked and chewed buyo while entertaining her visitors.

The Slete Partidas was a rule passed during the Spanish colonial period that excused the ignorance of the law for peasants, soldiers and women. It also stated that puberty was legal marrying age and now share of the patria potastas was given to the mother.

Meanwhile, daughters were kept in seclusion. They were not to play with boys nor accept presents from them. Although most of the time was devoted to prayer, time too was spent in handiwork, cooking and managing the household. The only instance when they left the house was to attend the Holy Mass. This served the purpose of seeing other people, being seen, socializing and looking for a suitable mate. (Mananzan, 50).

At the same time, a law called the Leyes de Toro stated that the Filipina woman was congenitally dependent on her parents until she got married (Feliciano, 11). Once married, the authority over the woman transferred to her husband (Mananzan, 50). She should dress in accordance with her husband’s whims. She should not be aroused to jealousy, and she endured them in silence and in prayer (Mananzan, 50). In addition, during the Spanish colonial period, Filipina mothers were devoted to their children, sensitive to their needs, giving their all for the good of these children.

Moreover, the Spanish Marriage Law of 1870 and the Spanish Civil Code of 1885 confined and defined the role of the Filipina wife. It stated that the wife must obey the husband and follow him when he moved residence to another country (Feliciano, 14-15). She was unable to make contracts or acquire property without permission and consent of the husband. The wife was unable to publish anything scientific or literary without her husband’s consent. Similarly, if a woman engaged in trade, it is presumed that she had been authorized by her husband to engage in such activities (Feliciano, 11-12). Widows during the Spanish colonial period were treated differently and many complex rules applied to their state (Feliciano, 16). Encarnacion Alzona clearly states a woman’s roles by saying that

As a wife, her duty should be to help her husband, inspire him to be courageous, share his troubles, comfort him in his affliction, and avoid giving him worries…As a mother, she should teach her children to price their honor above all else and guard it zealously; to love their fellowmen and their native land; and to do their duty, emphasizing to them that to die with honor is more to be desired than to live in dishonor (Alzona, 5).

The Contemporary Filipina

On the other end of the spectrum, the contemporary Filipina is a woman of the times. She has many characteristics and facets about her. Although she has different values from the Filipina during the Spanish colonial period, she finds some values significant. The contemporary Filipina values a happy and united home. She values employment as well.

Since the contemporary Filipina thrives in the twentieth century, gone are the days of arranged marriages. She chooses whom she wants to marry. The contemporary woman does not wait to be chosen by the man of her dreams. She selects the crowd she wants to be associated with. In addition, she joins religious, civic and political organizations to widen her social circle in hopes of finding her a suitable partner in life (Molina, 34). She has the final say on her future mate.

The Philippine Constitution of 1973 practically removed the discriminatory treatment of women through its different provisions. The 1973 Philippine constitution superseded the 1935 constitution. Article III Sec 2 of the Philippine constitution states that unlike the Filipina during the Spanish colonial period, she can now choose her citizenship, regardless of her husband’s citizenship.

The contemporary Filipina’s presence can be felt in the political arena, the business world, in social work, multifarious professions and trade. She is free from the four walls of the home. Gone are the routine and rote of household chores.

In addition, the contemporary woman dresses in any manner that she wishes. She decides to wear whatever she thinks is fashionable. She can wear pants, skirts of any length, shorts or any style she desires. Tops are chosen in accordance with a contemporary woman’s tastes, whether it be conservative or daring. Footwear ranges from boots, sandals, stilettos and sneakers. Accessories would include jewelry; some contemporary women have body art and piercings which can also be found in the navel, the tongue and other places. Since hair could be kept long or short, it can be styled in any way (Ibe, 35-45).

The modern Filipina who [sic] does not typify anymore the shy, demure, deeply religious Maria Clara who had no mind of her own; nor the reserved feminine, queenly Dona Aurora Quezon, wife of the late President Manuel L. Quezon, but a new creature, independent-minded and development oriented, intensely committed to public welfare and a product of a highly democratic and scientific climate of the times. (Ramos according to Albarracin)

The different roles and responsibilities of the contemporary Filipina varies. The contemporary woman has a choice on whether to have a career or to stay at home. In decreasing rank, multifarious professions are preferred and entered by the contemporary Filipina. She chooses to be a nurse, midwife , laboratory technician, educator, doctor, cashier or accounting clerk, nutritionist or dietician, accountant or auditor, medical technologist or therapist, pharmacist, engineer, clerk or office operator, social worker, diplomat, business proprietors, business executive, saleswoman or buyer, service worker, dentist, scientist, writer or journalist (Montiel and Hollnsteiner, 20). Aside from having a career or a job, the woman budgets family income as well (Montiel and Hollnsteiner, 14).

Women leaders are proving the heightening competence of women in the Philippines (Montiel and Hollnsteiner, 1). Cory Aquino’s presidency is often cited as corroboration on how women have risen in Philippine society (David, 88). Nowadays, more and more women are found in appointive positions. Women can be found in the Cabinet. They are also found in the Career Executive Service and Community Service. Women likewise serve in the diplomatic service, and are also found in the judiciary. Women are also into community service.

Unlike the Filipina during the Spanish colonial period, the contemporary Filipina can act without her husband’s consent to be able to do certain things. According to the Civil Code, she can now choose what name to use, whether it be her husband’s or her own. Moreover, Article 114, Muslim Code, Section 36 states that the wife can enter any profession she would like, provided that her husband agrees and supports her. She can ask for annulment or separation. Articles 165 and 112 now permits the contemporary Filipina to make a will and inherit possessions without her husband’s consent (Women’s Decade in the Philippines).

The contemporary Filipina joins organizations. One organization is comprised composed of high society women who have husbands in the male counterpart organization. They delve into civic oriented activities such as donating to the less fortunate, visiting hospitals, establishing schools, etc. Another type of organization is church groups. All women of social classes are encouraged to join this organization where they perform corporal works of mercy. Another kind of organization that women join is one that expresses their voice in society. These are the nationwide civic groups and labor unions (Montiel and Hollnsteiner, 18).

The Spanish Filipina and the Contemporary Filipina in Perspective

Surprisingly, the Filipina during the Spanish colonial period and the contemporary Filipina have similarities. They both have a strong attachment to their family as the foundation and fundamental unit of society (Borden, 5). Similarly, women belong to the category of things to be owned. Fathers and husbands treat their daughters and wives as possessions, not as persons (David, 87-88). Like the traditional Filipina, some contemporary women are content by in handling behind-the-scenes management tasks. They help and support their husbands unconditionally in the positions of authority assumed by the latter (Montiel and Hollnsteiner, 28-29).

But the Filipina of the Spanish colonial period and the contemporary Filipina also have multifarious differences. Among these are conflicting values and morals. The values of the young contemporary Filipina are damaged by the media as reported by both local and foreign news reports (The Women’s Decade in the Philippines). In effect, the contemporary Filipina is more sexually liberated (Molina, 44). A 1978 study determined that twenty two percent of Filipinas lose their virginity at seventeen. Moreover, approximately seventy percent of men under thirty years old in Metro Manila no longer desire to marry virgins (Molina, 50). In addition, some contemporary Filipinas now believe in the concept of trial marriages or “live – in”. In this scenario, there is no guarantee or permanence of love and affection. It completely ignores the Church dictum that the sole purpose of marriage is parenthood (Molina, 45).

Meanwhile, the 1936 constitution granted the contemporary Filipina the right to vote. A plebiscite held on April 30, 1937 granted them women’s right to suffrage (Tancangco, 60). Women nowadays can freely choose political representation and affiliation and become representatives themselves. This was unheard of during the Spanish colonial period. Since the contemporary Filipina now assumes greater responsibilities in nation building, she has stepped out of the confines of the home (Enrile, 180).

The Filipina now is an eclectic mix of the Filipina during the Spanish colonial period and the contemporary woman. She can take care of her children, raise them to become responsible and respectable citizens, and at the same time, have a flourishing and successful career. They might have similarities and differences, yet the same blood courses through their veins. What the Filipina during the Spanish colonial period went through is and always will be an indelible part of the contemporary Filipina.

The Filipina now is a woman of the times, equipped with the amazing intellect, love and strength that she possesses that made her survive the past three centuries. All throughout the hardships and the rocky roads, she traversed them with grace, strength and beauty. Lately, there have been gains for the Filipina; the government has helped her through her plight over the last few centuries through multifarious laws (Feliciano, 33). Now she holds her head up high. Blossoming in equality in the workplace and more importantly, stature with men, the Filipina now can conquer and face anything.

She is not just a wife after all.



Alzona, Encarnacion. Rizal’s Legacy to the Filipino Woman. Pasay City: 1938 Taft Avenue, 1954.

Borden, Karen Wells. The Filipina: Some Observations about the Communication Roles of the Philippine Women in the Traditional Society and in the Liberation Movement. The Philippine- American Communication Conference, San Jose State University, 1976.

David, Randolf S. Nation, Self and Citizenship: An Invitation to Philippine Sociology. Quezon City: College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, 2002.

Feliciano, Myrna S. “The Filipina: A Historical Legal Perspective.” Women’s Role in Philippine History: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on Women’s Role in Philippine History. Quezon City: University of Women’s Studies, 1989.

Ibe, Milagros D. “Values of Filipino Women.” Women’s Role in Philippine History: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on Women’s Role in Philippine History. Quezon City: University of Women’s Studies, 1989.

Mananzan, Sr. Mary John. “The Filipino Woman Before and After the Spanish Conquest of the Philippines.” Women’s Role in Philippine History: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on Women’s Role in Philippine History. Quezon City: University of Women’s Studies, 1989.

Molina, Mariano J. The Modern Filipina: Her Name is Woman. Quezon City: Buencamino Press, 1983.

Montiel, Cristina and Mary Racelis Hollensteiner. The Filipino Woman: Her Role and Status in Philippine Society. Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University, 1976.

Tancgangco, Luzviminda G. “Women and Politics in Contemporary Philippines.” Women’s Role in Philippine History: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on Women’s Role in Philippine History. Quezon City: University of Women’s Studies, 1989.

The Woman’s Decade in the Philippines: Analysis of Significant Changes in Women’s Role and Status. Manila: National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women,1985.

No comments: