“You’ve come a long way, baby.” Do you remember this memorable line from the Virginia Slims ad back in the day? This 1968 Virginia Slims campaign somehow empowered women and encouraged them to smoke. It was a cigarette commercial, after all. The slogan is apt, and what came to mind when thinking of how far the Filipino woman is and how far she’s gone. Indeed, Filipinas have come a long way.
Let’s begin with Maria Clara, her full name being Maria Clara de los Santos, a fictional character in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere in 1887. She embodied the ideal woman at that time, virtuous, feminine, graceful and charming. In A Study of Psychopathology by Lourdes V Lapus, the late esteemed psychiatrist wrote that “the Filipino culture, for all the increasing signs and protests to the contrary, still has a large hangover from its ego-idea for women of many bygone years. This is the so-called Maria Clara image of a shy, demure, modest, self-effacing woman and loyal to the end”.
Her influence in our culture is so profound that “Maria Clara” has become a part of our vocabulary centuries later. When it is said that you are a “Maria Clara”, it means you are of pure virtue or conservative. On the other hand, it can also mean “old fashioned” or “prissy”. So, when one is called a “Maria Clara”, can it be regarded as a compliment, or not? It all depends on context.
Did we veer away from the archetypal Maria Clara to the modern Filipina today? No person is one dimensional; there is more to complex human beings than labels. But in the interest of simplification, here are the different
The Filipina housewife and mother is the primary nurturer of the family. In the local setting, the wife has a dominant role in budgeting, raising the children, managing the home and pretty much covers the whole gamut of responsibilities and activities required. Traditionally, the man provides financial support; the wife takes charge of the house. I know of some very powerful and successful men who are subservient to their wives and acknowledge that the real boss is their homemaker wives. Nowadays, there are different circumstances for each family. Sometimes, the housewife contributes to money matters; or even provides financial support. Whatever dynamics are in place, the Filipina homemaker is the CEO of the family.