Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Filipina: Virgin, Mother, Whore?


The "virgin-mother-whore" triangle is traditionally seen as representing the impossible demands men place on women as objects of sexual desire. I'll angle away from this more clinical take on the matter to present my cross-cultural perspective on how women present themselves in the Philippines. If you'd like to read a thoughtful article about the confusion into which modern women wade, I'd recommend the following article:  Virgin, Mother, Whore: The Impossible Triangle of Modern Femininity

My perspectives originate from having lived in outlying areas of Mindanao, Zambales and Biliran. If Manila or its middle class subdivisions differ, I confess that my rampant generalities don't know about them.

In the main, it is my observation that Filipinas represent themselves as virgins and mothers. A few are seen as whores, by other Filipinas.

The Philippines is complicated to those of us from different traditions due to certain contradictions here. On one hand, social values are conservative. But sexual activity, and the surrounding entertainment lasciviousness, is ummmm . . . robust.

If you go to the mall, people dress well. Conservatively. Among women, you don't see too many short skirts or low necklines. The sloppiest dressers are the old white guys with Bermuda shorts, knobby knees, hairy legs, and shoes with brown socks. Filipino guys generally wear pants to the mall, not shorts. And you don't see many lovers in public. Not a lot of hand holding or walking arm in arm, and never sharing a kiss.

It is my guess that women in the Philippines are conservative to avoid being considered sexually active.  If a man and a woman are seen being sweet to each other, there is a quick leap in other people's imaginations from purity to sex. The way for a woman to avoid that characterization is to project "virgin".

This virgin representation has little to do with actual sexual activity. I don't know the statistics, but it seems that high school is a place of some considerable sexual experimentation, and the trial and error method produces a lot of young errors, kids who were not expected nor necessarily wanted.

In public, virgin. In private, not.

Why? The malls and public places may be conservative, but there is also a rude and flamboyant aspect to Philippine culture. You'll hear swear words in songs on daytime radio, see sex in nightly TV tele-dramas and laugh at, or with, flaming gays showing off on entertainment shows. You'll witness relentless teasing among friends, treading between virgin and whore, I suppose. Relationship jokes and sex jokes are popular as text fodder.

Local editions of Cosmopolitan and other magazines aimed at Filipinas are very graphic in describing sexual encounters, offering up advice on"10 ways to make your man horny" and over-the-top tales like grandma walking in on her granddaughter's blow job  (storytelling which I find highly offensive but repeat here so that you understand the depths of depravity into which certain entertainment venues have stunk; see May 2012, page 78), and other ways of promoting the stereotype of a sexually liberated woman.

In the outlying villages, sex outside of marriage is  common. The cover for this: a man/woman relationship often is described as "a marriage" even if it is not legitimized by a judge, mayor or church. Many poor people don't get officially married because they have neither proper documentation nor the required fees. So they just move in and declare the partner to be husband or wife. Nicely simple.

And if it doesn't work out, they move on to another partner. No one sues for divorce because no one has anything to sue FOR. No land, no house, no money. Only kids. And they are often viewed in a utilitarian light. As instruments to earn money. They get shipped every which way, whatever is convenient. No big deal.

"Illegitimate" is a box many check on government forms because they can't produce a parental marriage certificate. Illegitimate. As if they were people who somehow don't count. Never mind that they were kids and had no input into the decision.

Anyway, in outlying villages, women go from virgin to mother easily. There is no whore phase, because they end up pregnant at 15 and move in with their guy. Or, if not 15, they at least project virginity until they do marry or move in.

And boy do Filipinas do "mother" with a passion. Baby-making is done as if it came with the seasons of the year. Rainy season. Dry season. Next baby.

Or annual holidays. Easter, Christmas, and Next Baby.

So without question, Filipinas do "mother" well.

Now about those whores!

Most women behave conservatively in public. No whores there. Village women simply go from school virgin to mama.

Philippine men seem generally protective of their women. They adhere to conservative public values, and don't allow their wives to have guys as friends. Jealousy is a fundamental mood in the Philippines.  Girl children usually consider their fathers "strict". They had better not date without his approval, or act badly.

It is a mystery how so many teen-age girls have strict fathers but end up pregnant. I wonder if there is any connection to the fact that men in the Philippines seem frequently to have a woman on the side. Interestingly, the sidelines woman is a respected mistress and is not considered a whore. So it may be that the popular image is conservative and strict, but there is considerable looseness behind the scenes.

And don't ask me where the Catholic Church is in all this looseness. It is bizarre to me that in such a religious country, the scene borders on being sexually wild. I guess as long as we let the babies be born, we are not supposed to care what kind of social chaos they are born into, or how unhealthy and miserable the kids' lives might be.

The whores, Joe Am. Get to that part, would'ya?

Any Filipina with a white guy can figure that others are starting with the assumption she is a whore and, if it matters, it is up to her to prove that there is substance in her relationship other than buy and sell.

But, interestingly, the whore title  does not seem to attach easily to poor Filipinas who have babies with guys other than the one declared husband. My former housekeeper had seven kids by three or four different guys; only she knows. She was popular in the community. Respected. The village my wife comes from is a confusing association of fathers and mothers that would make the San Francisco hippie free love communes look staid. I suppose money must be in the picture, that old "buy/sell" arrangement, and perhaps a bit of envy, for one Filipina to declare another a "whore".

There is no "buy/sell" in poor communities.  Just flare-ups of affection - natural emotions - and the outcomes. More babies.

So the "whore" or softer "prostitute" or softest "bar girl" tag is hung on women married to foreigners or working in bars that cater to foreigners. Women who, in the eyes of others, sell their bodies for security. I'm not aware of the term "whore" ever being used to describe a Filipina who has only Filipino boyfriends. I don't know if there is a term for "promiscuous" in tagalog or visayan.

So those are my observations on the traditional three labels assigned to women in the Philippines. Lots of virgins and mothers and an occasional whore, in reputation. And lots of sex going on behind a public facade that is concurrently conservative and lascivious.

Are Filipinas liberated? I think not in the sense that many American women are, standing independent and challenging men for prominence in businesses and government. The Cosmopolitan idea of liberated seems to be sexually unrestrained like so many lemmings in heat running off the cliff together in resplendent hair and sexy clothes, throwing rubbers in the air instead of flowers. Perhaps in the big city, there are more opportunities for Filipinas to rise independently.

Catholic values for sure suppress careers and independence. If you are a mother, you are a mother, over and over again.

It is hard to plan a career if you can't plan a family.

As for the conflict in presentation - Biblical values or Cosmopolitan values - that seems to me to be a tad schizoid. But you'd have to ask a Filipina about that.

9 comments:

  1. From: island jim-e (aka: the cricket)

    Wondful essay!
    Question: Why limit it to just the female PH? The "trinity"--virgins.... (have given me more grief than I care to recall), the mother.... (mine dropped me on my head several times when I was just a baby-or had someone else drop me!) and the so-called whores... (I am thankful that a few paid me...!).

    From my "rocking chair", with all due respect, I believe that Darwin was right, hu-mans are just one step ahead (beside or behind..depends!)
    the great apes! I should be of some note that the apes have not over-populated, polluted, over-fished, etc, our world...! Often I think that we would be better off reverting to the trees when I see the mess our species has made of our environemnt!

    Note: I nick-named my wife "five horses" two weeks after we were "hitched"! She not only has spent most of our time together shopping, watching soap operas, reading tabloids,
    but providing me with MORE GRIPES, COMPLAINTS, NIGHT-MARES--AND NAG-NAG-NAG-NAG (SO THE
    REASON FOR THE NICK-NAME)!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha, and a wonderful comment to the essay.

      Keep rockin'!

      Delete
  2. You are a brave man Joe!
    Let me add my 2 cents worth.
    I get all my inputs from my fiance so I just repeat what she tells me. A Filipina will be a whore as long as she just dates a Kano. However as soon she gets married she will be "respected". We are considered too big for a Filipina so she always has sexual discomfort and we are considered not a good match and just tolerated for supporting the family. A Filipno man in general will never accept that a Filipina can have true love for a Kano and believes in negative stereotypes about us as having large private parts that causes major discomfort for Filipinas or that we can't satisfy her for being fat ans old. They have other stereotypes about us but for now I will not go in to that. All this makes perfect sense when I think about all the comments that I hear from Filipino man openly saying on the street targeting my fiance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, after all, how many articles about CJ Corona can a guy write?

      Yes, but even if married, the neighbors easily go to assumptions, unkind. It has taken us over a year to tame the beast, and for neighbors to see us as regular people with a reasonably normal relationship.

      Delete
  3. Hey Joe, Attila presented an interesting comment where it requires a filipino point of view. I like to slice and dice it.

    Why Filipinos would think that a Filipina is a whore when she dates a Kano, but changed that presumption when they get married? Absurd as it might be, I think this is the old presumption.

    Things had changed. Yes, I use to think that way in concurrence with Attila. Presently, Filipinos doesnt think that way anymore.

    Joe, I am trying to figure out what is your conclusion. Help me please.

    Got to hit the beach with the family and will get back with you guys later.

    Its Jack.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jack, I didn't have a conclusion. I let the article drop in hopes of getting comments like yours, that suggest a change is on the way. If it rolls out from Manila to my neck of the coconut forest, that would be good.

      I think, in our small world, globalization is a fact of life and one can embrace it (like Myanmar) or reject it (like North Korea). You are suggesting the Philippines is embracing it by broadening attitudes about "foreigners", and that is good. And Filipino OFW's are ambassadors to the world, and help, too, by being constructive, law abiding residents of their temporary home.

      Delete
    2. Hey Joe, glad I dropped a few lines.

      Haha, coconuts are good for you and when you figure out how to make a coconut virgin oil send me a bottle via Magellan Strait. Will wait for it at Baja De Legazpi.

      I think the Philippines had already embraced what I had suggested and I could support that.

      Are you interested to know?

      Its Jack

      Delete
  4. From: island jim-e (aka: the cricket)

    1. I love "youze" all...! Thanks for the observations!

    2. Please give me a educated, informed, experienced
    pragmatic male/female anytime over the "rest" of the
    pack! Combined with a healthy dose of love and right
    action I still have some hope for the hu-man beings!

    3. I believe in the "life-boat" model (aka-love-boat!)
    to relate my basic belief that we have to be respon-
    sible to one another....! So I might leave you with
    some wonderful "show-it-to-me-tunes":
    a. Fiddle-her-on-the roof...! (sunrise/sunset)
    b. To all the girls I have loved before...(Ho-me-
    in-grace-he-atta)!
    c. It was a mighty good year (Sin-otta!)
    d. Mary-ann (down by the sea-side sifting men)!
    e. Lips-sweeter than wine! (by the gallows bro)!

    Memories--sooo pressing...often delightful...and best left
    with "no traces", no evidence to have to support and send to
    the military!

    For better daze for all of us! Happy trails! From my
    rocking chair!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Love the tunes . . . especially Mary-ann . . .

      Delete

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