In the Philippines, Maria Clara is a symbol of woman of natural beauty. She is religious and an epitome of good virtue. Filipina women are expected to show the image of Maria Clara who is shy, demure, modest, self-effacing, and loyal to the end. Cultural norms favor this trait of a woman in personal, social, and business interaction with men. Modern day Filipina women are not exempted. They are still subject to the society’s judgment if they do not conform with the norms. To understand a Filipina, one must look at the different roles she portrays in society. As she goes through life, she may take the role of a daughter, sister, young woman, wife, mother, employee, or professional. The importance of family in Filipino culture is impressed early in life. Obedience to parents and older siblings is taught and enforced until adulthood and that becomes an obligation. Children are expected to serve their old parents until their death.
If parents are brought to nursing homes or home for the aged, it gives so much shame to the children- probably the greatest sin in the eyes of Philippine society. At this juncture, it is always the daughters who assume responsibility to take care of their old or sick parents. Older daughters are called “Ate” by siblings. She is also responsible for younger children by bathing, dressing, and feeding them. Her role as deputy mother commands respect of her younger siblings. In the event of parents’ death, it is her responsibility to keep the family together. Society expects a young woman to conduct herself with decorum and to appear modest and shy, especially among men. Perhaps the most complicated aspect of her role is during courtship where she is supposed to play “hard to get”. Some even pretend total disinterest until they see that the young man is trustworthy enough.
A girl does not say “yes” to the first invitation from a suitor. He may have to ask her several times before she agrees to go out with him, but with the consent of the parents. Despite the Western influence, courtship and dating in the Philippines is considered conservative. The man will have to court the woman and prove his love for her before he can win her heart. Sometimes the courtship period would last for years. Parents prefer their daughter to be courted in their home, so they can have a chance to know the man. It is during the courtship period that the man would put his best foot forward to create a good impression on the woman and her family. Generally, the man is being measured on his being a gentleman, ability to respect the woman’s family, and servitude – the extent of what he was willing to do to prove his love for the woman. In urban areas, single Filipinas have become liberal due to western influences.
Although it is still culturally unacceptable for a single Filipino woman to ask a man on a date or to show interest in a man. Filipinas have learned to use body language to show their interest and openness to a relationship. In rural communities, Filipinas are still not allowed to be liberal. They are required to stifle their personality and sexuality, and should show a total lack of interest in intimacy with men to maintain reputation and self-respect. Sad to say, a wife is a victim of double standard imposed by the society. The responsibility of keeping the marriage together is usually placed on her. She does not get much sympathy if she complains of her husband’s transgressions. She often is subjected to gossips saying “she does not fix herself properly or she does not take care of her husband’s needs that is why her husband fools around”. The best way to win him back is by being attentive and by looking her best for him. Once she does this, the battle is half won. There are no restrictions about wife working as long as she does not neglect her husband and children.
Despite her seemingly second status in marriage, she has more sphere of influence than her husband. She is closer emotionally to the children and she is intimately involved in their growth and development. Modern-day Philippine women play a decisive role in Filipino families. They handle the money and act as religious mentors to her children. Most women are also engaged in different kinds of work to help support the family. Compared to other parts of Southeast Asia, women in Philippine society have always enjoyed a greater share of legal equality. Perhaps the most respected role in Philippine society is that of a Mother. She is the biddable housewife. She is the general of an army of rebelling patriots. She is as courageous as Joan of Arc. Perhaps, the one true common denominator is that Filipino women have an indomitable spirit and she can love so purely and so powerfully. What is the most striking is her source of strength.