Any Filipino or person living in the Philippines is witness to the patriarchal nature of the country. This is espoused by our leaders, our advertisements, our teleseryes, and our real-life treatment of women as minorities. Women are expected to be unassuming; they are silenced and shooed away to the margins. We even have an archetype by whom Filipina women were encouraged – or are encouraged as older generations may still believe – to ascribe to. This is Jose Rizal’s Maria Clara, a character in his magnum opus Noli Me Tangere. She was a product of colonial influence, yet her qualities of demureness and purity have carried over time, making her the paradigm of the ‘ideal’ Filipina woman.
Subtle acts of protest
Feminists in this country have been attempting to dismantle this dated assumption, on a political, social, economic, cultural, and personal level for years. An article by Angela Grace Baltan on the merits of the #FreeTheNipple movement could already be interpreted as an act of subtle protest, letting women literally be free to embrace comfort over imposed expectations. Women’s wellness in the country is taken to be interpreted as other people knowing what is best for them, without taking input from the women themselves. This, again, reinforces the pernicious divide that already exists between men and women.
Wonder explain how this is transmuting the Maria Clara model to the 21st century, where it has no place. The Filipino concept of hiya or shame is entrenched in our culture, but is often misplaced. Often times, this leads to certain discussions being swept under the rug or simply avoided altogether to avoid embarrassment. Instead, numerous issues continue to exist and are drawn out – at worst.
Embracing women’s pleasure
In relation to this, stigmas associated with pleasure also run deep in Philippine society especially when it comes to women on the receiving end. Overcoming the shame that comes with discussing matters such as sex and pleasure are understandably difficult in a culture that promotes modesty and conservativeness. However, in contemporary settings, this is now more frequently discussed.
Women’s pleasure is connected to their wellness, and PrettyMe’s review of the best bullet vibrators underlines how health experts actually recommend female masturbation for its numerous health benefits. These include boosted endorphins, stress relief, and stimulated blood flow – not to mention an improved sex life – but it is perfectly normal to take matters into your own hands and to make yourself feel good on your own. Consequently, this subverts what has been expected of women for far too long and instead ushers in a new culture where openness is encouraged.
Challenging the status quo
It is harmful to assume that just anyone can dictate what women need, want, and deserve. While wellness is a universal concept, particularities exist depending on a group’s needs. Women must be listened to, whether they are challenging the status quo, retrieving their agency and autonomy, or redefining what wellness means to them – even bringing sex and pleasure into the discourse as much as other people want to look away.
There are so many other barriers to overcome in the topic of women’s parity, including but not limited to, equal pay, rape culture, and gender discrimination in the workplace. Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of the Philippines Nathalie Africa Verseles says that although feminists may operate on different ideologies, they are all contributing to social transformation – and this includes women’s wellness as well.
Denying women of these simple liberties is already a red flag for more serious issues. Arousing discomfort by bringing up these discussions will pave the way for us to tackle the systemic sexism and misogyny embedded in our culture. The shame associated with women’s wellness is but a construct. It’s about time we start reclaiming what is rightfully ours.