“While women in precolonial Philippines were often designated to the venerable position of the babaylan, it was not an uncommon occurrence for them to pick up arms and become warriors.”
– Perry Gil S. Mallari, The Filipina as Ritualistic and Warrior
Filipino women are a tapestry of wonder and have contributed to history with an incalculable amount of control and influence in society and the movement of progress. According to “The Filipino Martial Arts” written by Filipino-American martial arts instructor, Dan Inosanto, many women from pre-colonial to the colonial Philippines have won various swordfights, ruled societies, commandeered armies into battle, held religious positions, and conquered cities. Among these women are Princess Urduja, the multilingual mighty warrior queen of Pangasinan who took part in battles and encouraged commercial trade with countries like Java, China, and India; there was also Princess Pangian Inchi Jamila who was considered the best swordswoman in the pre-colonial Philippines and held a considerable degree of influence in the chiefs and councils of the state; and Sulu Princess Lela Men Chanel who invaded and conquered 15th century Manila. You see, the Filipinas of pre-colonial Philippines were not our machining Maria Claras. They were accorded decision-making powers, political positions, economic independence, and freedom to pursue decisions they believe were right for them. They were allowed and encouraged to become heads of their families, companions to their husbands, doctors to the wounded, foretellers of agriculture, warriors of safety, champions of their people, and chiefs of their barangays. They held political roles such as the “babaylan” – the rough equivalent of a Datu. It was normal for women to have their voices held with esteem in the political realm, to engage in business and trade, and to hold property.
The pre-colonial Philippines knew the importance of social, political, and economic equality between the sexes. Egalitarianism was embedded so deeply that women were even allowed to divorce their husbands if they deemed them incompetent in any way, even sexually. In fact, men were not even allowed to hoard the pleasure of sex. Sexual intercourse was not considered finished if the woman could not achieve orgasm. The women took charge of sex, sexuality, and sexual gratification. They chose their partners and engaged in casual sex. Drinking and smoking were not even an issue; women were heavier drinkers than men and smoked as well. Women were not treated as objects. They were treated as persons, as people, as humans, as equals. They had the freedom to choose what they wanted in life. They were warriors; dignified and respected. It is fun to note that we call these societies primitive when the women of pre-colonial Philippines had more choices as to what they choose to do with their lives. They were forward in their own right.
However, the flame of the women warriors of the Philippines was put out by the Spaniards during the Spanish acquisition. Women were raped, stained, and stripped off of their respective titles. But the status of a woman in her society is a determinant of societal development and progress. A closer look would tell us that rape is considered a ritual in invasion, colonialism, and genocide because it subdues societies, and therefore, countries. Rape is the symbolic subjugation of a nation; it is a method of perpetually shaming a nation until it comes to unequal terms with its instigator. It mixes the blood of its invaders to confuse and forget the culture and create double standards. In this case, the Philippines had been ripped of its original culture and its egalitarian practices.
After the invasion, women were now considered secondary. Their roles were now child-bearers and house helpers instead of companions. Women were now the larks of men. They were no longer fierce warriors and wise leaders. Matters of the family and the house weren’t even under their jurisdiction despite the continual assertion that a woman’s realm was within the household. Double standards now ensued. It was “unholy” for a woman to engage in casual sex. It was “unladylike” for a woman to smoke or drink. Men now made decisions for women – from their education to their actions, to their choices, to their bodies, to almost all aspects of their life. She was to be “soft spoken,” “demure,” “modest,” “religious,” and “submissive”; a twisted image that robs a woman of her capacity for more.
Of course, the era has ended but it has not erased this mentality. 300 years of indoctrination changes a nation. Today, women make up half the population in the Philippines but their needs are just as unattended to as they were in the colonial Philippines. Though women have been given back some of their rights, these rights have now been mixed with a conservative ideal.
Now, the Filipina has to deal with conflicting feelings: the freedom to pursue a life she wants to live or a lifetime of gossip and slut-shaming from the people who could never approve. She lives with the fear of being judged for pursuing activities that the conservative Maria Clara would have never done. The Filipina of the present cannot drink, cannot smoke, cannot have sex, cannot lead, cannot respond, and cannot take pride in what she does without being labelled derogatorily by one person or another, especially in this sexist reality.
“You are a woman! Know your place!”
“Babayeng dako, di kahibaw mo –“
“Babaye man unta ka! Nganong wa ka nagtarong!”
“Look at what she’s wearing. I bet she’s asking for it.”
“Sala niya kay nganong galakaw-lakaw nga gabiing dako. Gaba!”
“Why is she the leader? She’s too bossy.”
“Tan-awa lang gud na ang yahang gisul-ob. Bigaon kaayo sa tanan.”
“Women should keep themselves in check.”
Why do women have to be taught to embrace coyness? Why does she have to be taught to learn how to be understanding and accommodating to the men around her? Why does she have to place herself second? Why can’t a woman embrace her sexuality and be a sexual being? Can’t a woman embrace her body? Can’t a woman wear clothes she feels good in without being slut-shamed? Can’t a woman walk at night without being harassed? Can’t a woman be ambitious and lead a career? Why does she have to subject herself to shame, guilt, and trial by publicity?
When a woman is harassed, people point out that she is to blame for wearing a body-hugging outfit; that she is insensitive to the men who “cannot” control themselves. The patriarchy haplessly dictates how a woman should keep her emotions in check during her period despite legitimate changes in a hormonal level. Yet the same men cannot “keep themselves in check” when their hormonal levels change. Uncontrollable sexual urges are no excuse for harassment or rape. Harassment is harassment. Rape is rape. What a woman is wearing does not matter. What time she was walking, where she is going, where she is, what she’s drinking, how drunk she is does not matter. If she does not consent to his touch then he shall not touch her. Respect shall be acquired with the accompaniment of consent.
Even in the final analysis, we find that men make a woman’s life revolve around them: standards of beauty, safety, respect, the places to go, her success and many more. A woman’s body is not even subject to her own judgment anymore. When she is impregnated, men have the choice of backing out from responsibility leaving her with the burden much heavier on her part. If a man can back out of pregnancy then women should be able to as well.
In this day and age, it’s about social, economic, and political equality between the sexes. Let a woman decide for her life and her body. Let us teach our women to be leaders and embrace success. Let us teach our men to control their urges and to vouch for a woman’s safety. Let us teach our men to not be threatened by the woman taking lead. Let our women be the warriors they were born to be. Let them both share shaping our culture. Change is a process that takes more than a few hundred years but the effort that we put in to change will leave our patrimony better off.