Essay: Filipina Feminista

An amazingly dry essay on what is and isn’t for the Filipino feminist. See the end for references and notes.

Filipina Feminista


The 2011 Gender Gap Report by The World Economic Forum presents something to be excited about: out of 135 countries tested, the Philippines ranks with the eighth smallest gender gap, covering education, economic participation and health. A feminist blogger, Maria Marien, similarly states “a feminist direction has crystallized because the Filipino women have finally come into a certain degree of consciousness”. Satisfied? You shouldn’t be. Feminist movements are losing traction and gaining less exposure, and the so-called small gender gap exalted by most conservatives as a defense in stalling feminist movements is notable only on paper. In reality, the same oppressive institutions are still plaguing susceptible women in the country as they did in the 20th century. The third wave or modern feminist, the Feminista, is contending against increased occurrences of rape, joblessness, domestic violence and maltreatment. And while battling those monsters, the whole country remains tuned to the passage of RH bill, which is only one of the many issues feminists and gender equalists have to push for. The neglect of pressing issues and the lack of mainstream movement for the protection of women, after all these years, is mostly ignored or even accepted by society; only select organizations move to protect the women from the insults of sexism. Misconceptions on the state of gender relations and on the role of women in the country continue to drive the widening gender gap and stereotyping in Philippine society.

     The people’s mindset that “everything is alright” or “things are already improving” is further worsened by institutions that say the same. The first culprit is the lack of education and awareness in the country. The education provided by the government is void of sex education and gender sensitive advocacies.  In the foreseeable future, especially with the K-12 program, raising critical issues like gender equality seems to be a prerogative of the rich. That is, only private schools and middle to upper class citizens have the funds to focus on issues that are “not as pragmatic”, whereas people in rural areas have to struggle for basic education. Weinstein’s study in 2010 attributed low quality education to the corruption and mismanagement in the Department of Education; poor and questionable allocation of resources has yielded dangerous locations for schools, no textbooks and untrained teachers. He also presents that two-thirds of poor households are headed by people whose highest educational attainment is grade 6; any gender-oriented education (theoretical as it is) would have been inaccessible to those without the means and money for secondary education –which is the overwhelming majority of the country. Women in agricultural rural areas who earn 10 centavos for every peso a man makes (Danlog, 2005) are left unawares of their own bereavement.

        The exclusive and limited level of awareness in the country is also compounded by the media and congress’s singular focus on the RH bill. Most people, even those who attained higher education, have little to no knowledge of the actual implications of the proposed bill, yet the oversaturation of the drawn-out issue readily overshadows reforms and bills to protect women from rape and workplace abuse. The underplaying of women’s issues has great and worrying implications. Without any knowledge of their rights or without the assurance of movement in the government, women are given very little to defend themselves against exploitation. Children who grow up without gender sensitive education resort to traditional roles, with men dominating and women resolutely submitting. More distressingly, with their inaction and refusal to move such grave issues forward, the Philippine government is acting as a “protector” of the existing gender gap and stereotyping.

        But the lack of formal education for majority of the Filipino people has an even greater implication that reinforces gender stereotyping. Without the correct avenues to learn about their capabilities and rights, the people learn from the next big thing –the media.

        Viewership of serial dramas (or teleseryes), local and foreign films, noontime variety shows and koreanovelas are high across all ages. Even bedraggled tricycle drivers stop their rounds to watch Eat Bulaga! or Walang Hanggan. The danger here lies in the portrayal of women against men in these shows. In foreign films and international shows, which everyone from the lower to upper classes watches, Smith and Granados (2010) found that thrice as many men appear compared to women. The small percent of women who were portrayed in both foreign and local shows were also found to almost always fill out the same roles: a caregiver, a dependent housewife, a seductive villain. There are many effects of such shows to its viewers (low or high self-esteem, a distorted view of relationships and job options etc.), but Elena Beasley puts it perfectly: “What is significant here is the implicit messages this type of portrayal is sending out to young and impressionable viewers – that men are superior and authoritative while women are inferior and submissive.” And these types of messages are always being sent out into the minds of Filipinos and Filipinas. In billboards lining EDSA, alcoholic drinks are served alongside promiscuously posed models and actresses. TV advertisements go out of their way to promote the “domestic, subservient” stereotype of women. A commercial for a cooking supplement shows the female celebrity –someone to be emulated by the masses—laboriously preparing a meal while taking care of the children; the advertisement concludes with the father in a two-piece suit coming home to a well-cooked meal. The advertisement for a “femme visa” reinforces certain stereotypes; the visa card, designed in pink, was pitched as an answer to a woman’s apparently exclusive and all-consuming proclivity for shopping. These types of advertisements impress upon the viewers the very limited interests and capabilities of women: looking good, getting a man and having sex, cooking food and caregiving, and shopping. Teleseryes like ABS-CBN’s Walang Hanggan show the female lead as a submissive wife, who fails to assert and recognize her rights even after repeated physical and verbal abuse. Costumes of female dancers catering to the male hosts of Eat Bulaga and Willing Willie seem to come from a shortage of cloth.

      These images that constantly derail a media-oriented society has deleterious effects to the way of thinking and behaving of the masses. The constant demand and supply for these shows, which depict women solely as weak, glorified helpers, dependent and as secondary providers in contrast to the buff, heroic and successful male leads, feeds the persisting image of women as docile and financially incapable to support themselves. And while some women are happy with being housewives or even financially dependent, the rest of the sex are left limited in options and in respect because of the preconceived notions ingrained in the minds of most of society.

     With the continuing inaction of the government, the lack of awareness in the masses, and the continuing stereotypical representation of women in media, the future of the feministas in the country seems clear. To get to her goal of gender equality, she’ll have to push against and jump over the foreseeable stunt in advancing awareness, the continuing selective liberalism in politics, and the mass of media consumers who demand only for the damsel in distress.

Jari Monteagudo




  • Hausmann, R., Tyson, L. et al. (2011). The Global Gender Gab Report 2011 – The World Economic Forum. Retrieved from
  • Marien, M. (1996). Feminism and the present image of Filipino women. Retrieved from
  • Weinstein, J. (2010). The Problem of Rural Education in the Philippines. Retrieved from
  • Danlog, A. (2005). The Filipino Women’s Century-Old Struggle for Liberation. Retrieved from
  • Dr. Smith, A. & Granados, A. (2010). Gender and the Media. Retrieved from
  • Beasley, E. (1997). Children, Television and Gender Roles. Retrieved from


This was done as a 750-1000 essay assignment for our Comm I class. We were told to write on anything socially relevant within “recent” times. The focus was paraphrasing and precis-writing, which I don’t think I excelled in since 90% of the words were all mine. As shown by the amount of this “creativity” inserted all over the work, I didn’t really spend much time on this one. Time? One hour. Effort? Nil.

Here’s to making a better article on gender and sex in the future! (Toast). And I need to add a picture somewhere. That’s always important.

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