Aug 19
THE MODERN WOMAN IN FILIPINO FILMS by Butch Macaro  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Fri, Aug 19, 2005

Last Saturday (August 13), a seminar on gender equality was conducted by employees of the Quezon City hall. The workshop started at half past 2 o’clock in the afternoon and was opened by a welcome address from Manny Morfe, the president of the Production Designers’ Guild of the Philippines, followed by a short prayer led by Larry Matic, also of the PDGP. About twenty people representing the different guilds of the Film Academy of the Philippines attended the very interesting seminar. This writer was present for the Screenwriters Guild of the Philippines.

The group headed by Ms. Ruby Palma, who delineated the different qualities of men such as a gambler, drunkard, handsome, macho, wifebeater, etc., as well as women as a mother, housewife, cook, housekeepper, nagger and others. We agreed that some of the qualities of a man can also be true to a woman, and vice versa. Except in one aspect and that is that a man cannot bear a child and a woman cannot release cells to impregnate a woman. This was followed by loud laughters among the participants.

It was interesting to discover that a man can also perform the activities women do, such as cooking, taking care of the baby, changing diapers and housekeeping, which to most macho men is taboo because they are scared it will affect their masculinity. Most participants disagreed on this point. The duties of a mother can be interchanged with the duties of a father especially in keeping house depending on the mutual agreement betwneen the couple.

The masculine gender and macho image do not diminish nor affect the masculine status if a man performed some tasks generally identified with the female gender. I think a man who may entertain this doubt and fear is more likely to be insecured of their masculinity. On the other hand it is necessary to keep the family happy, peaceful and intact. After all, both the father and the mother have their own individual functions and obligations to their children and they must work it out carefully with the utmost care and understanding to have a happy family.

Another speaker, Ms. Ana Leah touched briefly on the history of Pilipino culture and belief concerning the relationship between a man and a woman. Years back, it was a dictum that a woman must remain in the shadow of man. Decision making was solely man’s right and prerogative. Whatever Daddy wanted, daddy ought to get. The old tradition did not give equal rights and privileges to a woman. All she had to do was to follow and obey the wishes of the man. This culture up to now, sad to say, is still very much in practice especially among the Muslims.

A question surfaced on why this has to be taken in the seminar/workshop. The speakers explained that films play a very important role in dessiminating information and in educating the people. Since we are all involved in the production of movies which are effective tools to reach more people, we should make it a point to treat the roles of women in equal footing with those of a man. The woman’s role should not serve as decoration. The woman should have a strong character and should be disassociated from her image as the usual victim of injustice and abuses from the male character.

The woman characters in some films serve merely as sex objects, like a flower vase or a wall décor. It seems the woman cannot function by being more than a bedmate, a child-bearing mate or just simply a housewife. Some films in the past years had fortunately shown a different breed of woman characters, a good example being the role of Vilma Santos in Sister Stella L , or that of Sharon Cuneta in Madrasta or the superheroine Darna, showing the woman not just a caricature but a character who will fight for her right and her principles.

In dramatic or melodrama films, the Filipino woman is portrayed as a martyr, an innocent, a virgin and one who is the subject of man’s sexual desire. This type of women had long been created in a society of patriachs and pushed into the mind of female moviegoers that these are the models they should emulate, that they should condition themselves as eternally existing under the shadow of a man and not a partner in running the family affair. A woman must be submissive to the whims and will of a man. They have no right to argue, to insist on their right, much more contradict the wishes of her male partner as the man should always make the decision, never mind if the woman has her own decisions to make.

In the advent of the new information technology, the new concept of a woman is injected. Little by little, the woman is given the chance to be heard and to enjoy the freedom of expressing what they feel. Globalization opened a new and wider era in understanding the nature of a woman, her rights as a woman while emphasizing the equal rights of both man and woman. This new concept of a woman is mirrored in films like Madrasta, Bata, Bata…Paano ka Ginawa, Separada and Anak.

Most Filipino drama films presented the same construction and make-up of a woman as the object of man’s sexual desire to satisfy his carnal needs. It served as a disruption that threatens to destroy the stability of a social order.

But it is ironic that in the Philippine cinema, drama is the film genre overwhelmingly preferred by wome because maybe they can easily identify with the character especially if the leading lady is the submissive kind, the usual martyr. They can easily associate themselves with the characters they are watching and feel that she and the character played by her favorite actress are on the same level of life. And that is quite flattering. Therefore after watching a movie, the same emotion in the film is carried home by the woman viewer. The films of Sampaguita Pictures then where Rosa Mia played the martyr mother who took care of her children alone and had a lot of crying scenes were what my mother and her peers then loved to watch. These were the kind of films that will make money in the tills, the reasons actresses like Lolita Rodriguez, Amalia Fuentes, Susan Roces, Marlene Dauden and the rest were the popular and box-office stars of that particular time simply because they could make the audience cry—particularly the women.

But time must change. And movies must change. Thus the role of women in films of the new millenium must also change. The film genres have changed. The female characters have changed from the submissive, naïve, quiet and martyr female characters to a loud mouthed character fighting for her rights. And above all, she is the kind of woman who decides for herself who is the man she will fall in love with and finally marry.

The crying submissive lady is no more. The woman characters in local films have finally surfaced as persons who will enjoy the same rights men have enjoyed for so many years. Women have been elected as senators and congresswomen. Women are now in the streets shouting their dismay over politics, and lambasting politicians who still refuse to pay attention to the needs of women and enact laws that will finally elevate women to the same level as men.

This, in a capsule, was the exact and clear purpose of the workshop on Gender and Development held last Saturday. But the clamor for more cannot be ignored. The only complaint heard from the seminar participants was that there was less time spent during the workshop. There were topics still wanting to be discussed. There were more questions waiting to be asked and answered no matter how trivial they were. But because of the limited time appropriated, the speakers promised to hold another seminar.

But the message was made loud and clear. And this is the deliberate effort by our film craftsmen, male or female, to work for a metamorphosis in women in Filipino films from mere sex objects but as women of substance, thereby emancipating, though only in films, the Filipina.