The Filipina of today is a life-size, full-length oil painting on canvas. She is a tableau that can be hung and appreciated, with pride or prejudice, depending on who the audience is. She is a multi-dimensional portrait. The background, shaped by the epochs in which she slowly evolved, greatly influences the main element, which is a mixture of diverse yet solid colors.
To fully understand the whole painting that is the Filipina, we need to scrutinize both the background and the main element. The background shows us a dynamic picture of the Filipina of yesteryears. She was a babaylan or katalonan (chief priestess) during the pre-Hispanic period, an active participant of the revolution, a committed member of the suffrage movement in the 19th century, and now a strong force in every sector of the society.
She has always enjoyed equality with men, and has always sought and received education. That is, until the coming of the Spaniards that underlined man’s superiority and the woman’s limited capacity², thus forcing the Filipina to take a supporting role in society.
She was typecast as meek and submissive, but was she ever really? Even the world-fabled Maria Clara showed glimpses of an inner strength and a resilient spirit — qualities that always came to the fore whenever circumstances would pit the Filipina against social and personal turmoil. She got through the dark ages of her past — her repression and the rape of her soul and spirit by the colonizers — stronger than ever.
She took an active part in building the nation, and in becoming what she is today.
The main element of the portrait, on the other hand, is the modern Filipina — her evolved self. Having recaptured her original role in the society, that is, her man’s equal, she is busier than ever, charting not just her own destiny but that of the whole nation.
She has become the country’s chief executive and a commissioned officer in the armed forces. She now holds major seats in the government, chairs executive meetings in offices, launches civic activities, moulds the young, and lords over her internal and external struggles, among others. She has braved foreign cultures in foreign lands, and is braving them still.
The modern Filipina is multi-faceted. Gifted with an open, compassionate heart, she is loyal and unselfish. She values love and friendship, adores her family, and does not mind putting her loved ones’ needs ahead of her own.
Blessed with a good mind, she loves learning and enjoys getting the kind of education she deserves. Social issues and intellectual debates are as much a staple for her as are talks about movies, social events, and shopping and beauty products. She can enjoy the company of logic and common sense, and get cozy with introspection. She can do anything she sets her mind on and can excel in her own field. She is the sail and rudder of her own ship; she knows what she wants, and does her best to achieve it.
She knows and speaks her mind and asserts her views, although at times — when she sees fit — she is willing to hold her tongue to give the platform to her husband.
Endowed with a compassionate soul, hers are the hands that reach out to friends and loved ones in need. Her shoulders, strong yet comfortable, are always ready to caress wounded spirits.
She may be quick to tears, but as she pours her heart out, an inner strength surges to the surface, and a new resolve comes over her. She has the resilience of the bamboo that allows her to thrive even in the harshest of conditions. She may bend and sway with the direction of the wind during stormy weathers, and she may cry rivers when her existence is jolted by life’s earthquakes, but she never gives up; she strives not to fall.
Bestowed with a happy spirit and shiny disposition in life, she smiles a warm smile, and laughs an infectious kind of laughter. She deals with life with the necessary amount of seriousness, and licks her wounds with good humor.
Being human, she too commits mistakes. She also stumbles and errs. But her weaknesses do not warrant removal of her portrait from the world gallery of respectable and strong women.
It should continue to hang there; it is the spotlight that has been focused on the tiny blemish on her portrait for so long that should be finally properly angled so that the viewers may, hopefully, learn to admire the masterpiece that the Filipina really is.;