The anatomy of the modern Filipina


In 1887, the great Jose Rizal introduced the beautiful Maria Clara as his virtuous and self-effacing heroine in Noli Me Tangere. Since then, the fictional character was depicted as the ideal Filipina, with young girls told to emulate her modest ways. However, in the 130 years that have passed since her birth, should Filipinas continue to emulate Maria Clara? Should she still represent Filipinas in today’s modern world?

The answer—at least according to global advertising agency J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT)—, respectfully, is no.

According to a study titled “Filipina Next”—JWT Philippines’ localized version of its mother company’s global 2016 global study “Female Tribes”—the modern Filipina is successfully moving in step with the modern world.
The Philippine study was conducted among Filipinas across socio-economic classes ABCDE aged between 18 to 70 years old. Specifically, the local study showed that 85-percent of Filipinas believe there has never been a better time to be a woman—the highest figure among all women surveyed in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, China South Africa, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabi and in the Asia Pacific region including China, Japan, Taian, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

Moreover, 96-percent of Filipinas find femininity not as a weakness but a strength.

These results may not have yielded such high figures had the study been done during the time of Maria Clara, when women were expected to stay at home, bear children, and please their hardworking husbands—period.
However, it is vital to point out that the study also revealed that having children do not make today’s Filipinas feel they are held back professionally. In fact, 79-percent believe that being a mother has made them more focused and productive, while more than half of those surveyed—58-percent to be exact—will nonetheless delay getting married and/or having children to get a head start in their careers.

Interestingly, what seems to remain among Maria Clara’s traits in this day and age is the Filipina’s spirituality.
The study showed that 47-percent attribute success in relation to reaching a higher level of religious and spiritual awareness.

So while Filipinas move in stride with the modern world, “Filipina Next” finds still that in her heart, she continues to embrace her forebears’ foundations.

Essentially, “Filipina Next” shows that while the passive and submissive Maria Clara is gone, Filipinas are still guided by faith, and strive to be good mothers and daughters, but have every propensity to become an entrepreneur, politician, engineer or an athlete, fueled by an independent mind, ideas, creativity and passion.
Given this image, and despite the continuous portrayal of independent women on television and film, 40-percent Filipinas, according to the study, still find it difficult to relate to their modern day epitome, because 76-percent of those surveyed believe there are too many superficial female celebrities and role models in media.
“What the 98-percent of Filipinas who agree that it’s important to show female role models in film and television want are women with substance­—with the likes of [the late senator]Miriam Defensor Santiago and [saint]Mother Teresa, and [international actress]Lea Salonga. These are three women that, according to our study, most Filipinas consider as role models,” Pam Pacete-Garcia, executive strategic planning director of JWT Philippines, said during the group’s presentation on March 8, which marked this year’s International Women’s Day.

As such, The Sunday Times Magazine, in the ongoing celebration of Women’s Month, features seven similar and exceptional women who have excelled in telecommunications, finance, pharmaceuticals, art, media, sports and politics. They are seven women of substance who epitomize the modern Filipina, and who young Filipinas currently deciding on what path to take can truly emulate amid the workings of the world today.

Armie Jarin-Bennett

Armie Jarin-Bennett is an Emmy-award winning journalist who impressively rose high up the ranks in global news channel, CNN. Her career began in 1997 at CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

To say that she has done it all in her chosen field is an understatement. Jarin-Bennett started as a production assistant in CNN radio and became floor director, teleprompter operator, video journalist, and writer for CNN television, before being promoted to producer of its 24-hour news channel Headline News. She then moved to CNN International in 2000 as a supervising producer and executive producer.

In 2012, she received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Live Coverage of a Current Event for her feature on the Egypt Revolution; then, the following year, her coverage of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines earned her an Emmy nomination.

A little over a year ago, Jarin-Bennett returned to the Philippines after almost 20 years of working overseas to head CNN Philippines.

Looking back, the Filipina journalist described how she evolved as a woman in the cutthroat industry of news media. “When I first joined CNN, I was that quiet Asian woman sitting all the way at the back of the newsroom.

And then over the years, I became the hardworking Filipina, who ultimately became the feisty Filipina who got the work done.”

Jarin-Bennett credits her environment for letting her develop into an award-winning journalist.

“I was fortunate that working at CNN, they really did recognize different cultures, and women. Nothing could stop anyone to do anything irrespective of gender,” she enthused.

Back home and working with women from different fields, Jarin-Bennett rightly believes that there is an infinite list of things females can do in the world.

“There’s so much that I can learn from the younger generation and the women I am working with. I really think there are a lot of opportunities that we can do together regardless of the kind of work that Filipinas do,” she declared.

Hidilyn Diaz

Despite lacking in height and her medium frame, Filipina weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz carried the country to victory in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She will always be known as the Filipino athlete who won the country its first Olympic medal after a drought of 20 years.

If that feat is not astonishing enough, it should also be said that Diaz is also the first-ever Filipina to win an Olympic medal.

But before she reaped such victories in the male-dominated field, Diaz had the difficult task of overcoming many challenges.

“There were people who told me I could never make it. Others also discouraged me from this sport [which she took on at age 13]as I might stop growing or might find it hard to conceive. But I told myself I really love this sport so I won’t let these people hold me back. Thankfully, I was able to prove to them that I can do it,” Diaz humbly related.

Through the years, the pride of Zamboanga City has won medals from the Southeast Asian Games, Asian Games, and other international weightlifting competitions. An Olympian since 2008, Diaz is also a member of the Philippine Air Force, with the rank of Airwoman First Class.

With her eyes set on the gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Diaz has this message to young Filipinas who are finding the perfect path to tread. “Dream high! If you have a dream and you have the passion for it, and you really believe it’s something you really want to do, the road to that dream will become easy,” she promised. “Work hard on that dream and success will easily follow.”

Melissa Henson

Melissa Henson is one inspiring woman in the field of Finance. As the Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Manulife Philippines since 2015, Henson is in charge of its marketing, branding, community service, customer insights and promotion, and events activity.

“I agree that it is a good time to be a Filipina especially in terms of empowerment and success. Based on the study, I think we’re lucky as Filipinas that we have been nurtured in an environment that’s actually quite supportive of women,” Henson shared.

Using her own story as an example, Henson illustrated the importance of having women of substance to look up to.

“I’ve been in the financial business for basically my entire professional life. I started in the US and just like Armie, I was the quiet Filipina who didn’t speak at meetings because I was too shy to speak up, thinking I might say the wrong things and believing that everyone else was smarter than me,” Henson recalled.

“My boss at that time was a Turkish lady, who, also coming in to the US from a foreign country, told me, ‘You know in this environment where people are from many different places and are very opinionated, if you don’t speak, they’d think that you don’t know [what you’re doing],” Henson continued.

Since then, she learned to speak up and share her ideas. “Even if it might be wrong, so what? You can do better next time. She took me under her wing—I grew quiet significantly professionally under her watch.”

Henson then surmised that having leaders and managers who empower their subordinates, who make their subordinates think of their goals, and who push them to achieve those goals is important in molding an empowered woman—Filipinas included.

As a final message, Henson has this to say to young women for motivation: “First, work hard. Let your passion fuel you and then let your work speak for you, but that said, don’t sit quietly in the corner, speak up and ask questions, take risks, don’t be afraid, and I think lastly, play nice. Because we don’t want to get tacky–we’re a team here to support each other.”

Issa Cabreira

In the world of technology, men are considered rulers especially in the Philippines where JWT’s study showed that 95-percent of Filipinas feel the industry to be “made for men and by men.”

Surprisingly, however, most Philippine tech companies these days are headed by women, one of them Globe Telecom’s Senior Vice President-Head of Consumer Mobile Marketing, Issa Cabreira who helms a team tasked to steer its subscribers to the digital age.

“In our company today, half of the senior leadership is held by women. The person who runs our IT is a woman, our CFO is a woman, and the two businesses that we have which are mobile and broadband are run by women. We are 47-percent women in Globe, which is quiet different if you would see the Silicon Valley stats where women executives only makeup 11-percent of leadership,” Cabreira proudly shared.

As such, Cabreira said she feels lucky to be in the country where women can work equally with men.

When asked what motivates her to rise above the ranks in a male-dominated field, Cabreira looked back to two equally significant women in her life who themselves defied the Maria Clara stereotype.

“I’d have to say my motivators are my grandmother, who got widowed at an early age with seven kids on her own, and my mother who married young, got separated early and raised her four kids. Having those two very strong women as role models actually drove me to be who I am and the way I am today. At a time when women are just expected to stay at home and not work, my mother and grandmother were entrepreneurs and professionals,” Cabreira recalled.

With this inspiration, the executive was driven to strike it out on her own, and excel in telecommunications.

Tina Sabarre

When it comes to pharmaceutical and general goods, one Filipina who is making it big in the industry is the Country Retail Director of Johnson & Johnson, Tina Sabarre.

The executive is on top of several empowering campaigns such as “Teen-powerment,” which uses publications and talk tours in schools to encourage young Filipinas to speak up about national and personal issues that affect them.

Sabarre was a brand manager for Selecta in the 1990s before joining J&J in 2006.

Being able to lead a global brand in the country, without the issue of sexism is one thing that makes Sabarre feel that indeed, now is the best time to be a woman.

“I agree [with the finding]110-percent,” she exclaimed. “I really think now is a fantastic time for Filipinas, and women [around the world]as well. There’s so much opportunity for us. There is really minimal known discrimination for us today, the sky is the limit.”

Knowing the importance of having women of substance to look up to, Sabarre divulged an important principle role models must have: “They should be able to celebrate femininity.”

“What I particularly realized is that the women whom I consider role models–who I feel I can definitely relate to–did not act like men. They acted like women. I realized that I can really be a woman, be strong in my femininity, and not have to work as if I were a man to succeed,” she declared.

Pia Cayetano

Pia Cayetano is indeed a woman born into politics what with the late Senator Rene Cayetano for a father and current Senator Alan Peter Cayetano for a brother.

She had always considered her dad as her idol so that Pia eventually entered politics but created her own trademark by championing women in her work as a legislator.

As a two-term senator [in 2004 and 2010], she championed various women’s, children’s, and health causes, among them, the Magna Carta for Women (Republic Act 9710), Expanded Senior Citizen Act (RA 9994),

Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act (RA 10028), Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act (RA10152), and the landmark Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RA 10354).

Presented with the Rising Star Award by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at the 3rd Women Deliver Conference in 2013 for her efforts in passing the RH Law, she also became the first individual to receive the Jade Ribbon Award from Stanford University’s Asian Liver Center in 2014. Pia is currently the Representative of the Second District of Taguig City.

Despite her hands full in working for government, she is also a role model in being able to juggle family life, politics, business and even sports as a triathlete. It therefore came as no surprise when she was asked to
define success, she replied, “It’s about finding balance.”

She quickly added, however, “I think it’s difficult and I think it will be dangerous to generalize success, because my idea of success may be different from somebody else’s idea of success. My personal idea is balance, and when I talk to young people, to women, like me who are working moms—a challenge in itself—I always say success is finding that balance. Otherwise, I think success should be defined as being able to achieve whatever you want to achieve.”

Currently, the congresswoman is also passionately promoting “Pinay in Action,” an endeavor where she goes around the country to mentor young girls in the hopes of encouraging them to be successful in whatever field they choose.

“I do strongly feel that there’s a huge dearth in terms of role models, that young girls especially in provinces can have. But there’s so much talent out there, and they just need a glimmer of hope, just a path to follow. There is still so much room to reach out to these young girls,” Cayetano enthused.

Trickie Lopa
Last but not the least, meet Trickie Lopa, who, together with her equally empowered female partners Dindin Araneta and Lisa Periquet, made art more accessible to Filipinos through Art Fair Philippines.

Their annual exhibition of contemporary visual arts, mixed media art, and installations, has become the go-to event of a growing number since its launch in 2013.

While Lopa said it was a saddening realization for her to discover that there has never been a woman bestowed the National Artist Award for Visual Arts, she firmly believes there is hope.

“Among the artists I work with today, I won’t be surprised if the next batch or the next generation of artists will be all-women because you have a lot of female artists making great impact today.”

Besides raising women power in the field of art, Lopa also negated the concept that Maria Clara was the barometer of women in the past.

“I never experienced Filipinas that way [as Maria Clara]. Both my grandmothers worked—my mother’s mother was the head of pathology in UST and this was in the ‘50s. My other grandmother was a widow who raised all her seven kids while also teaching in UST. My mother worked. So I never experienced Filipinas who were quiet and just stayed at home. Never,” Lopa stated.

As such, she simply has this piece of advice for young women everywhere: “Find your passion, follow it, do it with integrity.”


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