Do Filipinos like talking about sex? Answering that question is a journey in itself, and the journey begins with a concept I coined a while back — the Filipino’s tradition-religion complex. The tradition-religion complex represents a narrow framework in which a person finds moral clarity. In the case of the Filipino, it encompasses a small square that defines much of traditional Filipino thinking in the context of religious moral beacons (thus the term). Rather than go into a lengthy exploration of what is really just a tiny subset of humanity’s collective intellect, perhaps we can use some traditional Filipino cultural icons and artifacts to illustrate what defines the Filipino Tradition-Religion complex. Here are several that I believe nail down its scope…
Maria Clara (modesty)
Juan de la Cruz (humility)
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Santo Niño (naive righteousness)
Ang Panday (masculine industry)
Or perhaps we can defer to a seminal article written by none other than Jim Paredes himself back in 2007. In What child is this?, Paredes attempts to define the “Filipino archetype” on the following premise he describes:
One of the things that intrigues me is this: Is it possible that, like individuals, countries, nations, races and peoples are also subject to archetypal influences and thus carry and act out the patterns attributable to certain archetypes at different times in their history? In other words, if nations were people, what would they be?
Paredes goes on to enumerate examples of societies whose archetypes precede them — the Germans and their efficiency, the Americans and their “spunk, recklessness [and] chutzpah”, the Japanese and their “steely, disciplined warrior-samurai archetype”. He then goes on to challenge his readers to define the Filipino starting with some personal observations he makes…
What archetypes dominate or rule the Philippines today? What can we observe from the way we behave as a people?
Don’t we tend to excuse our foibles and say that we are still a young country to explain why we are in the mess we are in? From all indications, we seem to be ruled by the ‘child’ archetype who refuses to look at things in an adult manner. Consider the following:
– We love to party–fiestas, salo-salo, barkada, ‘gimmick’, the longest Christmas holidays in the world, etc. We have A LOT of holidays in this country.
– We have very short memories. We are not great fans of history and we never seem to learn from it. We elect the same mistakes over and over again.
– We have an even shorter attention span. We do not hear of our government looking 20 years ahead. Even when other nations plan for the next 50 to 100 years, we don’t seem to go beyond the ‘5-year plan’. We like things ad hoc. Bahala na si Batman.
– We go merrily along seemingly unconcerned about our serious problems. In every survey the past few years, we always see ourselves as ‘the happiest people in Asia’ despite the hole we are sinking in.
– Our favorite religious icon is the Santo Nino — the depiction of Jesus as a child. We like a lovable, cute God–a representation not unlike ‘Hello Kitty’ or Barbie that we like to dress up. Our God of choice is a combination of a cute child star (with curly locks and white skin) and the Promil baby — intelligent and, at a young age, could preach at the temple.
– We love entertainment, Little Miss Philippines, telenovelas about young love, fantaseryes, etc. that are mostly about the young.
If all of the above are true, what kind of child is the Filipino? Is it the archetypal force that characterizes us as ‘the golden child’, the ‘meek and quiet child’ or the ‘spoiled brat’? Are there other archetypes to choose from?
I think combining my ideas with those of my more famous colleague in the blogging business, we will have a pretty good idea now of what I am trying to get at. The Filipino tradition-religion complex is a small square that outside of which the average Filipino will only find ambiguity and chaos. The trouble is, sexuality in the modern secular way advanced Western societies regard it is a subject that is not accommodated to satisfying enough degree within the Filipino tradition-religion complex. This makes the way the average Filipino responds to topics on sex quite interesting, and is something I describe in the following excerpt taken from my book…
While sex is not discussed openly [in Philippine society] it is practiced as liberally as any rich secular society. The widely-encouraged macho culture of married men using numbers of mistresses and first-borns as manly points, the huge demand for motels (by non-travellers), and the armies of girls dancing suggestively that are now standard background fixtures in many Filipino television variety shows among other things attest to this. And yet the topic of sex, when raised, will most likely elicit snickers, jokes, and blushes in most Filipino adults or expressions of indignation and disgust. That its discussion is often suppressed and at the same time made the object of childish giggles shows just how uncomfortable most Filipinos are with a biological process that is otherwise practiced so liberally.
Sex remains an uncomfortable subject in a society that lacks a robust enough cultural framework to regard it. And this discomfort is manifested either in the juvenile humour spun around it when it is discussed or in a guilt-ravaged morality juxtaposition the nature of which was expertly described by sociology professor Michael Tan of the University of the Philippines in the Sixth International congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific held in Melbourne, Australia from the 5th to the 10th October 2001…
Filipino movies also carry the “crime and redemptionâ€ theme, in which a sex worker eventually realizes there is a better life outside prostitution, but only after the audience [have] been treated to several sexual episodes.
This seems consistent to the archetypal icons I proposed earlier. Males are the Panday and women the Maria Claras, while the Santo Niño embodies a gender-transcending pseudo-innocence that Filipinos aspire to exhibit consistently in their public persona. In that we can find the undercurrents of a double standard that contrasts sharply against (as an example) a society that represents the benchmark of modern, healthy, secularism — Swedish society:
In general, the Swedes have a liberal and permissive attitude towards sexual relations and intercourse, although, as in all societies, some restrictions are commonly accepted. This is illustrated by a 1992 study on a representative sample of 729 Uppsala University students, aged 19 to 23. About 70 percent of both male and female respondents believed that it is acceptable for a 15-year-old girl to have sexual intercourse with a steady boyfriend; the same percentage approved of a 15-year-old boy having sex with his steady girlfriend. More than 90 percent of both male and female respondents did not approve of a 15-year-old girl having sexual intercourse with a casual partner. Only 40 percent of the males and 50 percent of the female respondents disapproved of a 15-year-old boy having sex with a casual partner. The double standard still colors what is acceptable, “evenâ€ in Sweden. It is stronger among males than among females, and this holds true even among the highly educated.
Almost all of those students disapproved of a married or cohabiting person having sexual intercourse with another person other than the spouse or cohabitation partner. In this regard, males and females did not apply a double standard and were equally restrictive in their views of “extraâ€ sexual behavior by both men and women.
Generally speaking, females in this university sample were somewhat more restrictive or less permissive than males, but the differences are generally not significant.
In short, the Swedes take sex for granted as something natural — a human condition that is not enmeshed with concepts of “sin” and “shame”. Sex simply is sex in and of itself. And Swedish religious life is in perfect harmony with this regard for sexuality…
…the Swedish Lutheran Church is very liberal in action, but careful not to take formal stands in most sexual issues, such as premarital sex, cohabitation, and sex education. Like many other churches and congregations, the state church of Sweden is inclined to keep quiet on sexual issues to keep the few members they have.
How does Philippine society compare with Swedish society if we are to use ethical bearings, ingrained senses of justice, responsibility over personal liberties, and respect for one another as measures? I think the comparison represents a no-contest. Yet the ambivalence to sexuality of the average Swede’s moral sensibilities will most likely come as a shock to the average Filipino. Indeed it may even elicit scorn and judgmental remarks — consistent with our famously misplaced pride, self-righteousness, and collective sense of moral ascendancy. And yet there it is. A sexually permissive society that is prosperous, peaceful, and harmonious side-by-side with a sexually repressed medievally religious society whose people cannot talk about sex without going into a malicious snicker.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.