Screw Maria Clara, I’m not weak.

Posted on March 10, 2017



Juan Luna, “Tampuhan” (1895)

Yesterday, March 8, we commemorated International Women’s Day.

Now, I’ve been meaning to make a blog post on something along the lines of feminism and how everyone is getting it wrong, but I guess now’s the time given the current state of my emotions. And that current state is…not quite pretty. And boy, do I have a LOT to say when I’m angry.

The more I’m angry, the more I want things to change. And the more I want things to change, the more I want power. It’s funny that I realized this after International Women’s Day, the day when the world recognizes the universal female desire to have a share of power.

We often think about the Modern Feminist Icon as someone strong and capable of doing typical masculine stuff. This could vary from the battlefields to the board rooms. As time goes by, the spectrum is even widened to include the sciences and arts, among other male-dominated industries.

It has often been debated whether or not the woman who chooses to be a housewife,  the girl who likes to dress up as a princess on Halloween, or the loud-and-proud stripper can be considered feminists. Indeed, the female throughout history has always struggled against objectification, inferiority, and misrepresentation. Now, are these women failing the feminist movement despite them freely choosing such “anti-feminist” paths and feeling empowered by them? Who is “more feminist”, the hijab-wearing scientist or the plus-size model/artist who confidently poses topless in a magazine? Are there even parameters for feminism?

Enter Maria Clara. Any Filipino who went through high school-level Philippine Literature subjects knows her name. Heck, I think every Filipino knows her name. She is the paragon of beauty and virtue. The Perfect Filipina Woman. She isn’t even pure Filipina, but she is the Ideal Filipina Woman. She is modest, beautiful, religious, respectful, and a good singer. She wears long traditional dresses, has wavy hair, and faints a lot. I don’t even have anything to say about her personality. For years, Filipinas have emulated her quiet and virtuous beauty. We were taught that to be like Maria Clara is a good thing.

Her creator thinks differently. Jose P. Rizal, our national hero and all-around Renaissance man, made her a caricature. She is the Filipina woman who has to empowered. Let’s face it – Maria Clara is too passive. Women should be like Gabriela Silang who continued her husband’s fight against the Spaniards, or the women of Malolos who bravely fought for education. Why be like Maria Clara who jumped off a church window out of grief and a broken heart, when you can be like Remedios Paraiso-Gomez who fought against the Japanese invaders while wearing lipstick? Why cry over a miserable existence when you can use such unpleasant emotions to fight?

I used to be nonchalant on not being like Maria Clara. Now, my desire to not be like her became much more nuanced. My belief with regards to feminism is that a woman can choose whatever she wants to do in life as long as there is consent and she is empowered. I don’t care if she wants to be a traditional señorita or a bolo-wielding huntress or something. Hey, whatever floats your boat. Women in dresses, after all, can be just as powerful as women in armor. I used to believe that it’s okay for women to be as emotional as everyone perceives her to be. It’s okay to give in to her emotions and not fight back. That it’s okay to be engulfed in grief.

I’m done with that belief. I’m fighting back.

I don’t want to be a Maria Clara who gets all weak because of a crapsack world or some fuck-up who broke her heart. I’m not giving in to grief. I’m using that grief the way a warrior wields her sword – piercing it through those who do me wrong. I’m done with not speaking up. I’m done with being defenseless. I’m going to learn how to be unapologetic and be a bitch if I have to be one.

I’m not going to automatically transform into a man-hating ultra-feminist monster though. I feel more like a deconstruction of the typical Empowered Female. I’m thinking more along the ranks of Daria with a little more fire. There is, after all, a thing such as a quiet strength. You can be lowkey and strong.

But despite my desire to be tough, I also want to be soft. If there’s anything that’s worth emulating in Maria Clara, it’s her kindness and humility. I may strive to be strong, but I also aim to have a good heart. Just because I am angry and sad doesn’t mean I’m going to be bad to those who don’t deserve it.

In a few weeks, I will know my future’s fate. I don’t want to elaborate further. All I know is that I want to do something empowering and fulfilling in this world. I want to be able to defend those who need defending, that’s all I can say. Such a desire has become more apparent in the past few months. I guess, in a way, I got this desire from my grandfather.

I don’t know if I’m ever going to make it, and to be honest it’s looking quite bleak. Everything about my life looks bleak. But if I want to be the fire queen, the anti-Maria Clara, I guess I will have to suck it up no matter what the outcome. That is, after all, what courage is supposed to be. I’m done being a coward, I’m done stepping on my self-worth. It’s time to be the fighting woman, like my ancestresses watching over me.