Goodbye, Maria Clara. Hello, modern Filipina!

Wunderman Thompson ‘2021 Filipina Forward’ study reveals that Filipinas no longer allow society to define who they should be, but the fight toward equality is far from over

Gone are the days the epitome of every good Filipina was Maria Clara—a timid, obedient, and shy character from Jose Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tangere.”

Wunderman Thompson 2021 Filipina Forward study has revealed today’s Filipina women are breaking away from Maria Clara’s image by owning their identity and working hard to pursue career goals toward financial independence.

2021 Filipina Forward study: The result

Based on the study, the modern Filipina’s top priorities are earning their own money and staying healthy and fit. “The study shows that 33 percent of Filipinas aim to be financially independent while 24 percent are keen on starting a business,” Wunderman Thompson says in a press statement. “Financial independence also remains as the top indicator of success at 42 percent, followed by physical health and fitness at 37 percent.”

‘The image or the myth of the Maria Clara was a myth perpetuated by the Spaniards in order to subjugate these strong powerful women who existed before they arrived.’

This shows a paradigm shift from the 2017’s result of the study wherein Filipinas’ definition of success was “reaching a higher level of spiritual or religious awareness.”

It also shows that the “Maria Clara” tag, which has long haunted cultural narratives about the Filipina, has now almost lost its influence, with 86 percent of respondents identifying as modern Filipinas who defy tradition. Additionally, 60 percent of those who participated in the study feel empowered to change the norm.

Way more to go

This number might be promising, but for Philippine House Representative member and Kabataan Party-list representative Sarah Elago, the fight for equal opportunities for the Filipina is far from over, especially as we are now in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic.

“The study re-affirms and reiterates what youth representation has been pushing with regards to policy and decision-making—that is acting with urgency on ensuring women’s equal representation in all aspects of the pandemic response,” said Elago at the 2021 Forward Women media press conference on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. “There's also a need to apply gender lens to the design of the economic stimulus packages and social assistance programs to achieve greater equality, opportunities in social protection. In that sense, there is more clarity that in promoting gender equality, there is an imperative to push and lay down a strong foundation toward economic recovery.”

Queer film director Samantha Lee agrees. “The image or the myth of the Maria Clara was a myth perpetuated by the Spaniards in order to subjugate these strong powerful women who existed before they arrived,” she says. “Women are career oriented. That’s what the study shows. But do we have the structures in place to help them? Women have the double burden of having to go to work, but then they have all this, unpaid labor that they need to take on when they get home, and all this has only been made worse by the pandemic.”

More role models

With all these issues still at hand, there’s a call to have more empowered women in different field that other Filipinas can look up to. The Filipina Forward study also shows that 59 percent of the participants want to see more films with empowered female leads, while 26 percent of those surveyed left an abusive relationship after exposure to these role models.

“As a strong financially independent woman, what are the steps that you’re taking on in order to make sure that women who are different from you have the same access to this financial security? To have the same access to religious freedom? To be able to express?” Samantha asked. “What are you doing to help queer women? Disabled women? Yung mga babaeng nasa laylayan na walang (Those indigent women who have no) purchasing power? These are the questions I ask myself, every day.”