A historical perspective on genderless Filipinos
I never gave it much thought until a professor and I got to break bread and we started to talk about Philippine culture and history. I learned that we have always been gender-blind as a race, as a people.
Think about our Filipino word for child—anak—does not denote a boy or a girl. Asawa or spouse does not say man or wife. Kapatid does not say sister or brother. Does this mean we have always been gender sensitive or we have never given it much thought as a people?
Next, think about our matriarchal ways.
The woman, historically, has always been the rice planter and harvester, the man the hunter, or mangangaso (could it also mean they hunted for dogs?).
So women brought rice to the table and men brought fish or meat. The woman’s role is very important that fathers who would lose their daughters in marriage would ask for a big dowry to “replace” what the daughter has always put on the family table.
That was the explanation during my instant history class with Professor and Dean Bernadette Abrera of the University of the Philippines.
From the start of colonization, however, we got exposed to almost 400 years of gender-specific words like hijo (son) and hija (daughter).
And then through the Americans, we started to talk about sons and daughters, too.
The Filipino language had general terms, too, for child-in-law – manugang (genderless), or balae (for parents of your child-in-law) except for the specific bayaw (brother-in-law) and hipag (sister-in-law).
Interesting, is it not?
Then we also talked about the start of it all.
Creation for us was explained as the birth of Malakas (strong) and Maganda (beautiful) as two creatures who were equals coming out of a split bamboo if I remember my legends correctly. Not two nodes of bamboo, splitting one after another; not two bamboo poles splitting one at a time. Rather, it was one pole, splitting and revealing the two figures, a man and a woman—coming into the world as equals.
I never thought gender equality could be explained using history and culture until I spoke with Professor Abrera. Maybe that is why, until today, men do not mind working for female superiors and men do not mind spoiling their mothers, mothers-in-law and sisters. Not to mention subservience to their wives in the privacy of homes or bedrooms.
So it makes me wonder why some men still flinch at the thought of women empowerment or the idea of equality and gender equity. And some men still ask, “Should there be men empowerment as well?”
We are happy, however, that there are what we call male champions—men who promote diversity, men who do not mind giving women the voice, the position, or even the power.
I can name a few who are most enlightened and freely discuss with women leaders about diversity in boardrooms, diversity in elective positions and conscious observance of diversity in everything we do in business.
There also is a need to make technology and advanced technology gender-conscious –like for machines that women have to use. Cars that women drive, processing machines that are ergonomically-apt for women’s sizes or heights, reach and other physical differences that inventors must take note of.
In another interesting development, a backstrap loom (for weaving textiles) was recently redesigned by an enlightened engineer in Marawi when he noticed that women easily get tired, and they get backaches (lower back) while weaving, limiting their cloth production.
What he did was try the weaving himself (which the other men found weird and unusual) and thus found a better design for the loom, which can make the women more productive.
In a war-torn place like Marawi, new inventions such as this improved loom is a major development which had to happen because a man thought about gender differences in physique, inborn strength and thus designed an ergonomic loom for women and men.
Sometimes, we have to think differently about women empowerment and diversity. It’s not about grabbing power or position. It is about being enlightened that in our history, it is embedded in our DNA to be equals, or to have the same opportunities to succeed in life and to make the best use of our potential.
And then, think about the business and economy.
If company bottom lines improve because of diversity in boards and management, even our country’s GDP will rise. And that’s not a bad thing at all.
Take another look at gender and diversity. It may be the disruption your company needs to survive or be more profitable even during difficult times.
It should not be difficult because it’s ingrained in us and history says that.
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