Manifestations of Filipino Machismo in Selected Philippine Contemporary Literary Works
Years ago, the Filipino sitcom “Palibhasa Lalaki” brought the viewers to their own seats. The Pinoy audience was then exposed and introduced to the lighter side of Filipino machismo. The writers and cast of the sitcom only showed humor reflecting the real lives of the actors involved in the series such as Richard Gomez, Joey Marquez, Anjo Yllana, and Gloria Romero. But then, there were still images of sexy girls wearing shorts and fit shirts who were not entitled to speak more lines because they were only needed in the series to somehow show emphasis on the male actors’ masculinity. Indeed, there can be no theory of the subject that is not masculine.
Today’s Pinoy sitcoms are not making any difference at all to “Palibhasa Lalaki.” Even the Philippine Literature could not escape the visible trend of Filipino machismo, then followed its influence on Pop Literature. The music, the movies and even the Tagalog romance novels still could not go against the molecular influences of machismo, even in the contemporary times. Literature is indeed political.
Tracing back the manifestations of machismo in traditional literature, in the time of Estrella Alfon, Paz Latorena, and Ligaya Victorio Reyes, most of the unified depiction of their male characters was influenced by an ideology about Filipino men constantly asserting their masculinity and power over women. That was the early emergence of the Feminism movement. Such women writers were writing their literary works so as to present what were the society’s views on women during 1970’s and on. The presence of a female character so to understand the actions of machismo is a way to put the lack in the absent. The important thing to say is not that feminism is accusing individual men of being oppressors. Feminism is asking men to own up the ways that they have been privileged by those systems and structures.
Today, feminist writers created strong women characters in their literary works, even the men writers. Jessica Zafra, in most of her short stories showed the strong personalities of modern women in different situations. Lakambini Sitoy presents the conquests of women over men. And so, with the growth of feminism in its full bloom, machismo is at most overpowered, if not, buried in the fingertips of the writers. But then, it would be such a dangerous thing to conclude that our contemporary literary works are safe from the grounds of machismo. That is not always the case. In Ladlad: An Anthology of Filipino Gay Writing, there is a need to show machismo in the personalities of the male characters dominating the whole stories so to present the binary opposition of masculinity and homosexuality in the personalities of such characters. In a Structuralist way of thinking, the ideology that there is an existence of the subject and the other could be applied in the study. Among the selected texts to be discussed further are the works categorized as a form of gay writing, still following the concept of present and absent by the Structuralist Jacques Derrida so to discriminate the manifestations of machismo in the Filipino setting. And so, in order to grasp the object, it must be present.
Philippine Literature is indeed male. To read, listen and watch even those who don’t belong in the canon are poisoned by the forces of machismo. In a certain tribe featured in The National Geographic, men measure their manliness by jumping from a high building to the ground with no wounds at all, not even broken bones. And so, only by performing such a risky ritual that they could then call themselves as real men. In the Filipino setting, however, being a “macho” is to learn how to curse, to be an alcoholic and to talk about sex in the middle of an inuman session. One concrete example of this macho persona is Stan Kowalski in A Street Car Named Desire by Tennesse Williams in which the male character submits to the idea of beating his wife, continuing his drinking habits and the ironic thing is, he is physically a macho. This concept of machismo also perpetuated in early Filipino society.
It is machismo’s relationship to alcohol, violence and homosexual desires that shape the male characters in Edzel Cardil’s story entitled “Par” taken from the compiled gay stories of Ladlad. Par is actually the short version of Pare. The central characters are the male figures, Andang being the gay character manipulating the story and the two other “macho” characters somehow giving a concrete binary opposition of personalities. Par is the name addressed by the gay lover to his so called “siga” live in partner in Caloocan.
“ Astig ‘no, dahil sa lugar namin, siga itong asawa ko, marami na siyang bodyguard, tipong Robin Padilla. Lalaking-lalake, Chang.”
He is the stereotyped figure of a Filipino macho who performs physical violence against his lover to assert his masculinity and sovereignty. He is experimental in terms of sexual conquests that he even tried homosexual affairs, somehow suggesting that his own definition of being a tunay na lalaki is achieving both gay and women. His own penis won’t mind giving pleasure to both anyway because men had always thought of their male organ as their pride of being a man.
“ Marami na raw siyang nakaka-do, pero ako lang talaga ang nakukursunadahan niya.”
And so, when the macho character died because of a fight with another guy to show that he is still the bandido ng Caloocan , Andang, the gay speaker, then spoke to his lover in silence:
“ Par, mali kasi ang pagkakaalam mo sa salitang macho. Di komo marami kang chicks at may mga bakla pa, basagulero’t siga, ay macho ka na. Ang tunay na macho ay ‘yung marunong gumalang sa bawat tao.”
Other male characters also exhibit typical manifestations of machismo. One concrete example is Panchang, the gay lover’s best friend who happens to belong in an army. He accepts the invitation of Andang to have a one time homosexual affair with him and is even proud, in silence, that he had shared the same lover with his own best friend. It is somehow a conquest for him to prove his manliness. When his best friend, Chris, found out, they both agreed to have a one on one basketball game, somehow a duel, to determine who will own Andang to save one’s male ego so to speak. Both characters are portrayed as men who have very heavy drinking habits. Their nightly drinking sessions were de rigueur among men and husbands.
Another character is Rey, who killed Chris to get his revenge after Chris humiliated him in public by breaking shells of balut on his head. Male ego is really an issue to men that they would even kill only to save his face after humiliating his male pride. It still follows to a male ideology stating that to be male one had to be tough and even behave like a brute.
The work of Cardil could also be a fact to prove that machismo is often observed and practiced by those men who belong in rural communities, especially in slum areas.
Men dominate in the world, women dominate in the bedroom. Alfred Yuson has another specific concept of manliness. In his “A Hill of Samuel,” he focused on how men applied the influences of machismo against the female species. Dignos, the central male character in the story, could be seen as the seducer of women and is the sole reason of their madness. He would rape every woman, married or not and they would then worship him in the hill. He asserts his personality being a macho man by his conquests over women. Based on the responses of the male respondents on the study of Bob Pease on Postmodern Masculinity Politics, among the other manly things to do so as to redeem manhood is to have an active sex life. That is another test of manliness according to them. Men tend to rape women as an act of punishment for arousing them. In the case of the story, Dignos used his sexuality as a weapon to conquer women.
“….He was mad and he made our women mad…”
“….as the man with the black locks and the terrible eyes pressed hard against her. And the laughter came strongly and savagely upon her…”
“…Lumen gasped, and dug her nails into his nape. Then she felt the fever departing, but now the coldness turned severely into iciness in her womb. And slowly Dignos slid away from her and stood erect, surveying his prey naked and prostrate. And the laughter mounted, as the hill echoed its approval..”
Men “require” women’s sexual power to remind them of their heterosexuality and to reaffirm their own masculinity, although they are likely to experience women’s sexual power and their own response as “natural.” Men need women to define their manhood. The more women he gets and conquers, the more macho he becomes to his other male friends. This is visible in our own culture, considering the fact that men metamorphosed themselves into strutting cocks, macho in language and behavior.
Machismo is exhibited differently according to socioeconomic class. Angelo Lacuesta’s “Stigmata” has its lighter exposition. The main character in the story is a rich married banker who is having an affair with a steward in one of his flights. He has sexual affairs with Lene and is never guilty about it. He justified his actions by believing that every rich banker has them, a woman is a part of a lusty weekend and on Monday she will only be a part of the history. He is an epitome of a typical macho who would not submit himself to romantic relationships because it would make them less a man. Being labeled as a womanizer would not even make them less human. In the Filipino setting, married men who have mistresses are not such a disgrace to the eyes of the society, in fact, other men take pride of it. Well, each element of the male gender stereotype is revealed, as in fact, sexual.
Obedient and devoted husbands in Philippine Society are often regarded as “under the saya” by most unenlightened folks especially in rural societies. When the former president Joseph Estrada exposed his lifestyle of having a wife coexisting with three other mistresses, people never questioned such action. As they put it“lalaki naman siya e”. Therefore, he is a true Filipino male, tunay na lalaki. Machismo and all that went with it.
In the story of “I Hope It Won’t Scar,” a college male student nearly killed someone in a boy’s fight when the gang decided to get their revenge for a friend who is in the hospital. The central character conforms to such actions so as to belong to the world of men whose definition of being a true macho is to be able to fight and get even. That’s what will then label them as basagulero’t siga- the stereotyped standard of masculinity.
The other male character’s sister is a complete opposite to the manly personality of his brother so as to characterize his maleness and his sister’s femininity. In a male dominated society such as ours, men are not entitled to be gentle and soft because ever since Adam, men should be then ones who are not ruled by emotion, rather than reason.
A male member of Philippine society is always told by the same distorted version of the concept of machismo. But then, is there such a right word to defend machismo? The selected texts have unmasked the prevalent machismo which underlies Philippine culture. The social model predicated on machismo has been revealed, considering the fact in the case of our society, our political and historical traditions could also be one of its major factors.
Consciousness is power. To create a new understanding of our literature is to make possible a new effect of that literature on us. And to make possible a new effect is in turn to provide the conditions for changing the culture that the literature reflects.
Machismo is defined and based upon the Philippine context. Macho men are everywhere. He could be loitering in the streets, in slum areas, in heavy drinking sessions until the wee hours of the morning, in gang wars, sleeping in someone else’s bed or he could be sitting on a comfortable couch after beating his own wife. They identify their identities as men by their actions influenced by our own male society.
Contextualization is one way of studying the condition of machismo in Philippine society. Men are merely victims. Ernest Hemingway had always been studied by scholars as to how masculinity operates in Hemingway’s life and works, replacing the celebrated macho persona motivated by various psychosexual desires. It is only apparent that in all kinds of literature, such manifestations of machismo only reflect the society each has.
It as if machismo had infected the entire society that we see in literature and in our own society as well.
Filipino machismo has infected literature in one way or another. As the song says:..”macho, macho man! I want to be a macho man….”
List of Works Cited
Garcia, Danton Remoto. Laldlad 2: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Literature. Manila; Anvil Publishing, 1996.
Lacuesta. Life Before X and Other Stories. Manila; Anvil Publishing, 1997.
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