By Myra Colis and Yukari Shiozaki
Openness. Honesty. Understanding. Respect. Trust.
These words were constantly echoed at a recently held Integratietour or Integration Dialogue between mothers and daughters as the participants representing both sides responded to the theme,‘Talking about gender and sexuality in the Philippines and The Netherlands.”
Held on May 6, 2017 at Pauluskerk in Rotterdam, the Integration Dialogue brings together people who are close and yet far from each other due to ineffective communication channels or misinterpreted messages. The aim of this dialogue is, therefore, to open a non-judgmental platform for both parties to air their sentiments, pleas and concerns that are blocking a harmonious relationship if left unattended.
As an organization with the mission of advancing the integration, participation and emancipation of Filipinas in the Netherlands, Stichting Bayanihan is aware of an existing communication gap between Filipina mothers who grew up in the Philippines and their daughters who were brought up in a more progressive culture like that of the Dutch or European society. Two of the most untouchable topics that these mothers and daughters tend to avoid talking about in a conversation are on gender roles and sexuality.
As promoted by Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal in his novel Noli Me Tángere, the ideal portrait of a Filipina is that of a Maria Clara personality, which is characterized by being demure, submissive, soft-spoken, graceful and charming. To translate this to everyday lives, that would mean taking care of ‘light’ tasks such as household chores, child rearing and other domestic responsibilities. The men, on other hand, are expected to keep that ‘macho’ image by manning themselves up and being responsible breadwinners of the family.
Still with the Spanish influence and being the third largest Catholic country in the world, the Philippines and majority of its people consider it a taboo or ‘sacred’ to talk about sex or one’s sexuality. In a family setting, talking about sex is off limits to children, including teenagers but not to adults or those who were administered the sacrament of matrimony. As a result, Filipina mothers who grew up in a traditional Philippine custom find it hard to accept that such topic is an open book and a healthy one for family members to talk about with one another (just as how it is here in the Netherlands and other progressive countries).
Needless to say, these differences in one’s upbringing, mindset and values have created these generational and communication gaps, which when left unattended can hurt families and relationships. The challenge? How then can you, as a mother or a daughter, level up that common ground for communications to stay open, appropriate, healthy, safe and non-hurtful?
To help address this matter, Stichting Bayanihan called for a public dialogue, inviting Filipina mothers and their daughters to represent both parties involved. Thankfully, five pairs of mothers and daughters boldly stepped up not only to answer the call but also and most importantly to help shed light on this troubling reality. The courageous women who represented the mother side were Bani, Nila, Nene, Josephine and Nora, and for the daughter side were Pamela, Natalie, Iriday, Rocelle and Sharon, respectively.
Moderated by Bayanihan Board member Veronica Balbuena, the dialogue sparked interests and curiosity on what the mothers and daughters have to say and how do they respond to the following questions…
On gender roles:
And on sex or sexuality:
The 3-hour Integration Dialogue has ended successfully with the following 3 take-home messages or calls-to-action that daughters asked of their mothers and vice versa.
1. Speak up with openness and honesty.
During the dialogue, the daughter side aired their frustrations of not being able to openly talk about sex or sexuality in the family. One daughter said this is the ‘biggest taboo’ in the house and that she felt so embarrassed when watching the drama series Sex and the City together with her mom (this program has a lot of explicit sex scenes in it). Another daughter nodded in agreement.
When asked of their response, the mothers voiced out their thoughts, saying that they are actually open to talking about topics such as sex or contraception but to be the one to bring the topic up might make their daughters feel uncomfortable. The mothers even recalled a time when they talked about sex and the use of contraceptives when their daughters started dating and when sex education was introduced at school.
Bottom Line: Stop assuming what the other party thinks and feels. Speak up and share your heart’s desires, thoughts, opinions and concerns with your mother/ daughter or other members of the family with all honesty. When in disagreement, it’s best to listen all the more and be open to possibilities for change or adjustments.
2. Understand the WHYs behind the WHATs.
There is no manual in raising a child, one mother uttered as the dialogue continues. In terms of gender-based expectations, that mother’s daughter expressed her gratitude to her mom because she and her brother were raised equally; her mother overcame cultural barriers and established house rules that are acceptable for every member of the family.
Other daughters wish that their moms become more ‘Dutch’ (or liberal) so it would be easier to open up things or concerns related to sex or one’s sexuality. In response, the mothers agreed with understanding that their daughters would feel that way because they are more exposed to the Dutch culture and so are their expectations and preferences. However, the mothers asked of their daughters that they also need to understand that their pieces of advice and ways of doing things are influenced by how they were brought up in the Philippines.
Bottom Line: When conflicts arise due to differences in preferred customs, take time to sit down and agree on which ways from these 2 different customs can be adopted to create one that is acceptable to all family members.
3. Learn to let go.
The daughters also recognized the good intention behind their mothers’ advice and restrictions when it comes to sex or sexuality. They appreciate the words of wisdom shared with them. In fact, some of the participating daughters said they do look up to their mothers as examples or role models, learn from their experiences and listen to what they have to say. But in the end, the decision is still up to them daughters to make.
The mother side responded positively but with caution, telling their daughters and the audience that they (as mothers) are happy to see their daughters making decisions for themselves; all they ask for from their daughters is to tell the truth with kindness as opposed to making faces or telling lies when confronted of what the daughters are up to.
Bottom line: Mothers ‘letting go’ of their daughters is a sign of trust, which over time can build up self-confidence that allows children to make better decisions for themselves and become responsible members of the family as well as that of the community.