What It Really Feels Like To Be A Stereotyped Filipina

As seen on Thought Catalog and (more notoriously) on Coconuts Hong Kong

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Wannsee / Havel, Berlin (May 2016)

“Where are you from?” asks a man across the aisle from me on a flight to Hong Kong from Tokyo. He is a middle-aged Asian, stout and short, and has been working on a Japanese language exercise book since the plane took off.

“Philippines,” I say nonchalantly. I am hesitant to get dragged into a conversation with him, but I am loath to be outright rude to anyone unless blatantly offended. His question seemed harmless enough anyway. In retrospect I can hear my French-Filipino friend’s voice in my head chastising me for being so “damn naïve” and it being a product of an all-girls education – lacking the gumption and acerbity to cut down men before they can even begin to make an advance.

“Oooh, Philippines. I love Philippines. I’ve been to Cebu, Bohol, Boracay…” This reaction is the usual spiel I get from foreigners who have been to my country. Nothing strange about it, I do the same sometimes when someone says they’re from a country I am fondly familiar with.

Chances are, however, when it’s a strange man gushing to me about the Philippines – and this happens to me on almost a monthly basis – he is reliving memories of scantily clad, giggling, brown-skinned girls fawning all over him. It’s usually a foreigner who got more bang for his buck, literally, in my homeland.

Little is being said about it, but everybody knows: Filipino women have a less-than-savory reputation abroad. Although many good things are being said about us (loving, affectionate, kind, customer oriented, good nurses / helpers / nannies / caregivers), the negative overpower the positive, at least in Hong Kong where I’ve been living for the last five years, and in Singapore, as I have heard. (And on that note, I’d like Filipinas to also be known for being strong, intelligent, ambitious, and educated, but that’s a more complex social issue tackled elsewhere).

The negative: easy targets, gold-diggers, lazy, untrustworthy, promiscuous, dirty, opportunistic. That woman your husband will cheat on you with. That woman who will be all over you because you have white skin and/or deep pockets. The easy lay.

A foreigner will not see or respect a Filipino woman the same way he will see or interact with a European, Latina, or Australian woman. On a night out in Madrid, my Spanish girlfriend and I were making our way out of a nightclub. At least four men stopped me on my way out, a couple downright telling me to go home with them.

“How dare they!” said Almudena, my friend. “They do this to you because you’re Asian! If it were a Spanish pija they would never come on that way! I am outraged!” She flared.

“Oh Filipinas!” A Madrileño brightened up immediately when I mentioned it offhandedly. “I’ve been there! Do you know these girls? They took me out in the Philippines, they’re celebrities!” He shows me a few photos of dancers from a noontime show. “I’d love to go back to the Philippines,” I turn my back on the wistful expression on his face, my skin crawling.

This is what they think of us.

It is with a sinking feeling that I listen to the beginning of that all-too-familiar speech, that has invaded introductory conversations with men (and some women) for most of my twenties.

An Irish man I used to date told his officemates about me once. “I’m seeing an amazing girl tonight,” he said over lunch.

“That’s great!” said his Hong Kong colleague. “Where’s she from?”

“The Philippines,” said the Irish.

“Oh,” an uncomfortable look passes over the colleague’s face. “What’s she doing here?” Carefully said.

“She’s a journalist.”

“Oh!” A look of relief. “Great, man.”

Frankly, the colleague was afraid the Irish was yet another white-man-in-Asia “victimized” by one of many Filipinas who squeeze men dry to send money home to pay for their family’s food / rent / education. This is how they see us. It’s not a situation anybody wants to be in, and desperation drives these cases.

I will surely offend many by saying I hate to be branded this way. The sad reality is that most of my countrywomen are only doing what they can to make their lives better. And yet there are people like me too, yes privileged, but also with the right to feel and say: I don’t want to be labeled like that. I want to be regarded with more respect and dignity.

Of course you prove them wrong when they get to know you. It’s a shallow and bothersome thing, ultimately. But it should not be dismissed. It’s a reality I want to discuss, because more and more Filipinas experience this by the day, and why shouldn’t we acknowledge the minority of us who feel this way?

A few days back in Tokyo an Australian man – a friend of a friend, introduced in a birthday event – turned passive-aggressive on me when I refused to pander to him, as clearly he was expecting something else. “Bitchy” was one of the words he used in that conversation, aside from trying to prove to me that my English was bad by whipping out a dictionary after I used a word he didn’t recognize: “repressed”. “We don’t say that in Australia,” he scoffed. “Let’s see if you’re using it right.”

After quickly realizing the expectations men have of me upon learning I am Filipina (that I will be warm, open, flirty), during my first year in Hong Kong, I would try to avoid saying where I was from. Later I realized I was doing myself and my country a disservice. I am not ashamed to say it, but many a time I do have to brace myself for the reaction following my country introduction.

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Taking the maglev, Shanghai 2015

Hanging out with friends one Wednesday night in Hong Kong’s street drinking scene, I refused to talk to a Japanese man who was trying to chat with me. Walking away, his friends followed and tried shoving a thousand Hong Kong dollars in my face, as if that would change my mind. I was so shocked I couldn’t react until my friends dragged me away.

Once, going home on the minibus, a South Asian man followed me out. He was trying bargain with me: five hundred Hong Kong dollars was all I was worth that night. My terrorized twenty-two-year-old self had to run across Nathan Road and jump the barrier to get away from him.

Another time, my sister and I were walking home when a French guy crosses over the street to us. “Do I need to pay you to talk?” he jeers after being ignored for few meters.

My experiences have in some ways molded me into the “least Filipina Filipina” people have met. I am reserved and cold, the opposite of friendly; I cut people down, do not smile or laugh at the onset, I rarely initiate conversation.

***

“Where in the Philippines are you from?” says the man on the plane.

“Manila,” I say curtly. I don’t even look up from my copy of The Economist. Dressing decently and carrying yourself well helps a lot, but apparently it doesn’t spare you from the typecasting and advances all the time.

“Manila! I always go to Manila. I recruit health workers to send to China,” he says. “Have Weibo?”

“No.”

“Have Facebook?”

“Yes.”

“If your friends want a job they can get in touch with me.” He shoves his workbook on my tray table and motions emphatically for me to write my details. I know this trick, they try to lure you in with opportunities as bait, because I think that actually works with many women.

“No,” I raise my voice to make sure I’m clear as day this time, firmly returning his book and pen.

“Alright forget it then,” his tone turns nasty when he realizes he won’t get anywhere with me. Again, this is standard.

I may be accused of being a shrew, but sometimes, there really is such a thing as being too nice, something many of us have to learn the hard way when we leave the country.

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12 thoughts on “What It Really Feels Like To Be A Stereotyped Filipina

  1. Bravo Julienne! You have captured the frustration and disdain that many others experience on a daily basis, but this is not a uniquely Filipina experience. Beautiful women all over the world are forced to deal with this shameful type of rude and low class behavior. The key is in how you deal with it.

    Please allow me to offer you these 2 bits of advice;

    1: Never lower yourself to the same level as those who approach you inappropriately, rise above them by employing your superior intellect and strength of character. Anger and resentment are ugly and unhealthy. Classy is, as classy does.

    2. Never, never be ashamed of, nor try to suppress your natural Filipina beauty and charm! Filipina’s are naturally endowed with a very unique and sweet disposition, this is a strength, not a weakness. This is a quality, not a burden! These are traits that women all over the world can only wish they possessed themselves! These are the qualities that all good men are attracted to and seek in a proper and healthy relationship. Learn to develop your natural qualities, they will always serve you well.

    As difficult as it may be in this day and age, you must strongly resist the improper and unhealthy influences that will encourage you to become bitter or repulsive towards men who may be attracted to you. Preserve your unique beauty and Filipina charm and know that you are naturally created as you are. You are the literal embodiment of all that is special and beautiful in this pathetic world, never loose sight of that fact. Don’t allow the world to force you into becoming someone you are not naturally intended to be!

    With Great Respect and Admiration,
    Doc’

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What’s scary is I actually experience this right here in the Philippines. From our own It actually made me stop wearing makeup, dress up or even walk to wherever I’m going. I started buying more jeans and sneakers and plain tshirts. I stopped talking to people and making new friends. I became sad and demotivated and had sleepless nights and even hated seeing myself in the mirror because I know I’m not seeing me. All those changes didn’t stop the advances however. I started making weekly trips to my hometown just to escape the city. My grandmother caught up and I opened up to her, and she told me that boys will always be boys, whatever I do. And so I stopped letting them control how I dress, how I look and how I act. I’m more wary of my surroundings and quite cynical now, but at least I’m happier.

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  3. Love the comments above.

    Stay strong.

    My wife is a Filipina. Well-educated (scholarship to UST), and has been living in HK for over 20 years. 15 with me as her husband. We have lovely children (mostly!).

    She’s pretty and tall, but does sometimes encounter difficulties. Doesn’t moan too much and just gets on with it.

    Her Filipina friends are married to all types of nationalities, but they share the same good upbringing and education. All lovely people who I have known for 18 years.

    It shouldn’t come as solace, because it’s just even sadder, but amongst my western friends (some married to Thais), the Thais are preceived as the real cunning money-grabbers. I’m sure this isn’t the majority, but I’ve seen several examples. I also have friends with absolutely super Thai wives.

    I think people should be able to find happiness and love anywhere. But when colleagues marry girls they met in underground clubs in Wanchai, I do have to have an internal sigh. Diamonds in the rough are very rare. You have to understand where the seam is.

    Keep strong and keep happy!

    P.S.

    One of your pictures (I think at the Alhambra) was stunning! While I’m married, I’m also allowed to compliment a beautiful woman in an evocative photograph. Bravo.

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    1. Thanks for your two cents, really appreciate hearing how other people experience or see things. Yours is a balanced view compared to the violent reactions I got from this article… I guess it does help when someone so close to you (your wife) is able to give you that perspective. All the best to you and your family!

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  4. PPS

    I chanced upon your blog first when looking up HK hikes (which is when I came across the, I think, Alhambra photo… haven’t looked for it to confirm).

    Then I chanced upon it again today whilst looking up reviews of Gallery Vask. I’m taking my wife on our next visit. Sounds great! We’ve been fortunate enough to dine at El Bulli, and so look forward to trying a new take on Filipino cuisine.

    On the topic, my favourite food in the Philippines? Amun Ini in Bohol. And I really have been everywhere! Beats Amanpulo (food-wise) hands-down (not to diss Amanpulo… lovely place). I hope you get the opportunity to visit both.

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  5. It’s difficult for some to be stereotypes. The stigma is still within the society and it’s hard to extinguish. Thanks for sharing your experience and I hope you do better. Prove em wrong girl! 🙂

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  6. I stumbled upon this article from your comment on the Medium. I have to say, I’m so glad that I did. I’m Filipino-American. Never even been to my parents’ homeland (how sad is that?), yet I get stereotyped all around the world. I hate looking into their eyes and seeing their island fantasies play out whenever they ask the where-are-you-from question. I defend myself with Western Feminism and the strong assertion that I’m American before anything else. It has taught me to reject the Filipino part of my identity simply because of all the negative assumptions that come with it. I don’t want to think this way. More than anything, I want to embrace my roots and change how the world views people who look like me.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I look forward to reading more~

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  7. I couldn’t agree more with you! It is really sad to be branded that way. Much more that I am married to a foreigner.
    Some time ago, we dined out at a local restaurant and I couldn’t help but notice the two middle-aged Filipinas who were actually staring at us, with one saying something to another. I am really a private person and doesn’t like to be given an attention this way, so I stared back at them until they stopped and transferred to another table.
    When my husband and I were in Hong Kong, we had the chance to have a conversation with the manager of one of the restaurants we love to go. We happen to be sitting at the bar and were the only people left there. She mentioned about how many awful Filipinas went there with their dates (white men) and how uncomfortable she was seeing this and hearing what they talk about. After she has said countless stereotypes, I told her that I am a Filipina to which she was really shocked and retorted, “but you don’t have that accent”. I was really wondering what she meant by this exactly, but my husband was quick to reply that I am an assistant professor in English and that should explain why.
    I would like to say that the comments above should serve as an inspiration for us who have to deal with this stigma. But yeah,you nailed the points many of us have been wanting to say! 🙂

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    1. “but you don’t have that accent” – yeah they just don’t expect ‘educated’ people who don’t look like they struggled through life to be Filipinos. It’s a good thing you told her you were Filipina even after she said all of that though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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