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Can the outdated concept of Maria Clara thrive in the age of dancing in front of screens?
I was in Grade 1 when I believe I lost my innocence. It was my first day in a new all-girls Catholic school. A couple of upperclassmen snickered at me on the school bus. It was Linggo ng Wika and, ironically, one of them was wearing a baro’t saya, similar to the Filipina dress worn by Maria Clara.
They were laughing because I was supposedly holding an ear of corn the “wrong” way. I didn’t understand what was wrong, but I did get that I had made a terrible faux pas worthy of some low-key bullying. These modestly dressed girls were shaping me to be a certain way without so much as a word.
While I was growing up, I learned that innocence and modesty (or being a prude, if you want to go to that extreme) are not the same. In Grade 5, we read Noli Me Tangere, and I clearly remember being at odds with the concept of Maria Clara. First, I knew she was not me: She had fair skin and could not hurt a fly. On the other hand, I, am always ready to hurl a rubber slipper at a flying cockroach.
Second, she was an unfairly idealized characterization of what it meant to be a woman. Unfortunately, even today's women are still measured against her.
Maria Clara wasn't exactly innocent, but people exalted her modesty. It was how women should act at that time. If you were modest, you’d go a long way. Climb the ranks in society, embraced by people of pedigree. You’d be pure, precious, and beautiful. In the modern world — let’s call it the Age of TikTok — innocence can be as much a handicap as being prudish. You can certainly get mocked for being either. And this puts us in a strange and far-from-equitable middle ground.
Do the likes of Maria Clara have a place in the Age of Tiktok? Can a woman like her adapt to today’s ways of dancing in front of cameras, filming oneself while changing outfits, and thirst-trapping for likes? Where do her values stand in an age of women empowerment, and hubadera style?
Can these two extremes co-exist? They sure do. Nun TikTok (or #NunTok) is a small corner on the wholesome side of the social media platform where #NunsofTiktok goes viral for sharing snippets of their daily lives — such as their skincare routines! Listening to a nun discuss her sensitive skin was strangely more calming than listening to Dakota Johnson talk about limes. It’s that part of TikTok that’s devoid of its default frenetic energy and it’s a wonderful peek into convent life.
Meanwhile, in the dark recesses of the platform, we have trends that emancipate women from restricting conventions.
Based on the , most of today’s women are more Sisa than Maria Clara. We fondly call each other “baliw” and even pride ourselves in being slightly unhinged. Gone are the days when being 100% demure, virginal, and put-together was a measure of your worth — at least in some corners of the country. We’ve evolved and grown to embrace our differences. Being brown is not a flaw. Being outspoken is not the same as being rude. We’ve come a long way, but not all the way.
Fair-skinned women still dominate the entertainment industry. While there's not a lot of diversity there, are also being celebrated — all three of them, maybe. However, it’s still a win. One of the fruits of woke culture is how brown-skinned women are likewise seen as beautiful and not crazy, villains who get thrown into jail.
The landscape – whether it’s showbusiness or TikTok or IRL – is constantly exhibiting a dichotomy of white and dark; modest, pure, and innocent vs. progressive, empowered, and morena. The latter is still somewhat frowned upon in some sectors of society. But we’re on the correct road.
Unilever, for example, has eradicated words like “white” and “whitening” from its marketing. Posing in a bikini for the grid has become the least sensual exercise (what with all the candid shots you have to take before you finally snap the right one). In a 2021 report by Grant Thornton International, Filipino women took on 48% percent of senior leadership roles, ranking highest among 32 other economies.
A 2020 survey by Rakuten Insight found that 62% of its female respondents used Tinder. Meanwhile dating app Bumble where women make the first move is currently No. 1 in the country based on active users, according to a live tally by Similar web.
It seems we’re in a place where the two do co-exist, albeit not without the push-and-pull of guilt, shame, prejudice, and judgment. It feels like we want to become these modern, progressive versions of ourselves, but we’re still so deeply tied to our righteous ideals. The real ideal is for the two to plain and simply BE, but I guess discourse — internal and otherwise — is a good thing.
Every kind of woman has space in a truly progressive society. There may not be space for modesty in a platform like TikTok, but a modicum of modesty certainly still has a place in the real world. We don’t have to be perfect like Maria Clara was. However, we could be our flawed selves, trying our best to do the right thing.
Although we weren’t always portrayed as such, women have always been complex beings. What’s trending on one app can never totally encompass our views, thoughts, and feelings at any given moment.
Women are changing, individually and collectively. There are so many micro-revolutions simultaneously taking place. I certainly have come a long way from being shamed for holding a cob of corn in a school bus, but maybe some other first-grader somewhere is still being bullied for the same. Everyone starts off innocent until someone tells them otherwise. I wish I had ignored them instead, but what does a 6-year-old know, anyway?
In the Age of TikTok, a Maria Clara chooses to ignore her haters, just like these racy, empowered, liberated content creators choose to ignore theirs. There’s power in that and there is space for both. In an ideal world, women can have a seat at whichever table they desire without being shamed or judged — whether it’s a table that requires dancing and making noise or one where that rejects the mere thought of breaking some dishes. That diverse women can thrive today shows that we’re getting there at a healthy pace.
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