What is it Like to Have a Filipina Wife? The Role of the Husband in the Philippines

"Neighborhood" restaurant in Rome is run by women

One of the things that someone who wishes to marry a Filipina needs to know is the difference between the stereotype image of the submissive Filipino wife and the reality of the Filipino husband who plays the macho but ends up being put under his wife's dress or under the saya.

The stereotype image of the submissive Maria Clara and the modern Filipina

Maria Clara De Los Santos is the leading lady and fiance of the leading character Crisostomo Ibarra in the novel Noli Me Tángere, written by the Filipino National Hero Dr. José Rizal.

While Crisostomo Ibarra was studying in Europe, Maria Clara was sent to a convent school, where she received rigid education under the Catholic religion.

This character has become the ideal image to describe a traditional woman in the Filipino culture, a woman who is shy, demure, conservative, one who never speaks out and who is supposed to be an obedient and respectful daughter, a good wife and mother.

However, my experience tells me that if you marry a Filipina, chances are that you will share your life with a woman who has very little to do with the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara.

I've been in a relationship with a Filipina for 20 years, I've been to the Philippines a few times and I have daily contacts with the Filipino community of Rome and I've never really come across a Filipina who corresponds to the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara.

Many of my wife's female relatives are teachers, engineers, college professors while, often, their husbands barely work and mostly do menial jobs like driving tricycles or magsasaka (farmer).

One of my wife's cousins teaches in a school in the Sierra Madre Mountains and her husband's "job" is to take her there with his motorbike and, when the lesson is over, take her back home.

Most Filipinas who live in Rome were the first ones to arrive here and few years later they petitioned their husbands who, more often than not, earn even less than their wives, provided that they find a job.


The "Culture Shock Philippines" book by Alfredo and Grace Roces talks about "the Filipina’s remarkable skill as an entrepreneur. Almost every Filipino wife is involved in some business ‘on the side’—whether it be a small store, a kiosk selling drinks and snacks, selling paintings through friends and contacts, a cake shop or perhaps accepting orders at home, etc.—and what’s more, doing very well at it. Many big businesses are run by Filipino women. Filipinas figure prominently in the business world. To give some examples: the Philippine Women’s University was founded by a Filipina the Filipina’s remarkable skill as an entrepreneur. Almost every Filipino wife is involved in some business ‘on the side’—whether it be a small store, a kiosk selling drinks and snacks, selling paintings through friends and contacts, a cake shop or perhaps accepting orders at home, etc.—and what’s more, doing very well at it. Many big businesses are run by Filipino women. Filipinas figure prominently in the business world. To give some examples: the Philippine Women’s University was founded by a Filipina and is still run efficiently by Filipinas; one of Makati’s biggest and most popular department stores is owned and managed by a Filipina; the two biggest bookshop chains are owned and were built up by two Filipina sisters"

So, as it turns out, quite often Filipino women have more "power" than men and, definitely, have very little to do with the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara and, actually, the Philippines has already experienced having two female presidents (Cory Aquino and Gloria Arroyo) while here in my country this is still taboo.

My wife left the Philippines in her early 20's and learned very early in life what it is like to be self-sufficient thereby developing a very strong character, while in my early 20's I was still relying on my father for support and I live in a country where, sometimes, even in their 30's and 40's men still live with their parents as the cost of living is too high.

Under the Saya

So, far from being women who are shy, demure and submissive, many Filipino women are actually in a financial and psychological position to put men ander da saya, including Western men.

"Ander da saya" is the Filipinized term for "under the saya" or under a woman's dress. Many Filipino men are in subjection to their wives.

The macho-machunurin

Filipino men like to play the macho.

They act like machos when they drink, drive or get involved in suntukan and awayan (fights).

Yet, speaking of the role of the husband in a Filipino family the "Culture Shock Philippines" book says: "every Filipino husband strives to give an impression of, for fear of being called ‘under the saya’—henpecked. This threat is real because Filipino wives are very dominant and, though they may appear quiet and submissive before others, are very skilful in manipulating their husbands to get what they want. Because the wife runs the household, she considers it her territory and the husband does not have much say in household issues. He gives his opinion only when consulted"

An interesting play on words for these men who play the macho when they drink or drive (or drink and drive) but get constantly henpecked by their wives is machunurin, a combination of "macho" and masunurin (submissive).

Men in the Philippines also call themselves tigasin or strong when, in fact they often end up being tiga-saing (a play on words for taga-saing, the one who cooks rice), tiga-salok ng tubig (one who gets water), tiga-luto (the one who cooks) etc.

Being aware of the huge difference between the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara and the actual modern-day Filipina is something that one who wishes to marry a Filipina definitely needs.

Many modern Filipinas have a rather strong personality, they certainly have no inferiority complex toward men and know how to get what they want.

So, be prepared, don't expect a shy Filipino woman, rather get ready to deal with the exact opposite and look for ways to avoid being put under the saya.

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