By Dante Gagelonia
We’ve all watched Philippine TV shows where the husband is at his wife’s beck and call, heard men who affectionately call their wives, “Kumander” and seen doting boyfriends/hubbys carry the teeny weeny handbags of their significant other. Doormat or chivalrous and yielding partner? Dante Gagelonia examines the why’s behind Andres de Saya.
One of the most familiar caricatures of Filipino relationships is that of the subservient man, beholden to a domineering partner. Whether wife or girlfriend, this woman wields her authority over her man like a vengeful goddess, ordering her beleaguered partner about on countless errands. The henpecked man, hurriedly tries to keep up with her demands, manifesting a mixture of devotion and adulation that sometimes seems less like love, and more like fealty. He is occasionally portrayed as downtrodden and without hope, while other times, perfectly happy to be his beloved’s footstool. Television shows, movies, newspaper comics and the like have countless examples of that spectrum.
Amidst the humorous representation, there is solid basis. There really are many relationships that play out just like that, with permutations ranging from the pleasantly amusing to the unfortunately pitiful. The men in these relationships aren’t cut-and-dried, cardboard characters. There is complexity to be found in this dynamic: the hows and the whys of being henpecked are far more complex than the caricatures would suggest.
In It for Love
“I was in a relationship like that once,” says Benji, 21, a video editor for a major television station. “I was still in high school. My girlfriend and I went to the same school, and we were happy to be in a relationship. I was still young at the time, so everything was cute and kilig. She was a bit spoiled, and she was used to getting her way. She would insist that we would do whatever she wanted, like seeing only movies she liked, me picking her up all the time. For a while, I liked it. I felt important. And I was raised to be a gentleman, so feeling ko, tama naman yung relationship namin.”
However, things didn’t pan out in the long run: “We went to separate colleges. Doon, nagkaproblema na kami. She still wanted to do things the same way, but she was studying in Makati, and I was in Quezon City. Every day she would insist on seeing me, and would make parinig about how I didn’t care about her if ever I missed an appointment. Emotional blackmail talaga. We would fight so often and eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore.”
He didn’t regret the relationship, but he did learn a lot from it. He recognized that for some men, like him, it wasn’t that they wanted to be beholden to their partners: they just felt loved and important, so it seemed reasonable that they would bow to their partner’s wishes. Unfortunately, the end isn’t always pretty.
In it for an Easier Life
Some men, on the other hand, take on submissive roles because things are just simpler that way. Belle, 27, an event planner for an advertising company, has a lot to say about that: “I was once with this guy who really had no direction in his life. I was the dominant one in the sense that I did all the work. He was immature, and I was often more of his mommy/yaya than his girlfriend. I was literally deciding on everything: how we would spend the week, what we would eat for our meals, how we would spend our free time, everything. He didn’t like deciding. He’d just keep telling me, ‘ikaw bahala.’ And since we’d end up just doing nothing at all if I didn’t, I ended up doing that.”
Being with a lay about boosted Belle’s ego for a while because she had a naturally strong personality, but eventually things came to a close. “Sure, I liked being in charge. I got to do what I wanted all the time, and was happy being sort of manipulative like that. He wised up towards the end, though, and I think that’s partly because I was trying to steer him towards a direction he didn’t want to go. Direction being, ‘grow the f–* up.’ We were together for eight years, can you imagine? I practically raised him.”
Belle was forced to assume the dominant position in their relationship because he needed to have his hand held all the time. She didn’t feel a shallow desire to get whatever she wanted; in point of fact, often what she wanted was for him to get his own life together and figure out what he wanted in life aside from being her boyfriend.
In It for the Responsibility
“I’m not happy,” explains Edward, 46, a client relations manager. “But I feel this is where I need to be. I have a responsibility to my wife, and my kids.” Edward has had a rocky marriage of 14 years. It hasn’t always been difficult, but the natural stresses of raising a family have taken their toll. “My wife’s not a monster, okay? We just don’t see eye to eye as often anymore, unlike when we were younger. Things change. But I love being a husband and a father. If being ‘under de saya’ is what I have to be to keep the peace, then I’ll do it.”
Friends have pointed out to Edward that he should stand up for himself, and not just bow and take it when his wife starts throwing fits or demanding unreasonable things. However, he sees things differently: “What is unreasonable, anyway? She’s my wife, and I agreed to marry her. In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, that sort of thing. I know that she wants what’s best for our family. Whenever we disagree, I just let her have her way. I have better things to do than break our family up over simple arguments.”
Edward has noticed that this happens a lot in Filipino marriages. “I have friends that are also like this with their wives. It’s just less of a hassle to give them what they want. It may seem like an embarrassing thing, but it isn’t. We’re keeping our families intact. Is it really better for me to have my way, but then have an angry wife and unhappy kids for it?”
He raises an excellent point: in a culture where strong deference to matriarchal authority walks hand-in-hand with typical patriarchal mores, who’s to say that being henpecked isn’t the most worthwhile way to go? Everyone wins, in Edwards’s framework. It may not be the happiest, by his own admission, but it’s a stable arrangement that he’s willing to live with.
A Factor of Culture
Taking a broader, sociological perspective on the matter presents an interesting rationale for the Andres De Saya archetype. “In American pop culture, we often see men who feel emasculated,” explains Matthew, 31, editor of a men’s magazine. “Most of the time, they are depicted as being insecure in a world filled with extremely competent and independent women. In Philippine pop culture, we see men feel more than just insecure: we see them dominated by their spouses and significant others. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if the henpecking woman is a capable breadwinner, professionally independent. It’s her sheer force of personality and the man’s fundamental desire to please her, and maybe even her family, that sustains his being ‘Andres De Saya.’”
There are relationship expectations present in Filipino culture, and these expectations provide the groundwork for being henpecked as much as it does for any other relationship dynamic. Aspects of chivalry, respect for women as derived from maternal influence, and even elements of pamamanhikan and traditional courtship come into play. Subservient men aren’t necessarily weak; there are details involved in every relationship that could paint a different picture if seen a certain way.
Before you summarily smirk or shake your head ruefully at the sight of another Andres de Saya, consider first why they’re in that situation. They may be much stronger, and more reasoned about their station life, than you think.