What does it mean to be a man, part 2? Masculinities in the Philippines

In a previous post, I introduced the idea of masculinities. In it I mentioned that masculinity should really be masculinities because there is not one standardized way to be a man. In this post I will expand on that in talking about how crossing cultures also increases the complexities surrounding the subject. Our specific focus will be on masculinities in the Philippines.

Masculinity in Filipino Popular culture.

Filipinos love to make puns and while humour is used to make people laugh, there is generally a hidden truth behind the humour (Maggay 2002). What is interesting is that the majority of these puns define men based upon their relationships with others, primarily with their wives (see Angeles, 2001, pp. 2-3).[1]

Some of these terms, such as Padre de pamilya [“Father of the family”] and Haligi ng Tahanan [“Pillar of the home”] refer to the key strengthening roles that men play in the home. While men may provide the strength within the home, the mother, as ilaw ng tahanan [“light of the home”], provides the spiritual direction. Does this imply an inherent spiritual role that mothers play that isn’t considered a part of the father’s role?

Other terms clearly depict the struggle for power within husband and wife relationships: Ander de saya [“Under his wife’s skirt”] describes a henpecked husband. Kumander is a common term used by husbands to describe their wives. For example, when asked if he would like to do something, a man will often reply, “Di ako sure kung pwede ako. Magpaalam muna ako kay Kumander.” [“I’m not sure that I can do that. I need to get my Commander’s permission first.”] Machu-machunirin [“obedient to his wife”]. This is a play on words based on “macho” and “masunurin” [“obedient”]. Rubio and Green (2011) see these puns as evidence of the greater-than-equal status of women in Philippine cultures.

Others connect masculinity to the ability to perform various tasks or act in certain ways. When performing certain tasks, particularly where strength is required, men will often be told, “Nakasalalay ang pagkalalaki doon” [“Your masculinity depends upon you being able to complete this task”].

One of my professors recalls that her mother would ask, “Wala ka ba’ng bayag?” [“Don’t you have any balls?”] of her brothers when they acted afraid. On other occasions I have heard mothers telling their crying sons that, “Tumigil ka. Hindi umiiyak ang mga lalaki” [“Stop. Men don’t cry”]. This provides some evidence that mothers share in the responsibility in constructing the pagkalalake of their children.

Formal pagkalalake studies in the Philippines.

One of the first studies of pagkalalake in the Philippines was Santiago (1977), who studied men in a Philippine village in Bulacan. Santiago identifies three ideal measurements of pagkalalake: lalaking-lalaki [“manly man”], tunay na lalake [“real man”], and mabuting tao [“good person”]. Lalaking-lalake identifies those few who achieve the katangian [“characteristics”] of pagkalalake, tunay na lalake identifies those few men who achieve the kakayahan [“ability”] to do the things men do, and mabuting tao identifies those few men who achieve goodness as humans.

She identifies three categories of pagkalalaki, namely “mga katangiang panlalake;” [“male characteristics”], “kakayahan sa pagganap ng tungkulin na initas sa mga lalake o inaasahan ng lipunan ng kanilang gampanana” [“Ability for men to perform the roles that either they or society expects of them”]; and “mga kilos at ugaling sekswal” [“sexual activities and behaviour”] (p. 168).

Santiago divides the measurement of pagkalalake into four areas, namely “ang dapat mangyari, ang mangyayari, ang hindi dapat mangyari ngunit nangyayari, ang nangyayari noong araw ngunit hindi na umiiral.” [“Things that must happen, things that happen, things that shouldn’t happen but still do, and things that used to happen but don’t anymore”].

She identifies three categories to pagkalalake as follows: “Mga katangiang panlalake.” This includes those thoughts, actions and emotions that are not seen in women. “Kakayahan sa pagganap ng tungkilin na initas sa mga lalake o inaasahan ng lipunan ng kanilang gampanana” (p. 168). This includes the ability to perform tasks that either he identifies or society identifes as male tasks. “Mga kilos at ugaling sekswal” (p. 168). Santiago admits that she didn’t gather a lot of information about this aspect of pagkalalake. She identifies two possible reasons: because 1) she, as a woman, wasn’t able to gather this information, or because 2) she didn’t have enough time to devote to this aspect of pagkalalake. She suggests that a male researcher may be able to gather more information on this category because “higit na palagayang loob ng mga lalake sa kapwa lalake” [“it’s easier for a man to open up to a man”] (p. 168). Note that Santiago’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

Tan (1989) identifies fathers in the Philippines as either procreators or dilettantes. Procreators neither enjoy nor spend much time at fathering because their understanding is primarily biological. Tan identifies this with the Philippine understanding that all children have utang-na-loob [“a debt of honor”] to their parents merely “for giving them life” (p. 34). Thus, siring children is enough. The dilettante, while having a positive fatherhood experience, is not very “active” as a father. Tan identifies OFW fathers as fitting into this “… supporting role to the main caretaker, usually the mother” (p. 30). Note that Tan’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

de Castro (1995) follows the common gender discussion of distinguishing between sex (physically male) and gender (socially constructed) but also moves into the ethical aspect of the gender debate. According to de Castro “ang pagkalalaki … ay walang aspetong etikal. Wala itong kinakailangang implikasyon para sa dapat at hindi dapat; walang itinataguyod na tama o mali” [“masculinity … has no ethical aspects. It has no necessary implications for what should or shouldn’t be; nothing is right or wrong”] (p. 141). de Castro proposes introducing the term pagkamaginoo in order to achieve the ethics that are missing from the other terms. Ethics seems to mean proper interpersonal relationships between people, regardless of their gender: “ipinamamalas ng magulang na naghahanap-buhay, nagtitiyaga sa pag-aalaga ng kanyang mga anak, nagmamalasakit para sa kanilang kapakanan at nagpapakita ng katagan sa oras ng kagipitan o sakuna” [“this is demonstrated by both parents in working, they both patiently take care of their children, they both care for their interests and show stability during times of emergency or disaster”] (p. 141). While this does provide perhaps a glimpse into how maka- Diyos might fit, it is a primarily theoretical argument based upon imprecise data.[2] This study wants to find out what Filipinos actually believe rather than simply exploring possibilities of what they can believe. Note that de Castro’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

Aquiling-Dalisay et al (1995) identify three categories of Filipino males, namely pagkalalaki [“manhood”], tunay na lalaki [“real man”], and ganap na lalaki [“perfect man”]. Note that Aquiling-Dalisay et al’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

Pingol (2001) perhaps comes closest to identifying Filipino masculinities. In a series of fifty interviews in Ilocos in 1997, she develops a Filipino notion of male identity, which she categorizes as “Prominent,” “Ideal,” “Other,” and “Lesser extent.” Prominent among the responses were: the “Ability to provide for the family” and “Success in the workplace;” the Ideal responses included: “being a good leader with intelligence and expertise, being principled, being helpful, being decent, being law-abiding, being trustworthy, and being understanding;” while the Other” responses included: “virility, physical strength, and good looks; and the “Lesser extent” response was: “the capacity to take risks, as in gambling or illicit affairs, and yet remain responsible to one’s family.” (Pingol, 2001).

What is disappointing is that she then applies Connell’s (2005) concept of hegemonic masculinity to the Philippines rather than using definitions drawn from her interviews. Pingol does, however, go on to discuss two sub-aspects of Ilocano masculinity, namely kinalalaki and malalaki. Each is seen as a culturally legitimate way of gaining masculine power in society but kinalalaki does this by means of the “ideal typical traits of the responsible husband” while the malalaki does the same through “the machismo of rogues and daredevils or malalaki” (Pingol, 2001, p. 4).[3]

Filipino Male Spirituality.

While some studies have been conducted on Filipino masculinity very few if any have been conducted on the connection between masculinity and spirituality. “Ang Manifesto ng Tunay na Lalaki” [“The Manifesto of a Real Man”] declares that “ang tunay na lalaki ay hindi nagsisimba” [“a real man doesn’t go to church”] (Xyxo Loco, 2009).

Filipino Male Spirituality plays a rather small role in Pingol’s study. I was surprised to initially find a rather negative tone to her comments. At one point, after describing how she had to politely decline the religious advances of three “evangelists,” she commented, “I had to make them feel that their religious mission was as valid as that of others” (p. 23). Her conclusion, however, points to the help that some of her informants, both male and female, did receive from their religious beliefs as they sought to reshape their masculine identity. She does note, however, “[t]urning to the Bible is not something men in the locality automatically do in times of crisis” (p. 252). I was further puzzled by the discovery that when she did a similar study of female migrants in the Middle East that religiosity was front and centre in her study. Does this indicate that perhaps religiosity is not part of Filipino male identity but is a very large part of Filipina identity? Or perhaps it indicates a change in the researcher herself.

In spite of the dearth of information on male spirituality or religiosity, there were some evidences of husbands following a moral code that helped them cope with the departure of their wives. The men interviewed showed varying abilities to cope with the changes brought about by the migration of their wives. In her discussion on changes in the sexual dynamics of the relationship, Pingol refers to a “masculine code” that some of the men chose to keep that ensured the marriage bed would be kept pure (p. 228). She connects this “code” with the concept of kinalalaki (p. 105).

This distinction between two categories of masculinity, however, while not pointing directly to spirituality, at least hints at a kind of morality that makes behaving properly worthwhile. Is this perhaps a hint of Filipino male maka-Diyos?

Rubio and Green (2011) develop a psychological instrument for use among Filipino men called the “Filipino Adherence to Masculinity Expectations scale.” Based on a study of students at St. Louis University in Baguio City, their instrument “takes into account indigenous and non- Western conceptions of masculinity in the Philippines” (p. 78) To this end, they identify seven “Filipino masculine dimensions,” namely Responsibility; Family Orientedness; Respectful Deference to Spouse, Women, and the Elderly; Integrity; Intelligence and Academic Achievement; Strength; and Sense of Community (p. 82). Once again there was no component of this masculinity framework that included maka-Diyos.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you recognise the unique features of the masculinities within your own cultural milieu? If so, what do they look like? Please put them in the comment box below.

Remember, sharing is what friends do.

Read Part 1.


1. There are several popular conceptualizations of pagkalalake in the Philippines. Both Aquiling-Dalisay et al (1995) and Rubio & Green (2011) provide good overviews of the discourse surrounding Philippine masculinity, both from the perspective of psychology.

2. de Castro has apparently no hard data to show that this is what Filipinos actually believe. See his use of “halimbawa” [“for example”] with no citation (p. 142). Even his use of “ayon sa ilan, tanda ng tunay na lalaki ang pagtupad sa pangako” [“according to some, the sign of a real man is carrying out his promises”] (p. 142) is supportive of a constructed masculinity that is at odds with what he is proposing.

3. There does not appear to be an equivalent Tagalog gloss for these two Ilocano words. The closest might be perhaps pagkamaginoo and macho.


Angeles, L. C. (2001). The Filipino Male as “Macho-Machunurin”: Bringing Men and Masculinities in Gender and Development Studies. Kasarinlan Journal of Third World Issues, 16(1), 9-30.

Aquiling-Dalisay, G., Nepomuceno-Van Heugten, M. L., Sto. Domingo, M. R. (1995). Ang pagkalalaki ayon sa mga lalaki: Pag-aaral sa tatlong grupong kultural sa Pilipinas. Philippine Social Sciences Review, 52.

de Castro, L. D. (1995). “Pagiging lalaki, pagkalalaki, at pagkamaginoo.” Philippine Social Sciences Review, 52.

Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities. 2nd Ed. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Pingol, A. T. (2001). Remaking masculinities: identity, power, and gender dynamics in families with migrant wives and househusbands. Quezon City: UP Center for Women’s Studies.

Rubio, R. J. & Green, R. (2011). Filipino men’s roles and their correlates: Development of the Filipino adherence to masculinity expectations scale. Culture, Society & Masculinities, 3(2), 77–102. doi:10.3149/CSM.0302.77

Santiago, C. E. (1977). “Pakapa-kapa: Paglilinaw ng isang konsepto sa nayon.” In R. Pe-Pua (Ed.), Sikolohioyang Pilipino: Teorya, metodo at gamit (pp. 161-170). QC: Surian ng Sikolohiyang Pilipino.

Tan, A. L. (1989). Four meanings of fatherhood. Philippine Sociological Review, 22(1), pp. 27-39.

Image of Jose Rizal by Jim Stapleton on Unsplash.

2 thoughts on “What does it mean to be a man, part 2? Masculinities in the Philippines

  1. Pingback: My thoughts on Kristin Du Mez’ “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.” | Michael J. Fast

  2. Pingback: What does it take to be a man, Part 3: How many masculinities is too many? | Michael J. Fast

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