Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Published in Chinoy, Ateneo-Celadon’s bi-annual magazine, July 2009

When two cultures clash in values and beliefs, people’s choices and ways of life are affected greatly, while some feel trapped under the barriers we have built. The strong-willed Chinese-Filipino women are not an exception.

By Desiree Grace Tan

“If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?” internationally renowned fiction novelist Chuck Palahnuik asks. What a very interesting question to ask, especially since we are always searching inside ourselves, treading the road to “self-discovery” in our perplexing lives. Aside from inborn qualities, we must have noticed we are shaped and defined by the kind of culture we are brought up in, by people around us, as well as where we live, the food we eat, the books we read, and the movies we watch – noticeable yet discreet clues as to why we act, feel, and think the way we do.

In saying this, do we as a modernized generation limit ourselves by the opportunities the world has to give because of what culture and norms dictate? Despite the fact that today, we are now living in a borderless world, wherein the wonders of the World Wide Web, blogging and all these trendy ways to communicate bring people of every nationality and race together, some still somehow fail to fully embrace unusual cultures, perspectives, and quirks, therefore building a seemingly invisible gap, shielding us from differing beliefs and closing our minds to other great possibilities.

One example is the gap faced by Filipino-Chinese women in this country’s multi-cultural society. Women, as compared to men, are more prejudged based on appearances, skillfulness, and even ethnicity. Filipino-Chinese women are greatly influenced by conservative parents deeply rooted in Chinese customs and traditions as well as their own Chinese blood, unknowingly creating social and emotional barriers, restricting them from opportunities available beyond the glass ceiling built above them. The question now is: how are we going to break that glass ceiling? What are these barriers in the first place? Here are some of them, most of which you may recognize already, but maybe it is time to do something about it. Thus, Chinoy attempts to shed some ideas on how to break that glass ceiling.

It’s a business thing

Chinoys are known for their fabulous entrepreneurship skills and business-oriented mindsets, running flourishing enterprises in the country, from selling sumptuous hopia to manufacturing cement, they know what it takes to succeed in the business sector. In fact, an obvious trend going on these days are many Filipino-Chinese students taking up courses related to business, influenced by their parents in the hopes that their sons and daughters would acquire the necessary skills needed to run the family business, or because of the recognized impression that a business related course would bring more financial stability over other courses.

There is nothing bad about focusing on learning how to invest money, knowing what it takes to sell one’s products, and venturing into the business world, but what if this is not the path some want to tread?

This kind of pressure is even more widely distinguished among Filipino-Chinese girls, especially those who have yet to discover what they want to do in the future. Such as the case of Katherine Lim (I BS CTM), her parents have had a strong influence over her current course. “Actually, I did not have a choice. My parents want me to take up a management course because it will give me more job opportunities in the future. I also think it’s more practical this way.” she said in a mix of English and Filipino. Katherine added that she is also interested in taking up other fields of study, aside from her current major. “I will save that for next time,” she said.

As for Lindsay Ang, a sophomore student currently taking up AB Psychology, she did not follow the trend but rather chose a different path, as she plans to pursue a law degree in the future. “I sometimes think twice about my course, seeing that a lot of my Chinese friends are taking up management courses,” she admitted. “But I am happy with my decision, and I will make the most out of where I am right now,” she said, in a mix of Filipino and English. Her parents also fully support her with her decision.

Forbidden love

It is already a recognized truth that there is a continuing disapproval of marriages between Filipino-Chinese and non-Chinese. The fact that ethnocentrism exists is to blame, the belief that one’s culture or ethnicity is deemed more “superior” than others. This occurs not only among Chinese though, but also in different races everywhere. Furthermore, traditional Chinese families fear that their sons or daughters would not be able to adjust to a different kind of culture. To Filipino-Chinese girls, they are being disapproved to marry non-Chinese men more than the opposite sex, because of parents being extra protective of their daughters, while guys can get their way by bringing his wife into the Chinese family and let her adjust and learn the Chinese customs they practice.

Then again, Filipino-Chinese women today, in spite of growing up in traditional Chinese settings, know what really is important when in comes to relationships and marriage. Mae*, when asked if her parents would allow her to marry a non-Chinese, says, “Preferably Chinese, but if it happens, it happens.” When asked whether she herself prefers men of Chinese descent, she replied, “I don’t have a preference. Love comes from anywhere and anyone! It does not mean because his race is different, he would love me less than a Chinese guy would.”

Interracial Friendships

Chinese-Filipino women often face stereotypes other people have of them, which may lead them having a tougher time relating with those who are not Chinese. Examples of these are stated by Nina*, a girl who has plenty of Chinese friends. She says, “They prefer Chinese guys. Also, there’s the impression that they’re more conservative and reserved than pure Filipino girls. More often than not, they’re of the silent and shy type.”

Whether one admits it or not, different impressions of Filipino-Chinese women like what Nina mentioned do exist, and somehow, some of them might have a tougher time from easily making friends or getting along with non-Chinese people.

For Jill*, a pure Chinese girl who studied in a Chinese school all her life, she is quite apprehensive at first with making friends with non-Chinese people as she started college. “For me, the culture is just really different. I am really more comfortable hanging out with Chinese people but now, I am adjusting (to the Filipino culture) already,” she said in a mix of Filipino and Chinese. When asked whether she notices something different when she hangs out with her Chinese and non-Chinese friends, she says, “I notice something different mainly because of the fact that I was raised in a conservative Chinese family. The conversations I have with Chinese and non-Chinese (friends) are really different (from one another).”

Being used to speaking in Taglish and Chinese, Jill is still getting used to hanging out with people who speaks in a way different from hers. “What I miss most studying in a Chinese school is that I don’t have to worry if people around me would understand me or not if I speak in three different tongues all at the same time,” she laughs.

So there. Chinese-Filipino women must shatter these glass ceilings, defy existing stereotypes, and not let their traditional Chinese backgrounds hinder them from living the life they have always wanted. With the openness to celebrate the diversity of both Filipino and Chinese cultures, confidence, and having the courage to stand up for what one believes in, breaking the glass ceiling is not that hard.

*Names have been changed.


Break the glass

On creating your own path

When you have no choice but to listen to your parents’ desired path to the business world, do not think that you would just have to go with what they want and stop considering your own aspirations. Make your parents happy and at the same time do not hesitate fulfill your own dreams, however crazy or impractical they may seem. Whether you want to become a theater actress, a journalist, or a graphic designer, go ahead and take the necessary steps to pursue it. Join organizations that match your passions, read up on books about your current interests, or sign up for classes on subjects you are eager to take up. Only you can choose to be whoever you want to be, not anybody else.

On interracial relationships

Ethnocentrism may still exist, but the good news is, more and more Chinese families are becoming more open-minded about their concept of marriage. Just look at the interracial marriages happening all around us. Many Filipino-Chinese women are beginning to open their hearts not only exclusively to Chinese guys, but also to non-Chinese ones as well. So to guys out there aspiring to catch the heart of a Chinese girl, there might be more hope than ever. This is a world where possibilities are endless after all. Clashing cultures may someday stop getting in the way of loving relationships. A tip to guys wanting to court a Chinese girl: forget that she is Chinese.

On interracial friendships

Not everybody faces the troubling dilemmas when it comes to interracial friendships. The key to getting along well with those of a different culture or race is to accept them for who they are and celebrate each other’s diverse cultural backgrounds. When asked whether she gets along differently with her Chinese and non-Chinese friends, Nina says she does not. “I get along with them the same way. The stereotypes are usually just first impressions about them that change along the way. Once you get to know the person better, those impressions about them change and in the end, whether they’re pure Filipino or half-Chinese [would] not matter,” she said.

There is no reason for Chinese girls to hesitate and not make plenty of non-Chinese friends and vice versa, for friendships will always look beyond race or social class. Rather, sincerity, trust, and compassion are still the most important qualities of lasting friendships.


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