Nothing stirs up gossip like a young actress getting pregnant. It becomes everybody's business. Television actress Janella Salvador was no different, even if she did not acknowledge the rumors in public.
Actress Andi Eigenmann was in the same situation almost a decade ago. At 21, she faced a media firestorm: Who is the father? What will happen to her career? It's the stuff of movie magazines in the 80s and 90s -- baby will spell the end of a promising young star.
One month before she popped, Eigenmann the spitfire had this retort: “This is not a punishment, this is a present." It would portend her transformation into a young mother who plays by her own rules and parlay her fame into social media influence and island life in Siargao with her partner and daughters, with a third baby on the way.
"It's often seen as a stain on their image and also their salability. Will the fans still want to patronize them?," said Nathalie Verceles, a professor at the UP Center for Women Studies. How celebrities feel beholden to the public comes with a curse, especially for female stars who get pregnant outside of marriage regardless if they're of age.
"Imagine how we objectify women, how we reduce their values to having to conform. And men don’t have that problem. Hindi sila nasisira kapag nakabuntis sila kahit out of wedlock. Regardless kung sino ka pa, kung artista ka o ordinaryong tao ka, women are devalued if they get pregnant outside of marriage,” she said. Why this much shame?
It's a cultural thing
Catholicism, the legacy of three centuries of Spanish rule, continues to influence the Filipino psyche and policy to this day. Pregnancy out of wedlock is frowned upon, along with artificial birth control and same-sex unions.
“It’s really reflective of the cultural sentiments. It’s so distinct that it reveals how we continue to view women in society,” Verceles told reportr.
"And then when people get pregnant, it's stigmatized. If women want an abortion 'cause they don't feel that they're ready or don't want kids at all, kasalanan pa," she said.
It happens in the office, too
Women have dealt with society's views on pregnancy out of wedlock for so long. In 2013, TV host and model Phoemela Baranda admitted to having a 15-year old daughter, whom she hid out of fear of losing her bread-and-butter.
It also happens in corporate settings where women often fear career retaliation. The so-called “pregnancy penalty”, which happens often to women in the formal sector engaged in employer-employee relationships, punishes women in such ways that they have lesser mobility to career advancements compared to men.
"There will be a tendency for employers to always view women of reproductive age to potentially get pregnant sooner or later. If you get pregnant, there’s going to be a baby and after that there’s motherhood which also has its own penalties, and the list goes on and on. So for employers, there’s always that fear that this worker wouldn’t be as committed to the job because of the possibility of pregnancy or motherhood,” she said.
Apart from access to opportunities, the problem of pay gap also adds to the list of penalties. A 2019 study by online recruitment portal Jobstreet revealed that on average, male employees in the Philippines earn P5,000 more than their female counterparts.
Why is it harder for women?
A Princeton University study made a compelling case for why the gender pay gap exists. It found that over the course of a woman’s career, the decline in her earnings would start after the birth of her first child. In contrast, no penalty is imposed on men and they would end up earning 20 percent more than their female counterparts on average.
While there have been efforts to narrow the gap, such as the expansion of maternity leave to 105 days from 60 and the extension of these privileges to fathers (only for only seven days which Verceles described as “tokenistic”), so much of pregnancy’s penalty is still being enforced on women.
It’s for these reasons that pregnancy has become a guilt-driven enterprise, according to New York Times.
“The pregnancy concept is so loaded, if you’re married and don’t have a child yet, everybody asks you, kelan? Kelan ka mabubuntis? Then finally, nabuntis ka na, nanganak ka na, ano kinukwestiyon sa’yo – o, kelan mo susundan? Bottomline is: why are people so invested in women’s bodies?", she said.
While the Philippines has had a good run in the Global Gender Gap index for so many years, it dropped eight notches to 16th place in 2019. Although it remains as the most gender equal country in Asia, much can still be said regarding the state of gender equality in the Philippines, particularly on the topic of pregnancy and how it affects the female gender.
“But look at the men, why is it that when men get women pregnant wala namang issue? Nasira ba yung image nila? Did it serve as a hurdle that they had to overcome? It's really women who are devalued," she said.