Clara de Hubadera: A Stripped Duality

What price does it pay to go bare for survival?

Jude Adrian Nicolas
Mar 1 · 6 min read
(PHOTO | FREEPIK)

ilipino women, throughout ages, have been on last straws against the country’s heavy patriarchal conditioning — pleasing over Maria Clara’s ‘orthodox and submissive’ likes as cultural turn-ons and womanly must-bes.

And yet, in an attempt to oppose these seemingly fragile women standards, many often brew spite to those women who live in Maria Clara contraries. An experience of struggle for many heavily-affected Filipinas in red lights, to which on what has been their ‘last resort’, peril to sex work in a wager for deemed “dignity and reputation.”

A striptease to reality

Sex work — the exchange of sexual services in for money, is undoubtedly a labor of taboo in the Philippines — a picture of work framing impurity and disgrace to our long thriving culture of ‘decency’ and sacred etiquettes among Filipinas. After all, the Philippines’ history of sex work dates back from the Japanese occupations’ comfort women to the American Naval bases and the growing cybersex industries and local and foreign sex tourism, which dire in the present.

As equated to prostitution, this criminalized and highly-stigmatized work has been inviting polarized debates between pros and anti-sex work groups, stressing the vantage points of its labor’s nature — to the stands between the work’s encouragement for women oppression, “free choice,” and the validity of this type of work.

Even so, it all boils down to what pushed those ‘Claras on jockstraps’ in those type of critical work, pressing the claims of poverty, inaccessibility to resort to other job options, and such as the main causes of these women to enter the last-gasp offers of this sex work industry. In anent with these assertions, “Women Hookers Organizing For Their Rights and Empowerment,” a non-governmental organization, revealed that there were over half a million men and women engaged in sex work in the country, and the Department of Justice and UNICEF estimates that 1/8–1/5 of these population are children (usually teen girls).

By these unprecedented numbers, it is still with no doubt that these Claras are on full-knowing of what flip sides await at the end ropes of their labors of flesh. That they are of criminal liabilities as of Article 202 of the Philippines’ Revised Penal Code, with fines ranging from ₱200 to ₱2000 and imprisonment penalty lasting for 8 to 12 years. Yet, in underlining the law’s drawbacks — many had pushed the decriminalization of sex work — bawling out the loud discourse that criminalizing it would only invite police violence, cut their already limited income streams, and deprive them of health and safety rights as they were also laborers, too.

Over the years, the swordfight just gets bloodier and bloodier for these discreetly-talked habaneras; the reality that they are called ‘criminals’ and subjects of cultural shame to a bread and butter work that they should not be entering if only our country’s other economic opportunities, in general, have become inclusive, not anti-poor, and decent-paying for these also thriving women.

Clearing things up for Claras

Taking into account from a direct experience of a sex worker, anthology author Bebang Siy shared in a CNN Philippines Life exclusive interview her encounter with a certain “Grace” who happened to be a nightclub worker at Quezon Boulevard:

“Isa sa mga nahinuha ko… she was there because madali makapasok sa ganong work,” shares Siy. “Mag-apply ka ngayong hapon, makakapasok ka na sa gabi. Kailangang kailangan niya ng pera dahil day-to-day ang expenses at pera nila. Meaning, kung ano kitain niya ngayon ay pang-kain nila bukas. Fake news na may babaeng kusang pumapasok o pinipiling pumasok sa sex work… laging babae ang frontliners sa paghahatag ng pagkain sa mesa. ‘Pag wala nang maihatag, ano ang gagawin niya?”

Also, Univerisity of Cambridge Gender Studies candidate Sharmila Parmanand, Ph.D., brought the argument of equating the surrendering of virginity and sex work to loss of self and dignity to the fore. Parmanand wronged the preconception of ‘losing more than what a usual laborer loses’ if one commodifies his/her body. Gates scholar Parmanand also questioned the assumption that selling sex leads to a special kind of trauma:

“Many sex workers do not attach this kind of meaning to their sex acts with their clients,” says Parmanand. “In the words of one of my interviewees, ‘I still have my body. It’s here with me now. What do you mean I sold it? I allow people to do certain things to my body, and I do things to theirs. When non-sex workers have ‘sex,’ they have boundaries, right? We do, too. Ours are explicitly negotiated.”

Yet, in Parmanand’s further research, many sex workers — mostly single mothers still chose sex work despite having other legal and more acceptable occupation options such as factory, domestic work, or salesclerks works. Parmanand’s respondents revealed that sex work gave them flexible working hours and higher hourly rates than other jobs that were labor-intensive and required placement fees but paid little.

It is undeniable that Clara’s likes are pushed heavily against concepts of morality. Be it nightclub workers, strippers, or any women keeping their heads afloat above blinking lights and dusk ’til dawn entertainment, many look upon them as ‘bad persons,’ unwomanly, an off factor to relationships, and a contributing factor to our country’s pre-existing patriarchal submission.

It has been long since these sex workers are carrying their own cans — taking victim-blaming to the toll of their sacrifices. Since criminalized, many chose to lurk in shadows, toiling their crawl-or-get-caught work in hopes to make ends meet, at least.

Against the backdrop of the country’s already unequal power relations and patriarchy, stretching to the extent that even our country leader allows a public skit of misogyny for himself, how much freedom can these Claras exercise on their part? What price does it pay to go for the choice that they were left of?

A push to be heard, not saved

Parmanand asserted that sex workers are also part of the labor spectrum, with sex work being as valid alike to many forms of jobs. It all sums to ‘earning,’ that whether one may be excited or not onto their duties, in the end, it is still work — a duality they aspire by day and perspire at night.

In the push for the decriminalization of sex work, Claras and all other pro groups vie for one push: to start hearing these people instead of just playing another same old rescue narrative. Joms Salvador, Secretary-General of Philippines’ women organization GABRIELA averred:

“The major benefit of decriminalization is that it allows existing sex workers to get the help they need when they need it,” says O’Bannon. “This includes regular check-ups — very important for public sexual health — and legal recourse if a client is abusive or violent. It also prevents women from losing other jobs, housing, or education just because they are sex workers…”

“…Rescuing’ women from prostitution dens would only prove useless, and these women might only go back into prostitution if such rescue programs do not include appropriate and necessary rehabilitative economic programs that would provide viable and long-term alternative jobs and social services for rescued prostituted women,” Salvador added.

Down with stockpiles of the grapple to face — poorly-exercised rights, lax of the current administration, fleeting rehabilitation, and a discriminating public eye to overcome, all vulnerable sex workers long for contemplating ears — that by their labor of choice, Maria Claras will no longer be eyeballed as less of a woman.

Jude Adrian M. Nicolas is a current Bachelor of Arts in Psychology student at University of Southern Mindanao and a Junior Feature Staff at the said University’s Official Student Publication — The Mindanao Tech. He was also the former Sports Editor of Mlang National High School’s The New Bamboo Torch, representing Cotabato Province in National and Regional Schools Press Conferences as a Sports Writer. As a student-journalist and a psychologist in the making, he channels mental health advocacies and matters through journalism and literaries. Email him at: jude@voxpopuliph.com.

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Vox Populi PH is led by an organization of young writers who want to create new, critical spaces for literature, analysis, and community journalism for readers of all ages in the Philippines.

Jude Adrian Nicolas

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Artist by heart and frustration

Vox Populi PH

Vox Populi PH is led by an organization of young writers who want to create new, critical spaces for literature, analysis, and community journalism for readers of all ages in the Philippines.

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