Midlife Transformation: Becoming Your Own Priority

An Asian woman is born into this world pre-destined never to be her own priority. She is forever identified through others: a family name, a rank, or a role. Her place in society is determined solely by the men in her life, perpetually subordinate to being somebody’s daughter, sister, granddaughter, wife, mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother. The subservient attitude found in almost all Asian women is so deeply ingrained that we are terrified to come out of our shells for fear of losing face, shaming the family, or breaking ties and social norms.

Strength and Grace ©MTHerzog

Contrary in every possible way to European or North American societies, a traditional Asian upbringing of females is undeniably detrimental to self-esteem and prevents initiatives towards independence and self-assertion. This becomes painfully clear to me over and over when confronted with German frankness, something I have come to appreciate but struggle every living moment of my life with. No matter how long I live in and with the German culture, I will never be able to shake my Asian nature. Nor do I want to.

The traditional Maria Clara Filipina depicted by Jose Rizal in all his novels, which became the classic standard  for the ideal woman for far too long, is emotional, sensitive, intelligent, faithful, religious, and suffers in silence. She does not assert her opinions, but is supportive of elders, partner, and children in every possible manner. I remember my own grandmother and mother admonishing me that it is the woman who holds the family together come hell or high waters. Don’t ask for help from your husband, but try to solve the problems on your own. He works the whole day, or is gone, so it is your job to run the home as smoothly as possible. This results in strong women who resort to all means to make things work for the family at her own expense, and keeps so many things bottled up for the sake of others.

The modern Filipina has long since emerged from the Maria Clara shell and is no longer the stay-at-home woman who cooks and cleans the whole day. You find her in middle and top management, as successful entrepreneurs, top government officials and respected diplomats. In many cases, you will also find her in just about any other country in the world being her strong and surviving self, making her way against all odds, but always remaining the demure, self-deprecating, and reserved Filipina who will go out of her way to avoid confrontation. From personal experience, the same goes for Indian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian women. The smiling and poised image projected in public is never close to the true nature beneath.

An Asian wife and mother will hover and smother, regardless of where she lives and who she is married to. It is the allure of the gentleness and graceful strength that keeps many westerners wondering, but also drives them up the wall because we do not call a spade a spade. To us, frankness is equated with rudeness, and being a brutally frank Asian woman still remains taboo till this day. We do not speak up, talk back, initiate a fight, and least of all, we never ever put ourselves first, as that is considered the ultimate act of selfishness and greed.


I grew up with these precepts and like millions of other Asian women, suffer the consequences. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of imaginary fights I have had with westerners that never solved anything simply because I was too scared to speak up. And where do I end up? In Germany, i.e. Berlin, where frankness doesn’t get more brutal. It shatters me to the core to have to step out of my Asian comfort zone and speak my mind or reveal my emotions, but if I intend to survive here, I have no choice but to do so. At what price?

For the first time ever in my life I am my own priority. And I am completely lost. I have never played the I, Me and Myself game and am making up the rules as I go along, becoming the bohemian soul in more ways than one. Transformation is painful, and on rainy days like these, when I feel defeated and deflated, I wish I could remain in my cocoon. To hell with the wings.

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