‘Galante’ | Inquirer Opinion
Gray Matters


/ 05:02 AM April 02, 2024

I was checking out groceries at the cashier’s in a supermarket when the power went down.

The cashiers scurried around but I knew everything would return to normal in a few minutes with generators and, indeed, the lights shortly came back on and you could hear life humming back.

Then it happened, a flash second. As the cashier on the next lane prepared to continue checking out the items, the customer she was serving tipped the sanitizer next to her and she obliged, extending her hands, and quickly thanking him, with a slight but visible blush.


I was amused. Whether they knew each other didn’t matter; it was a lovely gesture and I immediately thought, “galante,” that Spanish-Filipino word we borrowed, usually referring to a chivalrous man, helping damsels in distress by opening doors or offering to help carry something heavy.


Such forms of being galante have declined through the years, in part because of protests from feminists who see it as part of male condescension, seeing women as being the weaker sex and therefore needing assistance.

I’m ambivalent, having come from a generation—maybe the last—where being galante was hammered into our muscle memories from an early age. I still rush to the side of a woman facing the incoming traffic, never forgetting a lecture when I was a kid from an older distant female relative with whom I was crossing the street. She suddenly pushed me to her right and sternly admonished me: “When you walk with a woman, you have to protect her from the approaching traffic.”

That was part of being galante.

I entered college as feminism spread and I would hear critiques of another side of Filipino galante, this time when men would spend, no, splurge on a night out of drinking or the baptismal party for a child, or a debut, part of a sense of male obligation.

That galante is very much alive. In recent years, I’ve seen photographs on the internet usually taken by foreign journalists who point out we are the happiest, most resilient people on earth, “proving” this with photographs showing Filipino men drinking alcohol amid waist-high floodwaters.

“Where were the women?” I would ask students in my research classes and they would come up with class-based answers. If the group was more middle- or upper-class, the women were presumed to be in the house, fixing up pulutan to go with the alcohol, but if they were from a poor community, the women were presumed to be fretting, even cursing, because many urban poor women do put up a tiny sari-sari store to help make ends meet, and the alcohol our galante men were consuming were most probably from the store’s stocks.


Galante is an extravagant display of male status, often beyond one’s means. I still remember, from my childhood, stories from my mother of her women friends desperately trying to borrow money because their husbands had spent their savings on one too many galante events, sometimes even on mistresses.

As my own daughters come of age, I warn them about such galante men, a bit too quick to spend, especially on their clothes and shoes—wow, shoes. I recently saw a pair of sneakers that cost P1.3 million.

I pass on advice from my mother to my sister about never opening a joint account with a guy friend and, even after marriage, to keep separate, “secret” funds.

Working with NGOs, I was fascinated with microcredit programs that were first introduced in Bangladesh, and then spread to countries like the Philippines, where loans were extended only to all-women cooperatives because they’re better at saving and paying back amortizations.

I do want to see a return of some of the galante of the past. It need not always be men assisting “helpless” women. Recently I visited Callao Cave in Cagayan, an archaeological site accessible through steps numbered one to 184. I paused halfway and asked my guide, Christian, if we could rest for a few moments because I was really old. He immediately stretched out a hand to help me but I declined the offer, until—the 184 steps done with—I knew I had to accept to help me navigate more rocky and slippery areas, and worrying about all that would spoil me.

I haven’t had the chance to talk to my daughters about the galante guy at the supermarket, an opportunity for a lesson on discernment to tell if such acts are truly gallant or not. It’s in the spontaneity. No second thoughts, no diskarte, just being good and kind by default.

Now to make sure it isn’t done only during courtship.


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