The Oxford Dictionaries define misogyny as “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women”. Sexual harassment, on the other hand, is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature…”
Since the start of the Duterte administration, focus has been largely on the drug menace. What has been grossly underestimated but is rearing its ugly head even more clearly now is the deeply rooted misogynistic mindset in so many men. In just a few months, this issue has bubbled to the surface in rapid frequency.
Take some of these recent cases.
Case 1: Locker room talk victimizes a minor
In a recent case, a woman posted screenshots of a group chat among college boys on her Facebook wall. They had posted pictures of her cousin, a minor in high school, and spoke about her sexually in so many different ways — even adding her to their chat several times so she could see what they were saying about her. The abuse was so bad — it even included a post with her face and genitalia pasted on top of it.
The female cousin who exposed the posts of these boys was subjected to threats and insults herself. She eventually deactivated her Facebook account. Many who chose to defend the boys simply attributed their actions to the “boys will be boys” syndrome.
Case 2: Anti-Marcos protesters get sexually harassed
When former President Ferdinand Marcos was suddenly buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, surprising most people, it triggered lightning protest rallies all over Metro Manila. Many of the protesters were young women in their early 20s.
Facebook posts of them began appearing and the comments were as bad as they could get. There were comments asking how much their hourly rate was (implying they were prostitutes). Other comments egged them on to show their physical assets. Even some women joined in the attack. As of this writing, many of these comments have been deleted and accounts deactivated after netizens called out the offensive reactions.
Case 3: A female journalist is cat-called by no less than then President-elect Duterte.
A female journalist, Mariz Umali, experienced what it was like to be cat-called (or wolf whistled) by none other than then President-elect Duterte in one press conference. While the whistling was viewed by many as “un-presidentiable” and inappropriate, what was more appalling was the reaction in the male-dominated room. Laughter.
Case 4: Two women legislators become targets
There were ugly rumors recently that went around about Vice President (VP) Leni Robredo’s supposed pregnancy — one she consistently denied. Even the romantic affair details of Senator Leila de Lima with her driver became a focal point during hearings instead of a probe solely on her alleged drug connection. I have often wondered how those hearings would have gone had a male legislator been in her place. Would his marital affair have been dissected in the same manner as Senator de Lima’s? Or would it have been shrugged off as an offshoot of the male libido?
Misogyny lives on in the Philippines!
In this day and age, when the Philippines stands out in Asia for having a very free press, where social media thrives, where more Filipinas are being recognized for various achievements and where women flourish as chief executives, accomplished professionals, and sportswomen, you’d think we need not deal with such issues.
The sad fact is that misogyny is very much alive in our country. It used to show its face every now and then in pocket incidents. But, like the drug menace, we underestimated the breadth of the problem. The numbers are only beginning to surface now under a leader that appears to tolerate, and even practices, it.
Look at some of the excuses given for misogynistic and sexist actions.
No. 1: It is an exercise of one’s freedom of expression. Women should take it as a compliment that men say or do these things because it means they are attractive.
“Your right to freedom of expression ends where it starts to trample on my right to dignity.”
It is not for the man who utters misogynistic words to tell a woman that she should take it a certain way (in other words, HIS WAY). Whatever a man says that puts a woman ill at ease, humiliates her, or belittles her person, makes the man’s statement wrong. Or inappropriate, at the very least.
Gender-based violence is power play where men seek to control women by subjugating them through words and actions.
No. 2: Boys will be boys
If that were so, shouldn’t all men be trash talkers? But that is not the case. Decent boys and men abound and it actually has nothing to do with social status. I have personally met security guards and taxi drivers who were gentlemen; on the other hand, there are well-to-do or powerful personalities who readily engage in cringe-worthy, sexist conversations.
No. 3: She asked for it because of… (what she wore, how she acted, what she did)
What separates men from animals is the ability to process thoughts and choose how to act on emotions. This excuse makes men sound as though they were simply animals acting on base instincts, devoid of self-control.
Films and fashion nowadays show much more skin. Does that mean every male moviegoer or man on the street turns into a potential rapist? Are women wearing such modern attire asking to be raped or sexually harassed? Should women cover up, be silent in the face of sexual harassment, or tolerate such misogynistic, sexist, or sexually hostile behavior? Absolutely not.
The “Tres Marias” bills of Sen. Risa Hontiveros
The increasing cases of misogyny, sexual harassment, and gender-based violence against women have prompted Senator Risa Hontiveros to file three (3) legislative bills recently, collectively known as the “Tres Marias” bills.
Senate Bill No. 1250 (the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill)
Senate Bill No. 1251 (Gender-Based Electronic Violence)
Senate Bill No. 1252 (the Anti-Rape Act)
Sen. Hontiveros hopes that these bills will stop the culture of rape, sexual harassment, and gender-based electronic violence against women.
But will it?
I hope it does and the bills are a good first step. However, I have some reservations about its long-term efficacy in addressing the deep-seated problem of misogyny and sexism. Punishing the offense is one thing; making sure the offender is reformed and changed is another. Penalties for the offenses simply mete out justice for the wrong committed but does not create internal change.
We need to go back to basics — to the family as the basic unit of society.
There is a problem when a family thinks misogynistic and sexist behavior is normal. Could it be that these men who now exhibit such behavior grew up in families that thought this was acceptable behavior? Was society complicit by choosing to overlook its existence? Were its victims unwittingly encouraging it to continue through their silence?
It may be more difficult to reverse such behavior in male adults. However, we can definitely start with boys who are still in their formative years. If we do not intervene now, we just may find ourselves with a new generation of men with the same problems.
The role of parents, more critically the mother’s, in forming a boy’s character determines whether her child will grow up with the proper attitude and respect for the feminine gender. I can definitely see the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) playing a role, in partnership with gender equality advocacy groups and civil society organizations that advocate against gender-based violence. Grassroots education of young mothers on their women’s rights and what they should stand up for, is key. When we start respecting ourselves and seeing ourselves as empowered, we learn to stand up against misogyny and sexism.
The Department of Education (DepEd) should also revisit the K-12 curriculum and see where it can bridge any gaps in teaching time-honored Filipino values that include gender respect.
Churches of different denominational faiths should be more proactive also in creating programs that teach the values of respect and dignity for humanity.
It’s time for Filipinas to speak up and say NO against misogyny and sexism.
A wrong will never be corrected if the victims continue to suffer in silence. I am happy to see more women coming out in the open about violations of their women’s rights but it is not yet enough.
We need a united front!
The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) already exists to address such concerns but more can be done to strengthen and support their programs. Women advocates can take up this cause and use social media to call out violations and amplify the messaging on gender respect. Many victims are cowed into silence by aggressive trolling; let us help neutralize that by likewise providing them social media support. Lastly, even if we are a small voice online, let us do our part by continuing to call out misogynistic and sexist actions. Men (and women) need to know that this is not acceptable behavior and must stop.
This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)