It hasn’t been a good week for the women of the Philippines; and, gentlemen, we need to talk about this. It’s been devastating for Senator Leila de Lima, certainly, but I hope you see how this is also a blow to your wife, your mother, your sisters, and your daughters.
We hit a new low in the past couple of days, and it’s difficult to say when we began this descent. Was it when the president himself threatened to release the sex tape purportedly showing one of his sharpest critics and her driver? Was it when he said that every time he watches the tape, he loses his appetite because the participants were so ugly? Was it when Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said his department may be “constrained” to present said sex tapes as evidence, or when Speaker of the House Pantaleon Alvarez approved the move to show it in Congress? Or maybe it started last week, when a broadsheet felt like it could get away with a raunchy headline at the expense of the senator.
It’s hard to tell anymore.
No matter which side of the political fence you may sit on, you have to be offended that we are even talking about this in the hallowed of halls of our legislature.
Whether the senator is guilty or innocent, the way this is being conducted is farcical, as others have already pointed out.
It is troubling to see the direction that public discourse has taken after this series of outrages. One would think that we would all be uniformly disgusted at this latest turn of events; this has not been the case, however. It says something that it was women, and only women, who first objected for non-political reasons. First there were the female senators, followed by the women in the Lower House. Even Gabriela, criticized lately for being silent on other instances of misogyny in politics, finally weighed in. The vice president—thank God for this woman—released an official statement that didn’t mince words: it all “amount[s] to the public shaming of a woman and the infliction of grave harm on her dignity as a person.”
Equally distressing is what this has revealed about us as a society: Perhaps this is a newfound streak of meanness and misogyny, or perhaps this was just lying dormant in us all along—whatever this is, it’s shown that most Filipino men (and quite a number of women, too) have only a rudimentary grasp of feminism, which is a real problem.
It’s a problem because feminism is a highly nuanced topic, and it’s hard to keep up with the rest of the world when we’re 30, 40 years behind. It’s a problem because, when we say we don’t get feminism, we’re really saying that we don’t know how to deal with more than half the population.
“Meron bang ganu’n?” House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez was supposed to have said when a (female) reporter asked the room if showing the sex tape could possibly be wrong because it was a form of slut-shaming, and not just because the sex tape wasn’t sexy enough. Even those who were opposing the showing of the video were still acting like naughty little boys throughout the presscon; one supposes that the only reason they didn’t high-five too was because their barongs would get too rumpled and their yaya might spank them. This is the kind of talk that would be more at home at your corner sari-sari store—and even then it would be slightly alarming and no less disgusting.
In Congress, from the mouths of the men who are supposed to be looking after our laws, it is downright frightening.
It’s not supposed to be this way. Our gender-equality laws are considered to be the envy of other countries in the region, and the Philippines has been ranking among the top 10 when it comes to the global Gender Equality Index—as of last year, we were at number 7, still the highest in Southeast Asia. The improvement in our rankings (we climbed two notches up) was attributed partly to the fact that the country recorded more female legislators over the year in question. And yet our index rankings are just numbers and all our laws are toothless when our own leaders themselves neither recognize the word of the law nor grasp the concepts underlying those laws.
The reactions online have been revelatory. Thank God that many women appear to be speaking up, and displaying their disgust; but what of the men?
I’d like to think that my social circles are filled with intelligent men with modern, moral sensibilities; men who treat women with respect in their daily lives. And yet—surprisingly, disappointingly—even when they mean well, like the congressmen at the presscon, they just don’t get it. Don’t show the video because it’s gross and children might see it, says one of my friends. Why are women so angry, asks another; this isn’t about all women, it’s just about Senator de Lima. If it’s really not her, then she has nothing to fear, goes a third reaction. And my favorite: It’s not offensive, so don’t be so negative.
So, gentlemen (and some ladies, too), let’s make a few things clear. No, we’re not supposed to be disgusted at the video because it’s not arousing; we’re supposed to be disgusted at the fact that we’re being asked to judge the senator because of her sex life.
No, no one should be admonishing Senator de Lima—nor any women, for that matter—to be less “hysterical;” it’s not up to you to define what women should or shouldn’t find offensive. And, yes, slut-shaming is a real thing, and it is damaging “not only to the girls and women targeted, but to women in general and society as a whole.”
The sexism that this situation has uncovered is particularly insidious because we generally think of ourselves as a progressive society. We’ve had the Magna Carta of Women, signed into law seven years ago, and so the widespread assumption is that sexism no longer exists—but it does, and it’s so become deeply pervasive because our biases have been so ingrained and so hidden. It was all just a matter of time, I guess, until it was all going to bubble up, as it did this week. Unfortunately, while other societies have the luxury of being able to talk about “implicit bias” or the “subtle sexism” of Donald Trump talking over Secretary Hillary Clinton in the US presidential debates, we have to deal with explicit bias in everyday life, and obvious sexism in our politics.
We should be better than this.
This isn’t about Senator de Lima. As today’s social media campaign reminds us, it’s about #EveryWoman, and we would all do very well to listen, and to listen with respect.
This article originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph.
Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.