Why ‘Boys will be boys’ and ‘Kababaeng tao kasi…’ have to stop

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Hearing a host on a morning news show blame a 19-year-old woman for allegedly falling prey to a gang rape strikes a chord, reminding us that after numerous stories, complaints, and arguments fought, we still seem to keep fighting the same battle. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In the latter half of 2017, a New York Times exposé ignited a movement that gave sexual assault survivors around the world the courage to speak up, not just about their experiences, but against the shame, the stigma, and the culture that keeps women silent.

As the #MeToo movement went viral, it spread across every media platform available and into conversations at the dinner table, breaktime chit-chat at the office, and impassioned drinking sessions among friends. At each and every one of these pockets of discourse, two things were clear — sexual assault was, and remains to be, an epidemic, and women were tired of taking all the responsibility for it.

Yet unpacking the complexities of sexual consent, sexism, and power dynamics — teaching people over and over again that no one is entitled to another person’s body, regardless of the person’s sex, the situation, or the relationship of the parties involved; that harassment is a violation of consent, and that consent must be actively given; that in whatever setting or context, no means no, silence means no, an absence of any affirmative response means no; that the victim is never at fault; that the harasser must be held accountable for their actions, and so on — all of this still appears to be a responsibility that most women have no choice but to take, lest the movement goes to waste. And so we persist.

Which is why, at least for me, hearing a host on a morning news show blame a 19-year-old woman for allegedly falling prey to a gang rape is less jarring than it is familiar. Last Monday, “Umagang Kay Ganda” host Anthony Taberna’s comments struck a chord, playing a familiar tune in my head: the same old things I’ve heard time and time again from so many people.

“Pambihira naman, o. Eto po ay hindi first time na nangyari, napakadaming pagkakataon na 'yang eyeball eyeball na 'yan, ang mas delikado, nakipag-eyeball ka na nga, nakipag-inuman ka pa. 'Yan ang problema, ‘yun ang mabigat sa lahat, lalo’t puro lalake ka-inuman mo,” said Taberna.

When co-host Jeff Canoy attempted to defend the woman and shift the blame to the suspected rapists, Taberna interjected, adding: “Hindi, sa totoo lang, madali sabihin y'ang sa lalaki eh. Pasensya na dun sa biktima, 'yun dapat mabigyan ng katarungan. Pero ito para sa future na pangyayari. Kapag ka ikaw ay babae, wag kang papasok sa lungga ng mga tulisan.

Once again, I am reminded of how the woman must always carry two weights:

On one shoulder is the burden of taking responsibility for the faults of others, brought upon by a culture that sets two distinct standards for men and women. “Boys will be boys,” one saying goes. “Kababaeng tao,” says another. It’s a culture that rewards men and punishes women for exploring the same thing — sexuality — and simultaneously encourages male entitlement while discouraging female autonomy.

Rape culture has dug its roots so deeply into our beliefs and ways that it’s as easy to propagate it as it is to unmindfully make harmful statements on television.

This is rape culture, which breeds the harmful notion that male-incited sexual violence is inevitable because that is what we’ve come to expect of them, and that the woman’s job is to stay alert, vigilant, and avoid tempting the proverbial beast resting inside every man. The narrative is unfair for both parties, and frankly, it is beyond exhausting, it is destroying women.

According to a study, 35 percent of women around the world have experienced physical or sexual violence, and around 120 million girls have experienced forced sex or other sexual acts. Another study states that in the Philippines alone, one woman or child is raped every hour. The effects of sexual violence on women are profound, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety among others.

On her other shoulder, the woman must carry another burden — that of educating people about how abiding by these standards and ideals do nothing to prevent sexual harassment, assault, and rape from happening. Not one bit. It’s what countless #MeToo stories have told us. It’s evident in each and every Weinstein story. It’s displayed in museums.

Taberna has since apologized for his victim-blaming, but only after hundreds of complaints online explaining why what he did was wrong. Why, after numerous stories told and shared, complaints made and arguments fought, do we still seem to keep fighting the same battles, holding up so much on our shoulders?

Like a parasite, rape culture has dug its roots so deeply into our beliefs and ways that it’s as easy to propagate it as it is to unmindfully make harmful statements on television. In fact, Taberna is not the only public persona who has made such a statement in public. In February, newscasters Ted Failon and Noli de Castro victim-blamed a woman who was allegedly harassed by her Uber driver. Our president has also cracked more than one rape joke in the past.

It’s a song that you can’t get out of your head. It’s something we have memorized, despite not really knowing the meaning of the words. And so, though tired, we must persist. But hopefully, as we learn how important it is to keep speaking up, more voices can join in to drown out the noise.