Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Late last week, local Twitter erupted in a war of words not unlike the spats that constantly occur on the social media platform. In a series of now-deleted tweets, a woman posted screenshots of a lewd group chat between college-age friends who were talking about a particular girl with whom they were acquainted. From the original tweets, it was made known that this girl, who happened to be the original poster’s cousin, is a minor in high school and that, after making sexual comments about her physical appearance, drawing a penis over her selfie, and then listing the ways in which they’d like to do her (or beat themselves off to a young photo of her, in the far-off future when they’re old and grey), someone from the group added her into the group chat, no less than three times, which is presumably how the girl and her cousin managed to gather the screenshots in the first place.
Aside from the obvious issue here — gross and blatant disrespect and sexual objectification of a minor, which I should point out, is technically against the law — a surprising number of people were up in arms, defending the group of grown men, saying that taking this issue to “mob Twitter” was taking it too far. “They’re just doing it for the attention!” the usual claims went, as though the victim wanted to be victimized in the first place. Why had they felt the need to shame the boys publicly, when they were just doing what boys naturally do? If the victim really had been sexually harassed, shouldn’t she have gone straight to the police?
A day or so after the initial posting of the tweets, the victim’s cousin deactivated her account, after being met with a deluge of threats and insults. It’s sad, but unsurprising.
If women allow some men to get away with this without making some sort of noise, how will that be helpful in solving the bigger problem of misogyny and double standards in this country, in society as a whole?
Many things are particularly clear to me, as a woman living in the Philippines. Increasingly, I am being made aware that although I live well enough, the systems and ideologies currently in place in this country do not work in my (or other women’s) favor. It’s as if all our “progressiveness” as a woman-friendly country are smokescreens that belie truly insidious anti-women ideas and attitudes prevalent here. The New York Times recently shed light on this peculiar dichotomy: although we may look progressive, based on things like political representation — the Philippines has had two women presidents and welcomed our first transgender politician this year — general attitudes that pervade our culture from media representation to the lack of legislation that aims to protects us show that we certainly are not.
In this particular case, instead of seeking to protect the victim, who had been sexualized, objectified, and humiliated and then forced multiple times to witness this degradation, many were so quick to dismiss this exposure as attention-seeking, choosing to aggressively side with the perpetrators. After all, what’s wrong with good-natured and harmless fun?
Mirroring U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent dismissal of his own comments about “pussy-grabbing” as “locker room banter,” many have considered this episode as another case of the “boys will be boys” syndrome, a sign that we apparently do not care if our boys do not grow up to be citizens who are respectful towards women. “Bawal na ba maging manyak?” one commenter cried in jest. And although it may seem like harmless fun, it contributes to the already widespread belief that you can basically do anything to women, as long as it’s a “joke” that only humorless prudes would get mad over.
The problem, they say, is that this shouldn’t even be an issue. That this could have been dealt with in private. That women are too noisy, that we should just be happy with what we get, and don’t we understand that these unwelcome sexual comments are actually compliments?
The real problem here is that this blatant act of sexism isn’t a problem. If women allow some men to get away with this without making some sort of noise — “noise” that they are seemingly adamant at ignoring — how will that be helpful in solving the bigger problem of misogyny and double standards in this country, in society as a whole? The fact that some men still think it’s okay to talk about women this way, that they want women to see that this is how they regard them, is abhorrent. The fact that some people have chosen to defend those who engaged in “locker room banter” instead of electing to make them accountable for their words and deeds (a mirror of the Brock Turner 2015 rape case), is a disservice to these young men, who instead of being taught a lesson, are given excuses for their misdeeds. Pointing out bad behavior is necessary before one is able to correct it.
The fact that some people have chosen to defend those who engaged in “locker room banter” instead of electing to make them accountable for their words and deeds is a disservice to these young men, who instead of being taught a lesson, are given excuses for their misdeeds.
This year alone, we have fetishized lesbians and set them up as props, dismissed a then-presidential candidate’s rape joke as his manner of speaking, threatened to release a senator’s alleged sex tape as evidence for an unrelated investigation, while bemoaning how “disgusting” it is, and have constantly trivialized the unwelcome catcalling Filipinas experience everyday as harmless compliments that women should just learn to accept with grace.
We have encouraged a cycle of misogyny and double standards in which we raise young girls to be pure, demure, and chaste, while constantly infantilizing young boys and making excuses for unsavory behavior, chalking it up to old-fashioned machismo. “Ganun talaga,” we say, as though the current state of things is something we should be satisfied with. Just because this is how things used to be, it doesn’t mean that we should be content with this. We ought to be better because we know better now.
We need to raise boys and girls the same way: respectful of one another as people, regardless of gender and sexuality, in all the ways that it counts. It’s hard to do when you’ve been raised to think a certain way, but just considering the Other as a human being and an equal, not as an object, is already a big step.