The politics of macho
Let us admit it: The Philippines is a “macho-centric” country. If this were “Beauty and the Beast,” the Filipinos would be the townsfolk who are in awe of the brawny Gaston and his songs of self-praise. We admire men who ostentatiously display their masculinity in public. Many of us even encourage our children to be aggressive and to groom a tough-guy image. We are obsessed with the idea of being macho.
This obsession is reflected in our votes. As can be seen from the recent elections, the candidates who were regarded as macho, matapang, iron-fisted and “disciplined” garnered the most votes. The candidates we vote for are basketball heroes, action movie superstars, boxing world champions and former military officers. Our democratic system of government is so strongly influenced by this masculine ideology that we Filipinos run the politics of macho.
I personally believe that there are three major reasons why we want macho leaders. First, it is a projection of who we want to be as a nation. Our country is far from becoming a military superpower like the United States or China. We have long ceased to be the economic center of Southeast Asia. We cannot even get a single gold medal for any sport in the Olympics.
These international underachievements have led to the Filipino craving for something to boast about. Thus, the nation will always vote for a leader who exudes the sort of charisma that can overshadow all of our past failures.
The second reason is that we think we need to be disciplined. We think of ourselves as unruly children who need a good spanking from a stern father. This idea of what we think the nation needs has led us to vote for a father figure; for us Filipinos, a father is tough, aggressive and, at times, dictatorial. This has led us to vote for candidates who are known to be forceful and hard-nosed, or at least advertise themselves as such.
The last reason why we want to appear macho is this: We are hiding secrets. It is almost a cliché but more often than not, those who appear macho are those who hide things in the closet. As a nation, we have a secret that we do not want to show to the world. We are afraid to show it because we are uncertain whether the world will accept us with the knowledge. Thus, we look for an ultramasculine figurehead who is both confident and combative to secure our secret.
These reasons combined justify our want for a macho leader. But the leaders that we voted for are just macho, and not men.
I will not even attempt to define what a man is, but I can say what a man is not. A man is not one who will side with people he knows are wrongdoers. A man is not one who will try to justify his infidelity. A man is not an epitome of selective justice. He will not promote senseless killings or wish a person dead. He will never disrespect women by denying them power or position.
Most of the leaders that we have are all of what a man is not, and more. It sometimes appears that they do not give things any careful thinking at all. Every move they make seems to be an assertion of their masculinity, instead of policy. But what is peculiar about this is that the public still believes in the leaders, as reflected by their approval ratings. I am not sure if we are just overwhelmed by what is happening, or we have just been so blinded that we are actually giving our thumbs-up to the current situation.
Our approval and support of macho politics is even more evident in the cheers we give when someone is bullied during a hearing in aid of legislation in the Senate or the House of Representatives. We clamor for the sound bites delivered by lawmakers who obviously are asserting their superiority over the witnesses invited to testify at the hearing. The substance and purpose of these congressional hearings are often clouded because of our desire to see, for example, a macho senator punch another out of a committee leadership.
Since the beginning of the current administration, we have readily accepted the acts of our macho politicians. We turn a blind eye to their mistakes, and justify their immoral and unlawful acts. Our thirst for a just, disciplined and stern political system has led us to wrongfully tolerate leaders who seem to be acting on their whims and caprices.
Our strange fixation with macho politics has led us to this haunting situation where we feel “safe” because a lot of deaths are occurring. While my opposition to macho politics is not absolute, I feel that our society needs to clarify the blur. Being macho does not automatically mean being a man, and not being a man makes for bad leadership. We should understand that a leader should be more of a man than macho.
What the country needs more are responsible and accountable leaders who have the political will to end corruption, poverty and social inequalities. It does not need boisterous, noisy and unapologetic politicians who use their being macho to justify the way they talk and deal with other people. We need to open our eyes and accept the fact that true change is not with these macho politicians but with true and real men.
Benn Degusman, 24, is an associate for a law firm in Manila.
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