Words and actions should go in pairs
“Order bag-o ni Mayor. Di lang daw mo patyon. Pusilon lang mo sa bisong arong … Og wa na ma’y bisong, wa na ma’y silbi.” (There’s a new order coming from Mayor. We won’t kill you. We will just shoot your vagina, so that — if there is no vagina, it would be useless.)
Imagine you’re a woman hearing these remarks from President Duterte himself, talking last Feb. 7 about what should be done to women rebels, and putting your private parts as the center of a “joke.”
Now, read this: “I don’t want to be defensive about all these, but for Women’s Month, if we can have a forgiving heart, we voted for a president, we did not vote for a priest, we did not vote for a saint.” That was Assistant Communications Secretary Marie Banaag’s response in March last year when asked if Mr. Duterte’s sexist remarks and jokes on extramarital affairs were helping push women’s empowerment.
Still, imagine you’re a woman. How does it feel to be underrated in this way, especially by another woman? If we play in Banaag’s context, it’s acceptable for men to grope you in public since they’re not saints and we should be forgiving. It’s also forgivable for men to let loose with catcalls when you pass by since they are neither saints nor priests. If we try to look at it from another perspective, His Excellency, if we stripped him of his title, is just an ordinary Filipino.
For Women’s Month, let us say clearly that we shouldn’t condone these misogynistic comments. For Women’s Month, we can’t just laugh with the President when he “jokes” about, say, what should be done with women rebels. If we accept this behavior, we affirm that women are mere objects. We rob them of their autonomy and the dignity of their bodies. Sitting idly by and laughing at these jokes neither empower women nor foster gender equality.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” This quote from the movie “Spider-Man” is relevant and applicable to any leader today. The story becomes altogether different when a city mayor takes on the highest position in the government. The responsibility one carries becomes heavier: the weight of the whole Filipino nation. One’s words are no longer personal comments but become representative statements of the country. One’s accountability for one’s actions becomes more intense; the words one utters now hold deeper magnitude and in fact become influential declarations that carry impact not only here but beyond our shores—even if one meant them as a “joke.”
Filipinos don’t need to become a “dilawan” or a “ka-DDS” to know that something is off. You only need ears to listen, eyes to see, and a functioning brain to think critically.
This piece is not meant to demonize the President. It is intended to point out the unacceptable behavior of the very person who should foster gender equality, and to let everyone else know that sexist and misogynistic comments are not fine.
No woman of any nationality, religion, or political affiliation deserves to be sexualized. A woman should be respected and not treated as a lesser being by anyone. The moment we defend Mr. Duterte’s sexist and misogynistic language is the moment when we invalidate the struggle of every woman and man who ever fought for gender equality.
And why do some people applaud and laugh whenever the President makes sexist and misogynistic remarks? This is problematic as it sends a message to every man and boy that his apparent view of women and girls as mere commodities to insult, joke about and demean is acceptable. Many Filipinos have taken on this attitude and it is now a culture deeply ingrained in our society. This culture has in turn led to opportunities for violence against women, including sexual assaults.
I don’t hate the President; I don’t blindly adore him either. In fact, I commend him for his profeminist programs when he was mayor of Davao City. But if these programs are not reflected in his language, then they’re good as nada. And no, I refuse to agree with the President’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, who said, “We need to judge him by what he did as mayor of Davao City … Davao City is a trailblazer in upholding the rights of women, so there is a distinction between his language and his policies …” The significance of the policies becomes null when their very proponent does not uphold their core principle, which is women’s empowerment.
When we ignore this heavy sin committed by the man who holds the top position in the government, we perpetuate the culture of hollow accountability. We cannot remain silent about this matter. How many times should this powerful man speak of women so insultingly before we decide to act upon it?
Women’s Month is not just something that we automatically mark every March. It’s a celebration in which we affirm that women should be treated with respect and dignity. This month sends the message that women own themselves and are not lesser beings. The true essence of this month isn’t about pretending not to hear sexist and misogynistic remarks from high up. It’s about genuine women’s empowerment; it’s about not condoning degrading comments; it’s about women and men becoming proactive in fighting sexism and misogyny in our respective fields.
Regardless of who you are, saying that you are for gender equality or you are a feminist requires you to show it not only through your actions but also through your words.
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Cristjan Dave Bael, 19, is a humanities and social sciences student at the University of San Carlos and one of the Cebuano Youth Ambassadors. He is working on two projects: Gaynitiative.PH, which aims to raise awareness about Sogie and mental health, and Project 50=50, which aims to push gender equality in the Philippines.
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