Do you know an authoritarian [leader] who is a feminist? Do you know a feminist [leader] who is authoritarian?” asked Natsy Africa-Verceles, director of the UP Center for Women and Development Studies.
Welcoming participants to the roundtable discussion on “Misogyny and Authoritarianism: Duterte’s War on Women,” Africa-Verceles was highlighting the links between authoritarianism and misogyny, or liberal democracy and feminism. The discussants at the gathering were Dr. Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, dean of the UP College of Social Work and Community Development; Melinda Quintos-de Jesus of the Center for Media Freedom and Democracy; and Dr. Jean Franco, a political scientist.
Estrada-Claudio, a psychologist, said misogyny, commonly described as hostility to women, has been employed mainly to “maintain the power of the dominant male group” and propagated by both men and women. Included in misogyny’s expression, she added, is the devaluing of women, distortion of the role of women in society, and gender bias in various arenas: law and policy, domestic relations, civic participation, even media depiction.
Notable among misogyny’s characteristics, at least among the leadership, is what Estrada-Claudio called “authoritarian aggression,” fear of outspoken and organized women, and “hypermasculinity” that establishes male domination through the use of denigration, harassment, if not outright abuse.
The President’s political style, said Franco, is “populist and performative”
—that is, carried out to win the favor (and laughter) of the populace with trademark posing, boasting and braggadocio. “Part of this is the desire to pass himself off as a ‘regular guy,’” commented Franco, normalizing his sexist attitude toward women while spreading his concept of “pariah femininity,” pandering to public disapproval of women who dare to push back and meet his verbal assaults with ripostes of their own. Thus, his depiction of the outspoken missionary nun Patricia Fox as having a “maduming bibig” or a dirty mouth, even if he has offered no
Such sexism, observed Quintos-de Jesus, has long been present in the media, mirroring the “dominant aspects of
culture and the system.”
Indeed, said Quintos-de Jesus, what has happened just two years after Mr. Duterte took office is the gradual acceptance, or tolerance, of sexism in the public discourse. Unfortunately, mainstream media have been slow, if not reluctant, to address this change in not just official language but also in official behavior and its depiction. Part of the reason, of course, is the emergence of social media dominated by Duterte supporters. But Quintos-de Jesus likewise cited the failures of mainstream media to respond swiftly and come down forcefully on those who perpetrate misogyny and engage in fake news, including the President.
One of those encouraging the public to respond to the deployment of misogyny in public discussions is Jover Laurio, aka Pinoy Ako Blog, whose regular posts have earned the ire and the abuse of Duterte supporters’ social media army.
“Not all the comments you read are from ‘organic’ sources,” Laurio points out. “Call out instances of misogyny whenever you spot them,” she advises, speaking perhaps from personal experience when she was subjected personal attacks after her identity was revealed. She has since filed suits against the perpetrators.
For her part, Quintos-de Jesus bemoaned that even amid the changing landscape, “media still live in [their own] caves,” unwilling, for example, to join the coverage of a major issue once a competitor outscoops the rest. Although, I must add, despite the general reluctance of media organizations to rally behind a cause, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day major news outlets issued a pooled editorial denouncing the practice and dissemination of “fake news.”
Issues of public interest—not just misogyny but also corruption, the cooptation of legislative and judicial independence, violations of human rights—need to be aired and seriously addressed, said the speakers, given the 2019 elections which are a real “make or break” moment for our democracy.
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