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Women do not get the joke

/ 05:02 AM September 02, 2018

The trouble with President Duterte is—and this is giving him the benefit of the doubt—he must think that raping a woman, or sexually harassing her, or bedding her or turning her into a sex object is a form of flattery.

When he tried to explain away the high rate of rape in Davao City, where he “reigned” for decades, by saying that there are so many rapes there because the city is full of guapa (attractive) women, I’m sure that he thought he was paying Davaoeñas a compliment. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has rebuked straight-laced denizens of Imperial Manila for failing to understand the mindset or raunchy sense of humor of Visayan-speaking folks. But reactions of Visayan speakers and of women from Davao have belied that contention. They are just as offended by the “joke” as their sisters elsewhere.

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Because, really, rape, or the mere threat of it, is not a laughing matter for a woman, a man or a child.

Let’s revisit what rape is all about. Nathalie Africa Verceles, director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies in UP Diliman, has this to say of the entire brouhaha around the President’s remarks:

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“Ikinukubli ng pahayag na ito ang katotohanan na ang panggagahasa ay isyu ng kapangyarihan ng mga lalaki sa pagkontrol sa katawan ng mga babae. Pinalalaganap nito ang paniniwala na ang panggagahasa ay may kaugnayan sa itsura lamang ng babae. Pawang walang katotohanan ito. Sa lipunang patuloy na nangingibabaw ang lalaki sa babae, kung saan walang pagkapantay-pantay sa relasyong pangkasarian, ang bawat babae, matanda man o bata, ay maaaring maging biktima ng karahasan laban sa kababaihan. Ang panggagahasa ay iisa lamang sa mga uri nito.”

(The statement disguises the truth that rape is an issue of the power of men over women’s bodies. It spreads the belief that rape has something to do with women’s attractiveness. There is no truth at all to this. In a society where men continue to dominate women, where there is no equality in the relations between genders, every woman, old or young, could be a victim of violence against women. Rape is just one form of it.)

Expectedly, the remarks, delivered in the President’s trademark homely style before an appreciative audience (or so it appeared), raised hackles among women’s groups and political opponents.

Roque chided the critics who he said failed to appreciate the way PDuts speaks and frames an issue. Mayor Sara Duterte rebuked those offended by the rape “joke” by asking what these folks had done to “help” Davao.

Well, perhaps by raising their voices against the President’s use of humor to explain rape, the critics are in fact helping the women of Davao and all Filipino women. Perhaps, by seeing that rape or sexual assault is born of violence, power, entitlement and loathing and little to do with lust and opportunity, victims could understand that they do not share in the guilt (or bear responsibility for the abuse) and thus should not be blamed for it.

It is this sense of shame and others’ suspicion that perhaps in some unknown way they “invited” the abusive behavior that can burden a rape survivor long after the crime. Not surprisingly, survivors exhibit the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, replaying the crime over and over in their mind.

Mr. Duterte’s remarks also contain a flipside to the idea that women somehow are asking to be raped by looking good, being young, being sexy or dressing provocatively.

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These, of course, are myths and excuses perpetrated by men, who claim that they are “helpless” in the face of such temptations, and that women should dress modestly, hide their faces and stay indoors if they do not want to invite molestation. (Of course, rape and violence could very well happen at home, in school or even in church!)

“Tao lamang po (just human),” to use the excuse offered by UP President Danny Concepcion for cavorting onstage with Imee Marcos, will not cut it. It is precisely being human that obligates everyone—male or female—to respect others’ boundaries and punish those who would abuse their power and privilege.

rdavid@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: Davao City, Duterte, opinion, Rape joke
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