Silence and consent
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” said the late US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. In her lifetime, Roosevelt certainly faced many occasions in which she should have felt inferior or diminished (especially in her relationship with her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt), but she chose instead to rise above the situations she found herself in.
There was certainly no mystery as to why President Duterte uttered those by-now infamous words explaining why rapes occur. “Where there are plenty of pretty women, rape will take place,” said the President, responding to reports that Davao City, where he had been mayor for decades, had racked up the highest rate of rape in the country. He may have been seeking to dismiss the significance of this statistic. But the unfortunate and bigger truth was that it revealed a mindset that rape is basically born of lust and “admiration,” and that avoiding rape is basically a woman’s responsibility, even if she was born “guapa.”
Expectedly, the President’s remarks raised a firestorm of reaction from all the usual suspects. But not so expected were the statements issued by women in the President’s family—personal and political.
Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is not only President Duterte’s daughter but also mayor of Davao City (and, consequently, partly responsible for curbing criminality), replied to questions about rape in Davao with what can only be kindly described as a non sequitur. “What have you done to help (Davao)?” she challenged critics.
Mayor Duterte-Carpio insisted that the incidence of rape in Davao had gone down by at least 20 percent compared to the same period last year. A key factor in reducing the rate of rape in the city, the mayor added, were government programs that “teach children about sexuality and sexual abuse.” And, since most rape cases were committed inside homes, she added, part of the program was teaching “when a touch by a family member is no longer appropriate and acceptable.”
Nothing about reducing the number of attractive women in Davao, or making Davaoeñas less tempting to men, the main reason women are raped, according to the mayor’s father.
While Mayor Duterte-Carpio is not exactly known as a women’s advocate, another woman working closely with the President, House Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano, has mostly kept her counsel regarding the President’s rape “joke.”
Defending her silence on this and other instances when the President by word and
action offended women, Cayetano said she does take up her “concerns” directly with both
Mr. Duterte and her brother, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
But Pia Cayetano is not just Taguig representative or a political ally of the President. Because of her sponsorship of measures that seek to raise the status of women here, such as an expanded maternity leave and divorce, and her previous efforts as a senator when she pushed for the passage of the Reproductive Health Law, she has become recognized as a women’s champion in the legislature. Which makes her silence on, if not tacit consent to, the President’s misogyny all the more puzzling, if not offensive.
Silence, in this instance, can be taken for consent. Mayor Duterte-Carpio is certainly not expected to counter her father’s statements. But she is a woman and a mother, and one who said, in reaction to an earlier rape remark by her father, that she, too had been molested as a child. One would expect her to be more sympathetic to the plight of abused and assaulted women, not to turn all prickly and defensive when queried on an issue that bears directly on her performance as mayor of Davao.
And Pia Cayetano? What else can observers conclude but that her prowoman stance was
basically aimed at gaining sympathy and a higher profile in politics? Feminism is supposed to impact on every aspect of one’s life—because the personal is political and vice versa. It is not a sentiment to be turned on or off at one’s convenience or advantage.
By their silence, women who laugh and titter at the President’s outrageous remarks are consenting to, if not fomenting, their own debasement.
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