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Sticks and stones

/ 05:45 AM November 26, 2018

They say you can tell a lot about a person from how they react to bigotry. If this is the case, the relative silence about UP’s Upsilon Sigma Phi and their leaked group chats is very telling. The leak exposed the backward thinking and primitive language one expects from the ranks of the basest trolls. Only this time, the minds were from the state university, the supposed cream of the crop, degrading not just women but every marginalized sector of society. There was outrage, as Chancellor Michael Tan wrote earlier this week, but not enough, and not enough where it matters.

I began writing for the Inquirer in 2015. My first piece was on workplace sexism. Discouraged by condescension and harassment at worst and by a grudging tolerance at best, I wrote about a culture which is so much on the minds of working women and which is but an afterthought to even our most enlightened male colleagues. I ended that article optimistically, hoping to see what changes the years would bring, but now it’s 2018. The news is full of the latest antics of either the local strongman, who has encouraged the shooting of women in the vagina or who jokingly claimed first dibs on raping a woman, or the strongman abroad who supports grabbing women by the p*ssy. I would have liked to speak of the achievements of the war on sexism but I don’t think much has changed. How much can change when the media and its language is so much shaped by a nation’s leaders, and we are led by the loudest and most backward thinkers of all?

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It’s frightening to know how much goes on behind closed doors. We know firsthand that many men are sexist in degrees, because misogyny betrays itself, but these chats were a bigger shock than the peeks into the subcultures of the “pastors” and the “pickup artists” to which we have been treated of late. We are breeding this type of thinking in the University of the Philippines. The same men who raise their fists to sing “Mabuhay ang pag-asa ng bayan” are the same who would joke that women should be punched in the gut to induce miscarriage. These same champions of democracy talked about how the loss of (to put it delicately) intercourse with her Upsilonian husband supposedly drove former president Cory Aquino out of her mind.

In nine years in UP I had been sure in the knowledge that I was surrounded by those best poised to understand the ills of society and to make a difference, armed with intellectual rigor and political awareness, spurred on by what Browning called the rage of the young “critic and whippersnapper.” This belief has given way to a disillusionment in recent years, culminating in the final proof that we truly are a microcosm of society, and we do harbor, even protect, the basest, least evolved forms of thinking.

Do these people need to be expelled for things said in private? Should Greek letter societies, or any groups thriving on inclusivity, be abolished altogether? Whatever the answer, these events reinforce something we already know: that language isn’t harmless, but rather the catalyst and the medium for backward thought.

Dr. Tan has asked where we are failing in our educational system, and I would posit that we haven’t given enough attention to the critique of language — not just the basics of pronouns and gendered language, but a deconstruction of stereotypes and idioms, an explanation of where bigoted language is wrong, and why.

Facebook and Twitter are not supposed to be the classroom where we learn that “Wifezilla” and “crazy ex-girlfriend” tropes are not, in fact, harmless. We have come to the point where we can’t allow social justice warriors online to be the ones educating our “iskolar(s)” for us — not just those in the humanities, but down to every one who squeezes past (or jumps over) the narrow gate of a UP education. I can speak as someone in the sciences that we had this type of education in bits and pieces, but we need more. Language shapes thought as thought shapes language, and language can hurt just as any sticks or stones—and if the violence that erupted this week is any indication, it already has.

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TAGS: group chats, Hints and Symbols, kay rivera, Michael tan, University of the Philippines, upsilon sigma phi
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