Let’s say a student comes across debasing, disgusting, violent statements about her and her friends and loved ones, as well as outright threats to kill or otherwise harm her, people she knows, and minority groups. Let’s say these statements were made in a conversation between members of a powerful and influential group of men. Does she have a right to be angry?
Last week, messages between alleged members of the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity were leaked. These messages included threats to kill and violate children, women, Muslims, lumad, gays and other persons. Students of the University of the Philippines were identified, mocked and threatened with abuse and death.
In the days since the leak, various statements were made by different stakeholders in the university. Most condemned the contents of the conversation.
Some, however, called for sobriety and, even worse, framed the issue as a violation of privacy. One man actually said that the people targeted in the conversation have no right to be angry, as the threats were made in a private conversation.
I cannot speak for everyone who was targeted. I can only say that I stand in anger and solidarity with every single group and person victimized in that conversation. But last week, someone asked me how I feel about everything that was said in those messages.
What exactly do I feel?
The illusion of equality is so easily destroyed. We are told (usually by men) that women are men’s equals, that in this day and age, systemic oppression and violence are a thing of the past. Yet all it takes is a conversation between one group of men who think they are invincible to shatter that illusion.
We’ve come to expect degrading and abusive language from men in power, most notably our very own President Duterte, but to have it come from young students of our age and in our own community is still a shock and a betrayal. Naïvely, I expected better from these people. Also naïvely, I expected better from the institution involved and the administration of the university.
The reasoning “but they would never really do those things” is unacceptable. In the first place, it’s untrue. Fraternities have a long and proven history of violence. People die because of fraternities. Second, must we really wait for these words to be put into action before we condemn the twisted evil and misogyny that impelled such speech?
Neither are the statements excusable as private expressions, as jokes. To say that the lives of women, children and minorities can be belittled and threatened as long as it’s done privately and without serious intent is to reinforce a system which allows for real violence to be committed against these persons every single day.
These are things I’m sure these men don’t say to barbarians (i.e., persons who are not affiliated with any fraternity), or their girlfriends, or anyone other than their brods. This brings us to the fundamental flaw of all fraternities: They provide a safe space for men’s hate and violence. Upsilon is by no means unique in that regard.
I used to think there was nothing irredeemably wrong with fraternities. I thought they could abandon their archaic views of women and minorities, and that as times changed and they learned that their violence is not acceptable, they would stop killing neophytes and assaulting members of other fraternities. Clearly, I was wrong.
So to answer the question, how do I feel—I am outraged. Everyone should be.
Maria Patricia S. Valena was 2018 valedictorian of the UP College of Law and cocaptain of the Philippine national team in the 2018 Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition.
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