As an average female Filipino millennial, I must clarify something for those who feel threatened by the “Bawal Bastos” law: We are not trying to police your thoughts. Members of my demographic are not conspiring to scan your brain and jail you for whatever kinks you may have. (Keep those thoughts to yourself—we don’t want to be anywhere near them.) What Republic Act No. 11313 or the Safe Spaces Act, aims to curb are actions of harassment that are sexual or gender-based—you know, things that we’ve all been taught not to do since our grade-school GMRC years? Remember GMRC?
Even back when this law was still being pushed as a bill, even back when Quezon City and Manila enacted similar ordinances, there was already quite a backlash. Folks have generally disparaged this generation as overly sensitive for supposedly taking offense where there is none.
Let’s try to hash this out for those who have trouble grasping it.
One, harassment is not merely about giving or taking offense. It is a form of power play. I have written about this before (“Power play,” 12/1/17), and I will emphasize this again. Harassment is an unwelcome gesture that renders the victim helpless. It’s saying, “Even if you obviously don’t enjoy my catcall or my lewd remark, I will still assert it because I can get away with it.” A harassed person, walking down a sidewalk or doing their job in an office, barely has any option to avoid this unwelcome assertion of power.
“But I’m just trying to express my appreciation of someone’s looks,” a harasser might say. An inane excuse, even when it is sincere (which it often is not). There are much better ways to compliment someone than whistling at them, yelling suggestively, invading their personal space, physically blocking their path or making sexual comments about them.
“But it’s a harmless little thing that does not hurt anyone,” goes another excuse. We who have been harassed beg to disagree. A sexual comment, double entendre or gesture is a surefire way to humiliate someone and make them feel ill at ease. It doesn’t take physical contact to discompose a person. It doesn’t take physical contact to make someone feel uncomfortable at their workplace, or to force them to take the long way home because the shorter path is rife with catcallers.
There really is no excuse for harassment. But it seems the people who are intimidated by the Safe Spaces Act are only now being confronted by the truth that their harassment is wrong, and has always been wrong. Just because people used to tolerate it doesn’t make it right.
Unfortunately, harassers are not ready to accept this—especially because top public officials, community leaders and workplace superiors are themselves prone to making sexual remarks so casually. Harassers have been legitimized this way. They are so used to getting away with it that the idea of having to stop is an affront to them. Thus, they respond with the usual deflections: “You are too easily offended.” “I can say whatever I want.” “I don’t care about your feelings.” “Can’t you take a joke?”
And then, abusing the “freedom of speech” card, they go on to accuse antiharassment laws as repressive, when in reality, these current laws are simply a reiteration of a very basic virtue that we all should already have as civilized humans: respect.
So pardon us for calling for civilized human beings. Pardon us for supporting a law that values our dignity and security. It is tragic that we had to have a law just to reinforce some basic standards of right conduct, but considering the sexual vexations that women and men have to deal with every day, it is a law that is sorely needed. And if that irritates you, it may be time to reassess your civility.
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