Teach men not to rape
When a woman says she has been raped, one of the first questions she’s asked is: “What were you wearing?” Oftentimes, the query is posed by law enforcers. But other times it comes from the mouths of people from whom the rape survivor seeks solace, protection, understanding. They can be the survivor’s spouse, boyfriend, or partner. Or parents and other family members. The question can be posed by friends, workmates, social workers, counselors, bosses, and even members of the media.
And always, implicit in the question is a corollary: Did you do something to provoke the rape? Did you tempt the rapist by sending out signals that you wanted sex?
To counter the prevailing myth that “provocative clothing incites rape,” exhibits have been staged in the United States and in Europe around the theme “What were you wearing?” The exhibits feature replicated clothing items similar to those worn by victims of sexual assault, with short accounts of what transpired before and during the rape.
The clothing items surprise not by being revealing or sexy, but because they look so ordinary and banal. They include pajamas, track suits, even a child’s “My Little Pony” shirt. In one display, there is a black bikini that the victim wore while swimming with friends. She was raped after she entered a tent to change. Indeed, women have been raped in even the most concealing of outfits: a nun’s habit, a burqa that covers the wearer from head to toe with her face behind a veil, a school uniform, and even a prison guard’s outfit.
As one exhibit organizer explained, they decided to mount the displays to “create a tangible response to one of our most pervasive rape culture myths,“ because “the belief that clothing or what someone was wearing ‘causes’ rape is extremely damaging for survivors.”
So it comes as a shock, a scandal even, that decades after the global women’s movement drummed into public consciousness the fact that rape is not a crime born of lust or desire but rather of violence and domination, the debate is being resurrected once more in our land. The public discussion was instigated by a social media post from a provincial police command “warning” “girls” not to wear short dresses and then come running to authorities after they’re molested or sexually harassed.
Immediate blow-back came not from a women’s organization or the Philippine Commission on Women, but from a 19-year-old student in the United States who just happens to be the daughter of actress Sharon Cuneta and Sen. Francis Pangilinan.
“Stop teaching girls how to dress? Teach people not to rape,” Frankie Pangilinan tweeted in reaction to the police’s FB post.
Pangilinan’s indignant reaction was then picked up by radio commentator Ben Tulfo, one of four Tulfo brothers who’ve created a common media persona of aggressive machismo. Addressing Pangilinan as “hija,” a form of address reserved for girls and young women, Tulfo declared: “A rapist or juvenile sex offender’s desire to commit a crime will always be there. All they need is an opportunity, when to commit the crime.” Then he added: “Sexy ladies, careful with the way you dress up! You are inviting the beast.”
To which the young woman shot back: “Rape culture is real and a product of this precise line of thinking, where the behavior is normalized particularly by men.” Turning to the condescension with which Tulfo addressed her, she said: “Calling me hija will not belittle my point,” then changed her name on Twitter to “hija,” which soon spawned the hashtag #HijaAko” (“IAmHija”).
Pangilinan found support, too, in the person of Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who echoed her words and admonished the Quezon province police that “there is no dress code for rape. Or for sexual harassment. Instead of teaching women how to dress, we should teach men not to rape.”
But that’s precisely Tulfo’s assertion, that there is a “beast” or hidden rapist within every man, used as both an excuse for men’s penchant for sexual violence as well as a silent threat to women to watch what they say, where they go, and what they wear—or risk unleashing the “beast.”
Pangilinan was having none of it. “The way any person dresses should not be deemed as ‘opportunity’ to sexually assault them. Ever,” she asserted. And in another tweet: “Breaking news: my clothing is not my consent.”
Bully for Pangilinan and the #HijaAko tribe for schooling Tulfo. It’s 2020, and way past time to call out, cancel, and stand up against the rote victim-blaming of women. “Hijas” and “hijos” of the evolved world who refuse to further victimize survivors of rape and assault: Keep hammering away at the rest of the preening misogynist troglodytes out there, especially those privileged with megaphones or bully pulpits, until their shabby, dangerous thinking is banished for good.
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