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‘Felix culpa’

/ 12:20 AM April 22, 2016

I am part of that unique subpopulation—millennials—who came of age at the turn of the century when huge strides were made in communication and technology. The unrepeatable phenomenon of experiencing life without and then with the Internet defined a huge shift in our childhoods; thus on some level we grew up more educated by the Internet than by our schools. It was the great “Equalizer”: For the first time, concepts that were previously confined to academic circles and dry social science treatises were widely available to any 13-year-old with a modem.

Into this picture comes something that I had never paused to think about prior to my discovery of the Internet: social justice, or the view that all people deserve fair and equitable treatment at all levels—social, economic, political and so forth. It’s become a part of how we use the Internet; we express indignation at the mistreatment of others, we share articles on great strides against racism or sexism or other types of prejudice. Maybe it’s a function of the availability of information. Maybe it’s also a function of the way social media allows us to explore stories that are not our own. For the first time, through blogging platforms and online communities, a teenager growing up in a middle-class Filipino household could have an idea of what it was like to be black in the middle of a white American suburb, or to be a lesbian afraid to come out to her conservative Christian family, or to be poor, or to be a rape victim just beginning to recover from her trauma. Through the experience of other people’s stories and exposure to a variety of ideas and counterideas, we are more able to recognize privilege and the existence of systematic inequality across cultures.

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It’s a phenomenon we see reflected in the aftermath of Rodrigo Duterte’s rape joke. People with and without political agenda or preferred candidates are coming out of the woodwork to say that rape jokes are unacceptable. Some of them are your garden-variety mudslinging, but some of them stem from the genuine need to point out that there is such a thing as rape culture, and that the Philippines in the 21st century needs to be able to recognize that such a thing exists. As such, people who had never paused to think about rape jokes before are forced to confront the idea that words have power: that the trivialization of rape is both an effect of and a contributor to the objectification of women.

It’s through social media that a lot of us are educated about what is “Not Okay,” and this is one of those times. Whatever our feelings about the presidential candidates, or their flaws and their achievements relative to each other’s, it ought at least to be clear that a rape joke by itself is nonnegotiably a bad thing.

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Where does that leave us? Clearly the rape joke (and whatever it might represent about the candidate) is just one among many factors to consider in candidate selection. Whether it plays any substantial part in swaying votes one way or another remains to be seen. To me however it has come out as a sort of felix culpa, a happy fault—an unfortunate occurrence bearing some semblance of good fruit. In a political season where the discussion on the rights of women and other marginalized groups has often been pushed to the back burner, suddenly the topic is on everyone’s lips and their Facebook feeds. There might be Internet trolls who thumb their noses up at the women’s rights movement and ask what all the fuss is about, but across the nation there are people looking at their phones and computer screens slowly digesting the idea that all along, women have had to live with some things that fundamentally have never been an obstacle to men.

Maybe there’s a lesson here: that it’s also through the discussion of online social justice that we are reminded that the first reaction to prejudice and privilege should be to educate, and not castigate. Regardless of who wins on Election Day, rape culture and the structures that keep it in place, will still exist afterwards, and what we do and say during this time has power beyond the elections and beyond the next presidential term. Maybe we do deserve a president who is willing to recognize that rape culture and systematic oppression do exist, and who won’t contribute to that. But, regardless of who wins, maybe change is coming—and maybe it starts with us and with our keyboards, and our capacity to educate ourselves and others. Whatever else the rape joke has turned out to be, it’s turned out to be a lesson on the power of words and of the Internet, and how we wield them.

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TAGS: ‘millennials’, Elections 2016, joke, Rape, Rodrigo Duterte, Technology
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