And 2016 has taken the plight of all women, myself included, even further downhill.
I recently stumbled upon a Facebook post that quickly became viral. The author of that post narrated how, while riding a bus from Calamba to Alabang, she drifted off and woke up to an old man informing her that he groped her breast as she slept. According to the victim, the man specifically said, “Sobrang tulog ka kanina ha. Ayan tuloy nahawakan ko dede mo. [You were sleeping so soundly a while ago. I was able to touch your breast.]” As if he deserved to be commended for doing something so exceedingly inappropriate and disgustingly repulsive. As if by falling asleep, the victim granted him some sort of permission to act upon his perverted impulses. As if harassment was a logical repercussion. As if harassment could ever be a logical repercussion.
The sad part is—the man’s misguided sense of justification for his disrespectful behavior was not the most outrageous aspect in this scenario. What personally bothered me the most was the manner in which people on social media reacted to the story. Having been shared via Facebook more than a thousand times, the post garnered plenty of reactions and hundreds of comments. Several people rushed to console and to comfort the author, asking if she was doing okay after the encounter. Some expressed their anger over the assault, condemning the stranger’s blatant disregard for personal boundaries and respect.
However, a number of the comments opted to point out that she should not have been sleeping while using public transportation in the first place. Others tagged their female friends and respective significant others via comment, gently reminding them with variations of “Wag ka matulog sa biyahe o baka mamanyak ka. [Don’t fall asleep while traveling or you might get harassed.]” Surprisingly, a few people even took the situation lightly, tagging female companions and adding lighthearted quips such as “Mag-ingat ka. Kahit na wala naman silang mahahawakan. [Take care. Even though there’s nothing for them to grope.]” and “Paano na pag flat-chested? [What if you have a flat chest?]”
Personally, I find these comments deeply troubling as they collectively insinuate a normalcy in rape culture and victim blaming. Although it is clear that these people disapprove of what happened to the author, their responses deviate from the crux of the matter, which is the objectification of women and the subsequent mistreatment towards the female gender. By steering the focus away from the principal issue and directing it towards matters of trivial bearing (i.e. falling asleep in a public vehicle), the gravity of the situation is downplayed as, at best, a common occurrence, and at worst, as a generally accepted norm. This, in turn, implies that although harassment is not a logical repercussion, it is, to an extent, a repercussion. That alone is already very harmful. Not only is this mindset completely unhelpful, but this line of thinking also, and more importantly, enables rape culture to keep happening.
Moreover, in the Facebook post, the author included two photos which displayed what she wore when the incident occurred. One female commented, “The sad part about this also is the fact that you had to point out that you weren’t wearing what most may consider ‘inviting’ just so people can understand that you were sexually harassed.”
Another recent case of sexual harassment was brought to light through Twitter and created waves of engagement, discourse, and controversy in social media. The incident revolves around a female high school student who was subjected to lewd, explicitly sexual remarks from four college-age boys. Specifically, they created a Facebook group chat wherein they repeatedly exchanged lustful and degrading comments about the girl’s physical assets. To make matters worse, the group then added that very same girl to their chat box – a virtual conversation primarily dedicated to objectifying, sexualizing and disrespecting her. Despite the victim’s multiple attempts to leave the conversation, the boys continued to re-add her. Eventually, she and her cousin took the initiative of compiling screencaps of their inappropriate chat and posted the shots on Twitter with the intention of both raising awareness of the issue and publicly shaming the perpetrators. The tweet thread rapidly gained attention, especially from millennials.
Many lauded the two for holding the harassers accountable for the vulgarity of their actions, emphasizing that posting their conversation online was a bold and empowering move to make. Despite this, however, an overwhelming number of people jumped to the boys’ defense as they believed that humiliation on such an open and encompassing platform was unnecessary, if not unwarranted. They even went so far as to accuse the girls of attention-seeking and bullying. In fact, the taunts, threats, and online backlash escalated to the point where both the victim and her cousin felt compelled to not only delete the tweet thread but to deactivate their social media accounts altogether as well.
The majority labeled the entire issue as something completely blown out of proportion and the four students’ predatory, sexually loaded commentary as simply “boys being boys”. It saddens me to note that even numerous women shared the same sentiment – plenty of whom participated in hurling insults and variations of the phrase “attention whores” toward the two girls. It saddens me that these women chose to tear each other apart instead of standing in solidarity with their fellow women against those who seek to oppress and to trivialize them. It saddens me that internalized misogyny is rampantly dominant and yet most people fail to ever realize it. It saddens me how our society is so poisonously patriarchal that it has succeeded in conditioning females such as myself to tolerate abuse and harassment as we collectively have been disillusioned into believing that men outrank us.
Why do we give these men such allowances? Why do we still continue to associate masculinity with aggression, violence, and power? More imperatively, why is it that their power must come at the expense of devaluing women, of entirely dismissing our worth? Why must we lower ourselves solely for the sake of making them feel as if they’ve been placed on a pedestal? Why do we still lower ourselves?
The two cases I have mentioned are merely the infinitesimal tip of a perpetually growing iceberg. There are many atrocities and injustices against girls that are left unnoticed by social media. There are many stories of sexism that cannot be delivered in increments of 140 characters. There are many, many women whose struggles do not grace the top of our Newsfeeds.
The prejudice against women is prevalent and predominant both online and offline. Catcalling and lewd whistles in the streets have become largely accepted practices. Abused women and victims of sexual exploitation are told they’re at fault for provoking their perpetrator’s interest. Until this very day, women are seen as bodies – lumps of skin and soft curves – before we are seen as people and these bodies are receptacles of the male gaze and commodities used for their personal gratification. Until this very day, men are absolved of any and all responsibility, leaving women to be blamed for “asking for it”. This culture of victim blaming and internalized misogyny has burrowed itself so intensively under the skin of our current society that we no longer recognize it for the threat it actually is.
2016 does not hold any promise of offering solutions to this consequential problem. As I write this, the highest position of political power in the Philippines is currently being occupied by a vociferous misogynistic male who made a tasteless joke identifying the Vice President as a nice pair of legs, who has public statements wherein he proudly claimed to have assaulted women, and whose countless sexist remarks are not only thought of as entertaining but are also completely brushed off by his supporters. Meanwhile, the United States, a globally influential and unparalleled superpower, has recently elected a businessman with an advocacy of grabbing women “by the pussy” into their presidential office.
With that said, female empowerment and solidarity among all women are at their most warranted now more than ever. However, I am in no way placing this responsibility on the shoulders of women alone. I am not denouncing all men as a single evil entity because that is not what feminism stands for. This is not a battle of the sexes, but instead a call for unity and equal opportunity.
This is not me declaring the male gender as the enemy. Rather, this is me condemning a society that has been deliberately structured and continues to thrive on revering one gender over the other, much like how the present government caters only to the elite. A society that imposes on women what they are and are not capable of doing because they are not men. A society that teaches girls at a young age that they should be ashamed of their bodies and that the length of their skirts suffices as a measure of the respect they deserve. A society that advises women to take care of themselves but refuses to instruct men to care for people. A society that habilitates rape, abuse, and harassment through impunity and by absolving those found guilty of full accountability. A society that continues to establish constructs meant to further divide us. The fight for equality leaves little to no room for silence or apathy.
Let women be women.