‘Boys will be boys’: Locker room talk and online harassment

Paige Occeñola
Online spaces have made the locker rooms bigger – and more sinister

 

READ: PART 1 | Fake news, real women: Disinformation gone macho

 

MANILA, Philippines – Online spaces have made it easier for us to find friends, form communities, and create ties with other like-minded individuals. Unfortunately, the same goes for dangerous ideas and misogynistic rhetoric.

“Tangina kasing mga babae. Salita ng salita. Alam naman ng lahat na kaya lang sila binigyan ni Lord ng bibig ay para meron silang magagamit sa pag chupa.”

After the viral #MeToo movement in 2017, the Philippines has had its fair share of exposing sexist behavior online in 2018. In April, people became aware of a group called the “PUA Academy” (Pick-up Artists Academy) with their posts on how to seduce women and get them to bed, essentially reducing interactions with women into conquests. 

In November, Upsilon Sigma Phi, a fraternity in the University of the Philippines (UP), was condemned by the community after unverified chat threads supposedly involving members of the fraternity were released to the public. Dubbed #LonsiLeaks, the chat threads contained sexist statements such as “Tangina kasing mga babae. Salita ng salita. Alam naman ng lahat na kaya lang sila binigyan ni Lord ng bibig ay para meron silang magagamit sa pag chupa.” (Son of a bitch, these women. They keep on talking. Everyone knows that the reason why the Lord gave them mouths is so that they could use them for blowjobs.)

These exposés are just a small sample of the kinds of violent sexism brewing online and offline. And these kinds of conversations also bleed into our political discourse as women in power face weaponized, often gendered disinformation and harassment.

Women-unfriendly social media

For all the advances women have made in the Philippines, it remains a patriarchal society where a macho culture persists. But while Filipino women usually do not take insults to their person sitting down, attacks done online are harder to fight, partly because of the anonymity of most posts and largely because accusations, unfounded or not, become viral all too quickly.

UP sociologist John Andrew Evangelista said the Duterte era doesn’t mark the first time that women, especially those in power, have faced disinformation that their male counterparts wouldn’t typically have to tackle. He recalled that when the late senator Miriam Defensor Santiago first ran for president in 1992, there were rumors of her mental instability that earned her the nickname “Brenda” – short for “brain-damaged.”

Evangelista said that men with ambition wouldn’t be tagged as such, and there are plenty of ambitious men who seek power. What is unique to the Duterte era, however, is how quickly these rumors and monickers spread because of social media platforms.

The social media penetration rate in the Philippines is at 63%, which makes it only the 5th highest in Southeast Asia. But the global media company We Are Social says that worldwide, it is Filipinos who spend the most time on social media, a distinction they have held in the last 3 years.

Incidentally, in Southeast Asia, it is only in the Philippines that Facebook users declaring themselves as female (52%) outnumber those who say they are male. Yet that slightly more predominant female presence has apparently failed to make cyberspace safer for Filipino women.

According to the Women and Children Protection Centre of the Philippine National Police’s Anti-Cybercrime Group, cybercrimes against women is among the top 3 of the complaints received by the cybercrime group. And women’s-rights advocates insist that the situation can only get worse with someone like Duterte as the country’s chief executive.

Normalizing slutshaming, rape jokes, and the objectification of women make them easy targets for online harassment. 

‘Locker-room’ talk

“I think there’s pressure, especially in that kind of private online setting, to be just as crude as everyone else. And those guys don’t stop being themselves. It’s just an addition to their character. It’s like a secret society that’s not so secret.”

Stan (not his real name), for instance, said that raunchy comments about women are nothing new to him and his friends, especially in the online groups that he is part of. He also said that they previously had a more open group that included female members, but that some of the women complained about the kind of jokes the men made.

“Some…green jokes were still being posted and they took offense to that,” said Stan, a 28-year-old brand manager. “So the guys just made a separate group for all the locker-room talk and coincidentally, the group’s name has ‘locker room’ in it.”

A law student also said that comments become more salacious once the conversations are moved into all-male private chat rooms. Take the time, he said, when they were all looking at photographs of women. Said the student: “The comments went from ‘yeah, she’s chicks (pretty)’ to ‘son of a bitch, she looks like she’s good in bed.’”

“I think there’s pressure, especially in that kind of private online setting, to be just as crude as everyone else,” he added. “And those guys don’t stop being themselves. It’s just an addition to their character. It’s like a secret society that’s not so secret.”

“Language is political. If you use language in a violent way it perpetuates a certain mode of thought, a kind of discourse that justifies violence against women, misogyny, men’s conquest of women’s bodies.”

According to Evangelista, the fact that the men consciously move the conversations to more private groups means they are aware of the impact of what they are saying.

“The fact that they used to call it locker-room talk and they talk amongst themselves as boys, I think they know that there’s a certain level of disrespect with how they talk about women so they keep it to themselves,” Evangelists said.

“I don’t think they don’t know…they know to some extent (that) it’s disrespectful, the way they talk about women if it’s just them. I witness this with my guy friends. When we’re drinking without women, it’s appalling how they talk about women. The metaphors are violent, like ‘I de-virginized her.’”

He said that it can be hard to speak up against such language, especially when it’s the dominant one. Stan agreed, saying, “It’s hard when all of them are catcallers and are making sexual comments. It’s anything goes in situations like that. And anything you say can be used against you, like you’re a killjoy or you’re a super serious social justice warrior.”

The main excuse for the men in these groups is that this is just harmless “boys will be boys” fun, but Evangelista said that language isn’t benign. 

“Language is political,” he said. “If you use language in a violent way it perpetuates a certain mode of thought, a kind of discourse that justifies violence against women, misogyny, men’s conquest of women’s bodies. And that’s dangerous about language, because there’s the excuse that it’s just for fun. We don’t notice that it shapes how we think as a society. This is the danger of jokes, discourse that it’s just having fun.” – Rappler.com

 

CREDITS


    • Graphics by Alyssa Arizabal

    • Layout by Patrick Santos

This story was published/produced under the Southeast Asian Press Alliance 2018 Journalism Fellowship Program, supported by a grant from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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