[Dash of SAS] To the girl who was told by Pia Cayetano ‘Boys will be boys’

Ana P. Santos
'While we try to lead lives as a modern Filipino woman, reality is that even our President says things that do not respect women. How can we act in a society that perpetuates and tolerates this?' asks the girl

To the girl in the audience who asked about toxic machismo at the Every Girl Can event on March 18, I’ve been thinking a lot about you since that day. It was a female empowerment event, one of the many that take place on women’s month. I was on that panel, and first and foremost, an apology is warranted.

You asked us: While we try to lead lives as modern Filipino women, the reality is that even our president says things that do not respect women. How can we act in a society that perpetuates and tolerates this?

The question reflected a very real concern about how the toxic machismo in the Palace is both infuriating and confusing, and how it has found its way into every day life. I can only guess why you asked that question, but I suppose that the gang rape of a nun downplayed as a joke, the Vice President openly ogled parsed as a compliment, and the humiliating expose of a fierce senator’s romantic past are among your reasons.

It is unfortunate that Representative Pia Cayetano, who positions herself as a women’s rights champion, chose to answer the question. Actually, no, hang on. I thought she would have a pragmatic advice to share. This was the woman who once supported the head of the Philippine Olympic Committee when she accused two Azkals players of sexual harassment.

“Sexual harassment must not be tolerated anytime, anywhere. Such acts should not go unpunished,” Cayetano was quoted as saying in an interview.

Deserve better

I think you deserve a better answer than Cayetano’s long list of justifications to defend President Rodrigo Duterte that included “boys will be boys” and that “you can’t be a manang” if you want to belong and “he doesn’t really mean it”. (Watch Cayetano’s reply in this video)

Cayetano promoted the passive-go-with-the-flow permissiveness that subtly enables the debasement of women and allows perpetrators (who are not limited to men) to get away with it.

I was dumbfounded by her response but managed to challenge her point by saying that words matter and when they come from public officials, especially from someone as high up as the President of the country, there is an implicit greenlight that harassment is acceptable.

Minette Minerva, the other panelist beside me, also challenged the point and took it even further by saying that we don’t excuse sexism just because it is coming from “someone we know or is a friend of ours.” She made a practical point by saying that she would not want her son to grow up to be someone like that.

Still, I feel that collectively, we fell short of our task that day which was to uplift other women and empower the young girls in the audience, some of whom were as young as 11 years old.

After the forum, two other girls approached me and asked me the same question in different ways. Instead of feeling enlightened, these young women were left confused. (WATCH: ‘Myths are only labels’)

So, to the girl Cayetano told that “Boys will be boys” and to all the other women in the audience that day, you deserve a better response to the question of how to deal with toxic machismo. Here are some men and women who think so, too, and offer their advice.  

Nikka Luna, artist and women’s rights activist:

We can’t allow toxic speech against women and girls. In the current administration, sexist comments, catcalling, objectification is now slowly categorized as the “norm.” But that is where the problem lies. It has a domino effect. Boys and men who see and hear this in the news spoken by the most powerful and influential leaders in our country will learn that men can get away with this kind of behavior and repeat it.

What you can do:

It is unfortunate how it takes so little to perpetuate gender prejudice. This type of toxic language is not harmless and should not be tolerated. We need to publicly call it out. It is crucial that we speak out when we know or feel something is wrong and offensive.

Toym Leon Imao, sculptor and painter

I believe that women do not need men to “champion” their plight against the misogyny of other men. That would still be perpetuating the “damsel in distress” scenario. The mindset should be to stand by your fellow human beings against horrible sexist behavioral aberrations of your species.

What you can do:

Misogyny comes from a position of perceived power. What I suggest to my female counterparts is to find the source of that power. Take some time to patiently follow the power line and once you find the convenience outlet, yank that plug out from the socket! Metaphorically, you are left with an appliance or a power tool that is “turned off.”

Myrza Sison, editorial director of Summit Media and former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine:

Despite our so-called matriarchal society, despite ranking 7th in the world and number 1 in Asia in the latest Global Gender Gap report, it is shocking to know that we still live in a machismo-infested culture with sexist attitudes and mores that seemingly refuse to die.

What you can do: 

“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes,” someone once said.

It is in our hands as women to help kill this misogyny by calling out each inappropriate remark, one retort at a time, by not permitting chauvinistic behavior to continue and protesting each and every incidence of it until all men – and the women who enable it – see the light and feel the consequences of their abusive actions.  

Yes, do it, even if they call you “manang,” (old-fashioned) or “maarte” (whiney), or “di marunong makisama” (not a team player).

Right is right, even if it’s not popular where you are. You must speak up for what you know in your heart to be right. Do it even if you won’t be liked, even if you’ll be maligned, even if it goes against your own personal self-interest. Do it for you, for your fellow woman, your fellow human, your fellow Filipina, your fellow Filipino. Because, really, how could you not?

Marcus Swanepoel, Strategy and Operations Director, Roots of Health, a family planning NGO in Palawan:

Be bold. If you have ideas, let people know. A lot of men don’t know how offensive what they say or do is to women.

What you can do:

  1. Educate them. You don’t have to give a lecture, but let them know what the boundaries should be. Educate and convert.
  2. Find allies. There are lots of good men out there. There are also lots of good women. Share your experiences – the good and the bad.
  3. Men like Duterte thrive on fear. Don’t be afraid. Use humor to take the wind out of their sails. If a man is inappropriate, ask him if he would talk to his mother or daughter that way. If he says yes, get your phone so you can record him. Nobody likes being publicly shamed.
  4. Learn how to defend yourself verbally and physically. You will react better to situations if you are prepared for them.
  5. Don’t be intimidated. Most men are like dogs, their bark is worse than their bite.

 – Rappler.com 

Ana P. Santos writers about sex and gender columnist for Rappler and for Sex and Sensibilities.com. She is the 2014 Miel Fellow of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and has received reporting grants from the Pulitzer Center to cover women’s issues internationally.