[Bodymind] Shoemart, Bench, and me

The message on the Shoemart shirts endorses a criminal act. 'I hope protests continue till they really do something substantial and not just the bare minimum to make the controversy go away.'

I, too, was once controversial. 

The then MTRCB Chair Manoling Morato threatened to file charges against me from “Appari to Jolo.” But what really was frightening was being warned that a group of irate women were demonstrating the next day with placards  quoting parts of my column.

I quickly called the late Rocky Tiglao, founder and then-director of the Women’s Crisis Center, to tell her I would understand if she backed out from supporting me. I told her one of the placards would be what I’d written about oral sex: “Like champagne and caviar, semen is an acquired taste. Happily though – for some more than others, perhaps – it is cheaper than caviar and healthier than champagne.”  

Rocky was quiet for a couple of seconds. Then she said, “Why should I back out? It’s true naman.”

I am not saying Ben Chan is controversial in quite the same witty and original way I was (joke only)! For one thing, I never purposely set out to stir people up. I just wanted to share facts backed up by the latest research (Life Love Lust, Anvil Publishing: 1990and ok, ok, maybe also an opinion or two (or 3-plus)But the opinions were clearly mere opinions and not passed off as research. I was gobsmacked when people clamored for my newspaper columns to be literally burned and little old me to be carted off to jail. 

The Bench show this year and my Bodymind column which started 25 years ago presented and present alternative views on love, lust, and being human. I hope we send different messages, but both have gotten up people’s noses and, yes, have offended several – even many – people.

In the end, however, the basis for the outrage is mere opinion. Ben Chan now and myself then could easily come up with opposing opinions. For the avoidance of doubt, though, no one defended my column simply because he strutted around in a Bench T-shirt years ago.

In the end, who has the right to say “I demand Bench be penalized” simply because “I was outraged,” or that “Bench should be punished [because] their show was nothing but soft porn”?

Look, I won’t lie to you. Looking at the stills and watching the videos, I found the show pedestrian and trying too hard. And what was with the guy with the red briefs and matching red boa constrictor-like thingy draped over one shoulder? A Dennis-Rodman-at-his-most-outrageous wannabe?

Who is the arbiter of fashion, soft porn, and of what is acceptable or not?

Who has the right to insist that Bench, despite doing nothing that directly incited people to commit crimes, should apologize? And why? Is a boycott called for simply because Bench “should have thought of Filipino culture and tradition” or “respected the human body“? And who decides what is the true Filipino culture and how one should “respect the human body”? 

Contrast Bench’s behavior with that of Shoemart.

First, every purchaser of SM’s “rape” T-shirt would’ve been going around showing that message in public. Since people don’t normally buy products which display a message with which they don’t agree (except maybe during elections where the alleged thieves like senators Revilla, Estrada, and Enrile can afford to give away lots for free), could it not be reasonable to conclude that the people who wore the T-shirts implicitly endorsed its message, or at least found nothing offensive about it?

I feel, however, that Bench was just using the images to get publicity for the brand, and in a fashion show that was presented a single time to a rather restricted audience, and it was the brouhaha afterwards that brought the show to greater attention. Few would’ve reacted as strongly, if at all, without all the indignation that went viral. And I doubt Bench planned to have T-shirts that carried the those images (Uh-oh let’s hope this is not giving them ideas.)

But far more importantly, let’s look at the messages themselves. There is nothing equivocal about the SM T-shirt’s message: “It’s not rape; it’s a snuggle with a struggle.” It leaves nothing open to interpretation. Clearly, the T shirt’s message is: “You’ve got it all wrong if you think ‘snuggling’ (read sexual contact) with a person even if s/he struggles is bad (because it isn’t rape).”

If I were forced to find something the slightest bit redeeming about it at all, I would say “while the message is horrible, at least it isn’t sexist.  It encourages violence toward not only women and girls, but men and boys as well.” 

Shoemart’s message endorses a criminal act.

And there lies the rub.  

I would sign any petition that demanded Shoemart do more than apologize and take the T-shirts off the market. Shoemart must do more to make up for the damage it has caused. 

I would sign any petition that called upon the Philippine Commission on Women, the Department of Trade and Industry, etc as government watchdogs on women’s rights and VAW to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.    

I, personally, would not however sign any petition that lumped Bench with Shoemart. 

Don’t get me wrong. I am pleased we got the 5,000 signatures. I admire the people who worked to get this done, people with good hearts, indefatigable energy, and charisma. I am glad that 5,000 people, at the very least, cared enough about our country to put their names on such a petition.

I myself would feel uncomfortable signing it because of Bench’s inclusion, but as Mao Tse Tung said (even if he himself did not practice it):  Let “a hundred flowersblossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land.” 

They do things I could never do myself – inform people who would otherwise been unaware, and harness people’s anger into something concrete and attainable. 

I especially agree with Edna Aquino when she says: “The responsibility of Shoemart does not end with its withdrawal of the rape t-shirt from its shelves. It has to cooperate with the law in divulging the source, the supplier, the producer. It is a chain of responsibility from all those involved in producing and marketing this t-shirt. This is not just about trivializing rape; it legitimizes it.”   

I hope protests against Shoemart continue till they really do something substantial and not just the bare minimum to make the controversy go away.

But Bench? I am not an experienced community organizer or a veteran of getting others to join me against violators of human rights, so I could be wrong. But I can’t help wondering how many more people would’ve signed if only Shoemart were in the firing line.

I guess there’s only one way to find out, and I am volunteering my services as a gofer. – Rappler.com 

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