Sexism, ‘Playgirls’, and the Liberal Party

Paige Occeñola
Sexism, ‘Playgirls’, and the Liberal Party
When they’re not too busy washing their hands clean, their silence tells us that it is okay to treat women like objects

“Twerk It Like Miley” blared from the speakers, as multi-colored lights flashed against a scantily-clad woman wearing black underwear and silver sneakers. She twerked and grinded herself against the crotch of a man lying back on the floor enjoying the show.

“We are The Playgirls!” the woman proudly declared as they started another dance number. This scene is the kind you find in both the flashy red light districts catering to old retiring foreigners and among small-time beer houses serving sisig with beer. 

On Thursday, October 1, however, we found it in the most awkward of places: 2 in the afternoon at what appears to be an event for a congressman, his smiling face in the tarpaulin at the back, lauding his 40 years in service and wishing him a Happy Birthday. Who were the patrons? Local officials and some of the congressman’s constituents.

According to the emcee the women are gifts from embattled MMDA Chair and Senate hopeful Francis Tolentino.  

Tolentino has since then denied his involvement and says it was possible that the emcee was misinformed.
Congressman Agarao has said that as a “real man”, he sees nothing wrong with the display.
Their frontrunner Mar Roxas issued a belated statement Friday morning, saying in Filipino, “I will not tolerate, in any aspect of the campaign, this sort of abuse of women.” The women of the party called for an investigation into the incident and punitive measures against those responsible. Many of their supporters are crying foul because this was, they say, for a birthday party, and not a political event.

While it’s likely that Tolentino was a victim of an overly creative emcee, I found his statement sorely lacking. He just denied any involvement in the show but was silent on its poor taste and outright objectification of women. 

Congressman Agarao, on the other hand, is taking it a step further by implying that if you found it offensive you’re probably not a real man, as if feminism isn’t in the ballpark of what it means to be “Tunay na Lalaki,” and as if the fight against sexism isn’t one that should cut across all genders.

Regardless of whether this was part of a political event that happened earlier in the day, or if this was paid for using public funds or out of their own wallets, it happened on their watch and their silence and inaction makes them complicit and reprehensible.

When they’re not too busy washing their hands clean, their silence tells us that it is okay to treat women like objects. They’re telling us that it’s perfectly fine to reduce a woman into male entertainment instead of treating her with the same amount of respect you would have for another person.

This is problematic especially in a country and culture where men feel that there’s nothing wrong with appraising a woman while she’s walking down the street. Leaders like this only affirm the deeply-rooted misogyny and prevailing mentality that if a women is asking for respect then she should dress and act accordingly.

Women aren’t things that you can give away, gift, wrap in a nice ribbon, and present to your friends. A more acceptable way to call them would be performers, to give them at least an ounce of their agency back but even if they were called performers, is this show the kind you would have leaders of this country patronize? Would you have your representative support and patronize the systemic degradation of women only to brush it off with “lalaki kasi”?

The man implicated in this is someone who has aspirations in the legislature. He has pleaded deniability despite reports showng him on the scene and even allegedly joking: “I actually asked them to wear skirts.” As a senator he would be expected to craft laws and stand for the national population before the Senate floor. We need to ask ourselves: is this really the kind of man we want legislating in our behalf?

This also speaks volumes for the Liberal Party whose banner he is running under. When you endorse someone on your slate you are vouching for their character and competence. Is this the kind of man they believe best represents them and who deserves our vote?

This is a lesson not just for the Liberal Party but for everyone else. Claiming that this “isn’t a party thing” is like a parent saying he has no part in his children misbehaving in school. They are your responsibility and under your jurisdiction. Surely, you should be accountable for their behavior? If we can’t expect you to keep your men in line, how do we expect you to keep the rest of the country in check?

It is even more maddening when you think about the strides that women in the Liberal Party have made to push for legislation for women’s rights and fight discrimination only to have their own members engage in questionable practices that demean women.

We hope to see developments in the investigation and concrete actions on their part regarding this incident. These are baby steps but these questions remain: will the Liberal Party’s statements ensure that it will move upward from this issue, or is the problem in need of even greater action? How will they and other parties police their own ranks to make sure that these lewd displays do not happen especially now that the campaigns have started and variety shows in political rallies seem to be the norm? (READ: petition to Aquino: Apologize over ‘offensive’ LP show)

To the more astute, this would have been an opportunity. This would have been a chance for Chairman Tolentino and Congressman Agarao to share with us their stance on women’s rights, their priorities, and platforms to forward these issues, should they, under “Daang Matuwid”, be elected or reelected into office.

Instead, they hang their heads and try not to meet our eye like errant, misbehaving boys instead of leading and taking charge like the “real men” they claim to be. –

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