The Liberal Party (LP) is in trouble with women advocates from within the party, among its allies and in the general public.
It all began when, after the oath taking of 80 LP officials, the emcee announced that MMDA Chairperson and reputed LP senatorial candidate Francis Tolentino had a “gift” for Laguna 4th District Representative Benjamin Agarao, who was also celebrating his birthday.
The “gift” turned out to to be a performance by a dance troupe, the “Playgirls”, who proceeded to twerk in very sexually suggestive ways with some men volunteers from among the guests. Unfortunately, women and children were also present to watch the sexually suggestive performance.
Social media exploded in condemnation. In quick order, Tolentino denied he had invited the Playgirls saying the emcee was just confused. LP’s presidential bet Mar Roxas and the women of the LP issued statements distancing themselves from the event. A petition requesting President Aquino to launch an investigation and have the LP issue an apology gained the necessary 5,000 votes in less than 24 hours.
The statements from the LP failed to control the outrage because Tolentino failed to make a plausible denial. As it turned out, Tolentino and other LP leaders had been hiring the Playgirls to campaign. It turns out Tolentino’s brother had hired the women for his own campaign in 2003.
Testimonies and pictures from those who attended the event noted that the emcee had repeatedly announced the performance as Tolentino’s gift and that he was close enough to the emcee to hear this and correct it. Also, despite repeated attempts by media, no one has admitted to being the person who hired the group. Not even the birthday celebrant himself could say.
Many felt that condemnation by the LP leadership and its women was not enough. Sanctions were necessary, some opined – this, to include Congressman Agarao, who defended the show with statements like, “I’m a man’s man and I like these things.”
He added that such acts were common in Manila with politicians watching these “until dawn”. In fact, Agarao went on to show his manly sophistication further by noting that in Manila the women dance “in cages”.
Sexy isn’t lewd
The silver lining in the whole affair is the unity among feminists and many netizens that the Playgirls themselves should not be condemned.
I find nothing wrong with the Playgirls. They are professionals who, from the looks of it, are paid properly and properly protected from the usual hazards that “sexy” entertainers face. It is important also to consider their views, and a look at their Facebook page shows that they do not see themselves as exploited victims.
They are not even hypocrites who pretend that what they do is innocent or wholesome, though I would imagine that some of their clients would demand such hypocrisy of them.
Apart from this, many, myself included, see nothing wrong in erotic portrayals as long as mature adults choose to perform and watch these portrayals willingly.
As an advocate of sexual and reproductive rights, I am irritated by moralistic condemnations of erotica by the conservative sex-is-dirty-unless you’re-married-and-reproductive camp. I was genuinely concerned that the Playgirls would experience a backlash.
Feminist dilemmas and macho perversity
But this surfaces an underlying dilemma in Philippine feminism, something that is also faced by women’s groups in other countries: if the Playgirls performance is not to be condemned, then what was exploitative about hiring and watching them?
Part of the answer is that there were children in the audience for whom this “sex education” would have horrified even a half-competent child development expert. There were also women in the audience upon whom this was imposed and who expressed their dismay.
I would have been appalled should I have had the misfortune of being there. It would not have been the performance that would have sickened me but being in the presence of men like Tolentino and Agarao as they gaped.
A long time ago, when I first began working with rape survivors I would ask my men friends (who, because they are my friends, are decent) why men raped women. Of course the universal answer at first was, “Dunno, boss. Wasn’t me, boss!”
Until one of them took the time to think about it so I would stop asking and infecting him with my angst. I cannot forget his rather insightful and unexpected answer, “You know how when I am in a beer garden and we are drinking and watching the women dance, gyrate and seduce us, I feel so powerful. It is as if I can have anything I want, any woman. All that I need is money or even just to reach out and take. And it isn’t even as if I really desire that woman.”
And it is this, this reinforcement of male sexual privilege and power that I decry. Not the sexual portrayal in itself, but the context in which it is taken. In our culture, women are not “treated” to the seductive gyrations of men whose job is to titillate them and play to their fantasies that they are so desirable that they can have any man.
Few men are available to fulfill women’s infantile fantasies that our power makes us desirable to young, hot bodies no matter how old, paunchy and undeserving we are. Men do not become “gifts” or “toys” to congresswomen or governors, at least not in the brazen light of the public gaze. It is this that we decry when we talk about how women are commodified and disrespected.
As I said to a friend, at least the Playgirls get paid for their subservience. What about the rest of us women who get painted with some brush of “collectible” because society allows these macho scumbags such self-indulgent arrogance? These men think that only the women they pay to seduce them are affected, failing to realize that their daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers are even more demeaned by their attitudes because they do not invite it nor gain from it and yet are subject to it nonetheless.
As I said yet to another friend: it is not the women who are lewd in this situation. It is men like Tolentino and Agarao who are lewd. Lewd, self-indulgent, and deluded.
Women, and the many decent men who advocate for gender equality, need to demand for the dismantling of the machismo that pervades our politics. I am sorry for the LP, but the hour of their test is upon them. – Rappler.com
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