Bad joke
QUIET COMPANY - Carina Santos (The Philippine Star) - May 5, 2016 - 10:00am

The campaign period for presidential elections is never a time I look forward to. I don’t like getting into heated arguments with friends and family (and strangers), and I don’t like having to defend my choice of candidates, even if I know perfectly well why I’m voting for them. I’ve just never been a big fan of confrontations, and those that happen during campaign seasons just seem to be more about “being right” than actually saying something meaningful or helpful.

I’m not here to sway anyone towards or away from any particular presidential candidate. That choice is yours to make alone, by yourself. I’ve always been vocal about my thoughts on the candidates — a high level of scrutiny is of course required if someone is running for the highest position in the country — but I believe that each person chooses a candidate based on a set of non-negotiables. It’s not my business or anyone else’s but yours. I think we are allowed and actually should be encouraged to be critical of these people, because they represent us, an entire nation, for better or worse.

There are things worth talking about and getting into. And because I don’t want to be misconstrued as being for or against a candidate, I’m not even going to mention any names.

A few weeks ago, a presidential candidate was recounting an incident with an Australian lay missionary who was gang-raped and murdered in a jail in Davao in 1989. This is already a cruel image, but what made it so reprehensible for many Filipinos was a flippant comment about her being so beautiful, he should have gotten to her first. Many have tried to stand up for him since then, claiming the comment was made in jest, that it was a joke, that it was “taken out of context,” that it wasn’t meant in that way, that it was every excusable thing except for what it really had been: a vile joke that disrespected the memory of someone who just wanted to do her little bit of good in the world.

I watched the video again and again, as the candidate’s supporters insisted it meant something other than what it was, but even with an hour-long preamble or continuation to the comment, I believe that what he said was what he meant. There really is no way around that, no possible reason why it would make a difference if you provided context or a longer cut of a video that was obviously not spliced.

The presidential candidate’s running mate for vice president is the brother of another politician who is very visible as the champion for women’s rights. She chose to stay mum about the issue, insisting that she has spoken to the presidential candidate’s team and that her stand on women’s equality remains the same. The next day, there was still no real apology. She was also seen alongside him at a rally for his candidacy. How devastating it is to learn that the person who is supposed to take care of you cannot even make a stand in your behalf, when it matters.

Later, his camp issued an apology, then he said apologized “in general” — not for the comment that was made, but that we didn’t understand — and even later, he took back his team’s apology, saying that he had nothing to do with it.

Many supporters have called this scrutiny “propaganda” against their candidate, but this is so much bigger than these people running for office. This is less about the elections and more about creating an environment where women can feel safe again. Taken out of the election bubble, would you really go out of your way to defend such remarks?

Rape culture is real, and it’s pervasive because we refuse to do something about it. A rape joke normalizes rape and sexual abuse. It creates an environment where it’s acceptable to laugh at the victim’s expense. You see their assault and the invasion of their bodies as a punchline to a cheap joke. Jokes can be funny when they’re irreverent or crass, but when you make fun of an already victimized group of people, it’s like rubbing salt into still-open wounds. It’s already near impossible to get over sexual assault and trauma, and joking about it means that you laugh at their never-ending nightmare. You make it okay for others to laugh at it, too. To be treated like the butt of a joke, even after being violated and defiled, is unkind and abhorrent. Further, when we make light of these issues, we don’t know how to deal with them properly when they do actually happen.

So many of us insist that rape culture doesn’t exist, but why do women feel terrified of being alone at night? Why are we being told to cover up — in this heat! — just because we have failed to teach boys not to ogle or catcall or demand something from women who owe them nothing? Why does it become our fault when rapists rape when all they had to do was see us as people that need to be respected? Rape culture exists because we let it take root in our daily lives, and in doing that we keep it alive.

We all make mistakes, and when people call us out on insensitivity or cruelty, the best thing to do, perhaps, is to learn from them. When we fail to call out our leaders when they make mistakes, we become complicit in their actions. When we stand idly by, we help oppression exist.

I love the Philippines. A few years ago, I would have done anything to leave. Lately, it has been hard to love a country with people who want so little for themselves, who are okay with taking the bare minimum because “at least it’s something.” For all of the women, all I can say is this: please love yourself enough to realize that you deserve so much better than this.

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