By Cai Antonio of The Filipina Feminist:
I was speaking with a friend a while back about feminist issues and then he suddenly asked me to define and explain rape culture. As I tried to give an apt explanation of rape culture, I noticed how distant my examples were to the Filipino experience. I thought to myself, how is rape culture to be framed in the Philippine setting? This post is my answer to this question. I believe that by making the concept of rape culture more applicable to the Filipino context, the understanding of rape culture can be understood not just by those who have access to its western notions but also to people who have no prior understanding of the Western definitions of rape culture. With this post, I aim to show how rape culture is evident in Philippine society and to furthermore give suggestions on how to eliminate it.
Defining Rape and Rape Culture
What is rape?
From numerous definitions, the general meaning of rape has come to be forced or non-consensual sexual intercourse. According to the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, rape occurs when a man inserts his penis or an object into a woman’s anus, vagina, or mouth forcibly or without consent. It also occurs when the victim is under 12 years of age or is demented. This defintion however, is incomplete because it neglects the fact that men can be raped and that homosexual rape can also occur.
What is Rape Culture?
In Transforming a Rape Culture, Emily Buchwald and Pamela Fletcher (2005) describe rape culture as
…a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent.… [it is a culture that] condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm… [and a culture where] men and women assume that sexual violence is… inevitable
Although I am using a Western definition, I will attempt to show how this applies to the Philippine setting by elaborating on the three main points given by this definition. I aim to show how Philippine society propagates the notion that violence is sexy and that sexuality is violent; I aim to prove that we are part of a culture that normalizes physical and emotional terrorism again women; and I aim to show how certain aspects of Filipino culture lead to the assumption that sexual violence is inevitable. Please note that the examples I will use in this post are only a few manifestations of these three main points.
Violence is Sexy and Sexuality is Violent
Media is one of the main propagators of knowledge and information in almost any culture. This is why journalists and other scholars and professionals in the discipline of media must be wary of the kind of information they let out to the public. In her book, “Rape Love and Sexuality”, Syliva Estrada-Claudio (2002) tackles the way rape is portrayed in Filipino tabloids. Tabloids, being some of the most widely consumed literature of the masses, plays an important role in the spreading of ideas and knowledge to the people. Estrada-Claudio’s findings from analyzing over 70 news clippings are as follows:
- Rape is more often than not depicted as a man on woman crime, portraying the woman as the helpless and innocent victim; and the man as pathological and mentally unstable perpetrator
This is problematic because first, this gives the idea that only women can be raped and that rape is purely heterosexual. It ignores the possibilities of women raping men; and of same-sex rape. Second, it makes invisible the victims of rape who do not express the pitiful demeanor that society expects from rape victims. Not all victims of rape exude traumatic tendencies but are expected to do so. Third, the painting of the perpetrator as mentally unstable ignores the fact that rapists are more often than not those who have close relations to the victim – most of whom are not mentally unstable.
- The writings on rape, although portrayed to be violent, are characterized with subtle praises for the man and discrimination towards the woman.
The way women are painted to be perfect victims in these stories becomes a tactic for victim-blaming despite the violence that is caused to these women. The woman’s past sexual encounters are highlighted in these stories to emphasize how she somehow asked for what happened to her and to show that she is devastated beyond repair afterwards. In most of these stories, she is called ‘victim’. This gives us the confirmation on who was raped. On the other hand, the fact the men who raped are often described as ‘suspect’ “denies us certainty as to who the rapist is.” This gives readers space to doubt perpetrators but to be reassured about the woman who was raped.
The Normalization of Physical and Emotional Terrorism Against Women
It is a fact that certain victims of rape are are made invisible due to their gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic status but most importantly, the ignorance that surrounds their experiences. Erin Gilson (2014) writes about how willful ignorance plays a role in the perpetuation of ideas that surround the normalization of rape. Willful ignorance refers to “a subconscious refusal to know as well as an active and repeated cultivation of ignorance… [it] protects one from knowing something that one implicitly does not want to know.” Willful ignorance results from the privilege of some within unjust structures. Someone remains willfully ignorant of the inequalities and disadvantages of the oppression of others; and of their own privilege because subconsciously, they refuse to comprehend these forms of oppression.
Willful ignorance in accordance to rape culture is seen in the Philippine setting simply by looking at the different articles and posts published about instances of sexual harassment. In one article published on Rappler, Sandra dela Cruz recounts her experience with a man she caught staring at her, masturbating in a jeepney. She posted about this experience on Facebook and said that she received a number of responses – some of which defended the man or told her that she was overreacting because of how she was not really hurt during the incident (Pobre, 2017). The fact that there were people who discredited the way she felt violated shows that despite the number of legislations and information that tackle rape culture, there exist people who enjoy certain privileges that prohibit them from acknowledging the injustices that victims of sexual harassment go through. This is willful ignorance at play in the sense that it shows how there are people who have grown to be so accustomed to their advantages that they end up becoming ignorant to the disadvantages of others.
The Assumption That Sexual Violence is Inevitable
The way our justice system frames sexual violence is inextricably linked to the biases present in the legal education of our current and future lawyers. According to a law student from the Ateneo Law School, the legal education provided in the Philippines is based on an outdated code. This implies the engraining of the code as law despite how certain aspects of our legal system may not fit into today’s context. This entails grave consequences for Filipino women such as the consequences present in Article 266 of the Revised Penal Code which makes adultery (when a wife cheats on her husband) a crime that is more severe than concubinage (when a husband cheats on his wife). Laws such as these imply that violence against women is inevitable. Thus, with the engraining of the code as law, the implications these laws contain are carried on to the understanding of our present and future lawyers.
Moreover, the subjectivity that goes into legal education comes into play when looking at the monetary aspect of the law. Only those who have money are thought able enough to receive a legal education; only those with great economic bearing can be provided justice. It is this mindset that allows for the discrimination of poor women in the justice system. It is this class based approach to legal aid that intimidates poor women to seek for help and likewise allows for legal professionals to form biases against poor women. Our legal system thus acts as a socio-economic class control rather than as a form of crime control. Poor women who experience sexual violence, intimidated by the elitist nature of our legal system, shy away from seeking legal help. This fosters the idea that they are alone in facing the troubles of sexual violence.
What Can We Do To Change This?
Western third-wave feminism has affected the way many young Fiiipinas’ perception of women’s issues in the Philippines – including rape culture. One of the facets of this influence is the concept of no means no. It is the idea that when someone says no or displays aversion towards any sexual advancement, it must be accepted fully by the person taking action. However, while no means no is an important concept in tackling rape culture, I believe that it is incomplete.
The fact that Philippine society views sex as malicious is at the core of rape culture in the Philippines. Although the concept of no means no propagates the idea that the lack of informed consent in sexual intercourse promotes rape, it also reinforces the negative connotation attached to sex. We cannot simply counter rape by deconstructing the negative aspects of the societal view on sex. Together with this deconstruction, we must be able to construct positive views on sex – we must talk about sex and understand that sex can be good; that pleasure is not to be feared.
Rape culture is propagated because of the reinforcement of its negative connotation. For us to dismantle rape culture we must not only be able to understand what it means to say no – that the absence of consent as the main reason for rape; but we must also understand what it means to say yes – to give consent to what we prefer, to what we want to do. This can only happen if we start accepting that yes weighs as much as no in the context of sexual relations.
Buchwald, E., & Fletcher, P. (2005). Transforming a Rape Culture. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.
Estrada-Claudio, S. (2002). Rape, Love, and Sexuality: The Construction of Women in Discourse. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.
Gilson, E. (2014). The Ethics of Vulnerability: A Feminist Analysis of Social Life and Practice. New York, NY: Routledge.
Pobre, A. (2017, January 29). VIRAL: Terrified woman shares sexual harassment trauma in jeepney ride. Rappler. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/159531-viral-woman-sexual-harassment-man-masturbated-public
Written by Cai Antonio of http://thefilipinafeminist.tumblr.com/