DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 February) — I purposely didn’t post anything about Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s statement about feminists being “OA” or overacting to Duterte’s anti-woman jokes because I didn’t want to dignify it. It seemed like a throwback to the ‘80s when feminists in the Philippines started speaking up against the use of sexist language. Defenders of the patriarchy said we were focusing on such trivial matters. But we have long proven that language is not trivial; it is a major site of struggle. Roque’s comment simply demonstrated his low regard for women (or his subservience to his boss).
But then last week, news came out that Duterte had told the military to “pusila sa bisong” female members of the New People’s Army instead of killing them because without the vagina, they will be useless (“wa na ma’y silbi”). Shoot them in the vagina, the president ordered. And then his audience of NPA surrenderees laughed. They laughed.
I was dumbstruck by the violence embodied in that statement. And the laughter from former revolutionaries. Duterte wasn’t acting out of character; he has long shown the world what a misogynist he is. He was elected anyway (but not by me). But just when we think he cannot go any lower, he sets a new low. Here he not only uses abusive language toward women, he also encourages his (male) army to attack women brutally as a service to the country. Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Emmi de Jesus pointed it out clearly: “He is dangerously pushing the fascist Armed Forces of the Philippines to commit more bloody human rights violations and grave abuses of international humanitarian law, and takes state terrorism against women and the people to a whole new level.”
Is that OA? OA mo mukha mo.
But why did the audience laugh? As Roque has claimed, did they get the joke? And we feminists just don’t get it? I sincerely hope even non-feminists find that statement offensive. I hope anyone who has a mother or a wife/girlfriend or a daughter felt the violence of that statement. I hope we all take it personally as an attack against our vaginas and every vagina we have ever known. What kind of man would shoot a woman in the vagina? I’ll tell you what: a man who is deathly afraid of the power of a woman. It’s such an old story, it’s mythical. It used to be called the ‘vagina dentata’—the fear that the vagina has teeth and would bite off the penis, thus emasculating the man during intercourse—a fear exacerbated when a woman menstruates.
In Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, a Bosnian woman compares her vagina to her village and talks about how during the war she was taken in captivity and raped by soldiers numerous times. “Not since the soldiers put a long thick rifle inside me…don’t know whether they’re going to fire it or shove it through my spinning brain. Six of them, monstrous doctors with black masks shoving bottles up me too. There were sticks and the end of a broom.” It is the most moving monologue in the whole play, but as I’ve written before in this column, every time this play has been staged in Davao in Binisaya, there were people in the audience who erupted in laughter. I could never understand why. Others have explained that it must be nervous laughter because that’s how they release their tension in the scene. If it happened to them or to a woman they know, would they still be laughing?
I’ve been a feminist for 30 years, long enough to enjoy some gains of the movement as well as suffer its losses. But today the Duterte regime has taken us back to square one. We must not allow anyone to continue laughing at violence against women. We instead rise above the misogynist din created by Duterte and his cohorts. As women, we must keep fighting against the escalating assaults against our womanhood and our humanity. And we urge decent men to fight alongside us, because we are not each other’s enemies. We are allies.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz is an award-winning writer who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao and a columnist of Mindanao Times. This piece was first published in the Mindanao Times issue of February 12, 2018. Published with permission from the author and Mindanao Times. Follow or message her on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz)