Is that it happens to the best of us. It happens to every Pinay who commutes and suffers through a “miss miss miss!” from the tambay in the kanto or the kuya construction worker; it happens to every Pinay who has had to deal with a policeman looking at her legs through the window of her car. It happens to us even when all it might be is a lewd gaze from a random commuter, or a guy at a restaurant, or a student, or a teacher, or a boss. Or talk of the size of our breasts in a roomful of male athletes.
Cristina Ramos’ complaint of sexual harassment against the Azkals is all too familiar to me, and I don’t need to be a Sports Commissioner tasked with doing a pre-match inspection for me to sympathize. If you’ve experienced sexual harassment in any form, then you know how it can bring you to tears, how it can make you feel so small, and how it can only be a threat to you as a woman. And it’s the same whether you walk the streets on the way to work, or you enter the national football team’s locker room because you are so required by your job.
It is the same: sexual harassment is sexual harassment is sexual harassment.
Of course this complaint against the Azkals can only be larger than the manong throwing a lewd glance my way. The latter is a random daily occurrence of sexual harassment which one doesn’t get used to but which one expects. The former is within a set of circumstances that should have been controlled, within which decency was expected, during which respect should have been default. Ramos after all was in that locker room on official business, she had the right to expect a team dressed and ready for inspection, she had a right to expect a halt in testosterone and boisterous machismo, at least for the duration of her official presence in that room.
She had a right to expect that all the members of this team would be properly dressed, i.e., why would most of the team be in uniforms and one guy be in his underwear still? She had the right to expect proper decorum at the very least. Certainly the statement “Must be a B cup”delivered to the laughter and amusement of the rest of the all-male team that was there, could be nothing but sexual harassment, could be nothing but an assessment of the one woman in the room based on how large her breasts are. There was no excuse – no excuse at all – for those words to have even been articulated as if it’s a punchline to some running testosterone-driven joke.
And it is ultimately unfair to say that Ramos was imagining things, or wanting to “get attention” as one of them Azkals insinuates, or that the B-cup was referring to something else as another says. These excuses, along with having the more famous captain of the team saying that this is something that’s been blown out of proportion, are brush-offs that no one, least of all Ramos, needs to hear. These are brush-offs that hit at the victim’s credibility, excuses that shouldn’t even be on the table at this point.
Here is where Arnold Clavio was so right: the thing to do at the point of being accused of committing sexual harassment was to apologize. Clavio was en pointe: bakit kayo nagpalusot pa? Why could this not have been a sorry, quick and easy, the kind that any respectable Pinoy man would do, with head bowed, pasensya na, na-offend kayo Ma’am. Even the most macho of our stereotypical men, from Robin Padilla to Joseph Estrada, all of them, would know to raise their hands in surrender, and on bended knee say sorry for their inappropriate behavior, never putting into question how the woman felt, how she had taken offense. As per Clavio: “Lagi nating ilagay do’n sa nagrereklamo, siya yung na-offend eh. Sa sexual harassment laging binibigyang-diin diyan, kung naramdaman mong nabastos ka.”
It’s the same way that I know when a man stares at my breasts, or my legs, or looks me in the eye as we converse; in the same way that any woman would know when she is being ogled versus being treated with respect. The Azkals are in no position to question Ramos’ statements that she felt sexually harassed in that locker room; the woman who cries sexual harassment is articulating a feeling, a sense of being belittled, of being maltreated based on her gender. The proper response was a sorry, full stop.
Ah, but apparently in third- world patriarchal Philippines, we can take sexual harassment and make the men look like the victims – especially when those men are part of a well-loved Philippine sports team. Apparently here, we will re-focus all our energies on crying racist! Even when all that’s being pointed out is the fact that these boys did not grow up here, and therefore had no sense of the Robin Padilla respecting-women-while-being-a-bad-boy school of ironic gentlemanly behavior. Here, we will all fall silent instead of supporting the woman who dared point a finger at bad behavior; and then in the next breath we will judge anyone who criticizes the adored pretty-boy-athletes .
Here in this instance, we prove that instead of a collective disgust at those accused of sexual harassment, we will be more certain about vilifying the woman, whose intentions are questioned, her reasons for crying foul seen as foolish or presumptuous. And here we are all reminded about how patriarchy is so deeply ingrained in our psyches that we are still being told that we ask to be harassed because of how we look, what we wear, where we go. We forget that it is our fundamental right to live free of harassment, sexual and otherwise. It is our fundamental right to freedom that is being denied us when we are told not to do certain things because kabastusan is just around the corner.
Republic Act 9262 or the “Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004″ exists in this day and age precisely because men have yet to prove that they can deal with women’s freedoms. Meanwhile, sexual harassment exists because men continue to think of women as objects: body parts to be assessed in terms of size, body parts to jack off to, body parts period. Sexual harassment happens not because the woman is in the wrong place at the wrong time: it’s because the man continues to conform to the stereotype of being a chauvinist pig, unable to look a woman in the eye and see her as an equal because she is a person, full stop. The act of sexual harassment is always and necessarily one that puts the woman in her place: it’s a place that puts her beneath the man.
I don’t know about you, but men who get a kick out of kabastusan and belittling women in this day and age? They are nothing but boys. And I don’t care how many medals the Azkals win for this country, it seems that for them the more difficult task is looking a woman in the eye, treating her as an equal, and apologizing for having offended her. Seriously boys, get some balls and man the fuck up.