President Rodrigo Duterte’s “shoot them in the vagina” remark is another in his consistent pattern of misogynistic language that reinforces anti-women attitudes in society.
Presidential Spokesman lawyer Harry Roque made matters worse by saying: “You should know the President by now… Do not take [him] literally but take him seriously.” That doesn’t even make sense because it’s contradictory.
Roque further failed at damage control (if that’s what he was attempting) by adding, “You know, sometimes, these feminists are really a bit OA [overacting]. I mean, that’s funny. Come on, just laugh.”
No, it’s not funny. No, we won’t laugh. Roque is really not helping the President at all-—he’s making it worse by silencing female critics of the President’s sexism. By calling them “OA,” Roque is trivializing their concerns and ideas. By trivializing them, he is saying their words are not serious enough for public discourse, in effect silencing them.
We will not be silenced because the safety and wellbeing of our entire sex are on the line. Our culture and its values are on the line. The shape and direction of our country’s growth are on the line.
To order troops to shoot women in the vagina is to target women in a very particular manner. Even if Duterte directed his remark against a specific group—the “amazon” rebels—for their illegal actions, by reducing them to their vaginas he dehumanized them, and that dehumanization condones and encourages mindsets that tolerate violence against all women, because all women have vaginas.
His are dangerous words.
Another of Duterte’s remarks reinforces the stigma against another vulnerable group, the LGBTQ. In August 2016, he called US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg “gay” for his statement on Duterte’s comment on the rape of Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill in 1989—“Dapat ang
mayor [Duterte himself] ang nauna.”
Goldberg had said “statements by anyone anywhere that either degrade women or trivialize issues so serious as rape or murder are not ones that we condone.”
By using the adjective “gay” as an insult, Duterte reinforces negative socio-cultural attitudes towards a group that has suffered more than enough persecution already.
Note that the President has not been known to make a sexist remark directed against men. On the contrary, in true phallocentric style, he once referred to his own genitalia as the justification for his womanizing: “I was separated from my wife. I’m not impotent. What am I supposed to do? Let this [his penis] hang forever? When I take Viagra, it stands up.” He said this in April 2016 when he addressed the Makati Business Club and Management Association of the Philippines prior to the elections.
As early as then, a couple of his allies suggested that he watch his words. In October 2016, a few months into Duterte’s presidency, Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said that he should “not speak anymore… Just buckle down to work, I think it would be better.” Senator Richard Gordon said the president“must not be heard saying bad words.”
Fariñas and Gordon, however, did not say this in the context of any sexist remarks of the President, but in response to his knee-jerk reactions to criticism for his remarks comparing his bloody war on drugs to the Holocaust and his insults to then-US President Barack Obama, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and the European Union for their concerns on the extrajudicial killings.
I have yet to hear any male allies of the President chide him for his anti-women remarks.
The President’s language is phallogocentric and his attitudes misogynistic, but he is a product of his time and place. However, it must be said that these kind of remarks not only cause offense but also instill fear for the safety of women. To fail to call him out for this is to do the people, and also Duterte himself, a disservice.
Dismantling the patriarchal structures of our society will take time and much effort. What Duterte’s latest remark has done is to show us exactly what needs to be changed.
Dr. Ortuoste is a writer and communication consultant. FB: @DrJennyO, Twitter: @jennyortuoste