Male privilege and violence
by Michael Tan

Phil Daily Inquirer, "Pinoy Kasi"
30 September 2003

Ominous, I must say of Italy's plunge into darkness right after the President's audience with the Pope, the latest in her desperate search for divine guidance. But even more ominous is the continuing Kris Aquino-Joey Marquez sideshow, which threatens to keep plaguing us for the next few days, at least until the President finds a way to get herself back into the public's imagination.

I worry about how the issue of domestic violence has been raised, only to retreat into the background, partly because of the way Kris Aquino has described it, with seething anger on both sides. It is tempting to shrug this off as a product of raging hormones, both Joey's and Kris', an inevitable product of celebrity lovers' spats.

At this point, there's no way of figuring out what actually happened, but to tie the issue of domestic violence to this Kris-and-Joey roadshow tends to trivialize the many acts of gender-based violence that are propagated each day. It is violence that revolves around male privilege on one hand and female acquiescence on the other.

On the "Dong Puno Live" TV program Saturday night, Sylvia (Guy) Estrada-Claudio, a physician and clinical psychologist, urged people to think of how this violence is often rooted in families. She was not referring to the relationships between husbands and wives (or boyfriends and girlfriends) but to the gender roles we propagate, especially by the way we raise our children.

Most of the time, we propagate these roles quite innocently. A student of mine says that whenever her brother gets sick, their mother responds by fretting, asking if he needs her to do anything, if she should go out to get him some medicine. In contrast, when it's my student who gets sick, what she gets is a scolding: "You see, you haven't been taking care of yourself. You never listen to me, so, look, now you're sick. I told you so."

I'm sure many readers will relate to these scenarios. No doubt, the mothers who do this love both their sons and daughters but still play out gender roles passed on through the generations.

Our males are raised to define their personhood ("pagkatao") in terms of masculinity ("pagkalalake"), which in turn is defined mainly in terms of privilege. Ask young teenage males what they think of "pagkabinata" (turning into an adolescent male) and they will describe what society now allows them to do: smoke, drink, stay out late at night, cut classes. In contrast, young females define "pagkadalaga" (female adolescence) in terms of responsibilities over and above those that existed before. This can mean finishing her studies, getting a job, helping siblings through school.

I've written in an earlier column how much of a risk it is to support males through school. The ones I support are always running out of their allowance before the month is up, flunking courses, getting into fraternity rumbles, and impregnating their girlfriends. My female scholars, on the other hand, will stretch their allowances and share them with siblings. They graduate on schedule and with honors.

What's disturbing is that the poorer the family, the greater the chance that the male will be delinquent. I've often had to talk with the delinquent's mother about this, almost admonishing her against allowing their son to become such "se�oritos" [house lords], amid the family's grinding poverty. These rearing practices produce the proverbial Juan Tamad, the male staying home jobless while his wife wears herself down with odd jobs to keep the family surviving.

You can imagine if a male is raised to be as privileged as he is in the Philippines, then there are no limits to his idea of what he is entitled to. In fact, his very maleness is defined, much like the peacock, by public displays of excess, spending way beyond the family's means to wear the most expensive of clothes, to get the latest models of cars and cell phones. In a conflict situation, the Filipino male is allowed, no, even expected, to rage when something goes wrong. Problems are solved, it is presumed, by male authority, male force.

If the male finally strikes a woman in anger, she is the one blamed. We see these expectations played out in the Kris Aquino case, with people speculating she probably was a nagger. In fact, both Filipino men and women have been known to advise husbands of naggers to "put her in place" by beating her up.

We see society's expectations played out even after the violence has been inflicted, people suggesting that the woman be more understanding, more patient and forgiving. The male emerges as the underdog, the victim of a woman who dares to defy male privilege.

What's so distressing about the Kris-and-Joey show is that it doesn't just play out gender norms of male privilege but may in fact be reinforcing them. Projecting Kris as a feminist heroine is dangerous; as far as I'm concerned, her coming out publicly against Marquez was done more out of spiteful ball-crushing vengeance rather than asserting women's rights. A liberated woman she is not, especially with her penchant for married men, and I can predict her impulsiveness will bring more trouble to her, and a nation as desperate for role models as the President is for word from God to make her run in 2004.

Let's have less coverage of the Kris-and-Joey debacle in the mass media, and more discussions in schools and at home about gender equity, together with some hard thinking about why and how we raise our sons and daughters to be so violently different.

�2003 all rights reserved

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