The least popular of the presidential candidates held a presscon on Easter Sunday to state that they were not withdrawing from the race, with Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso calling on Vice President Leni Robredo to withdraw instead. As some have pointed out, it was an odd move to focus on her considering that Bongbong Marcos has been topping election surveys, while Robredo has consistently been the second leading candidate.
The backlash came swift, and by Monday many of the participants released statements backtracking on what was said. Senator Ping Lacson and former defense chief Norberto Gonzales stated that they were blindsided by Domagoso’s call for Robredo’s withdrawal, while the Manila mayor himself admitted that he went off-script. Dr. Willie Ong, Domagoso’s running mate, also came forward to disagree with the call for Robredo’s withdrawal.
‘I’M APOLOGIZING TO HER.’
Presidential candidate Norberto Gonzales apologized to VP Leni Robredo over the controversial press conference, admitting he felt “uncomfortable” when Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso called for her withdrawal from the race. https://t.co/BgiKVA5VSApic.twitter.com/oMCULKUz7e
One of the things that Domagoso and the others tried to hammer down was that they didn’t want to offend Robredo, and that’s why they chose to stage a press conference. “Baka ma-offend, babae eh. Ayaw namin. Alam mo, there was a time nasa debate kami ni Senator Ping. Gusto na namin mag–[argue], kaya lang nahiya kami kasi babae.”
Setting aside the faulty logic behind staging a press con to tell someone to withdraw because you didn’t want to offend them by saying something to their face, Isko’s statement leaves a very poor taste in one’s mouth. It reeks very much of old-school misogyny and toxic masculinity.
If you say that you didn’t put your whole effort into a debate because you were debating against a woman, “kasi babae,” it implicitly says that you do not see the other person as an equal. It says that you chose to put kid gloves on because you wanted to go soft on someone who’s not on your level.
Women don’t need to be coddled. Women can hold their own. They’re not precious little dolls whose feelings you need to protect. You’re doing a disservice to them by treating them as one—and also put yourself at a disadvantage. On a debate level, it means that you bar yourself from giving a good performance.
It’s sadly not uncommon for women to experience sexism at a debate. They can face male debaters either going too soft on them, like Isko mentioned, or inversely, intense aggression. Aside from that, they have to deal with the audience hyperfocusing on every little detail: how they dressed, their tone of voice, even their hairstyle. These are things that shouldn’t matter in a debate—and don’t matter at all when it’s a male participant.
But we’re not just talking about a debate here.
Let’s talk about toxic masculinity. Many have misunderstood what it means. I’ve seen a number of people, mostly men, who’ve seen the phrase and understood it as “being masculine is toxic” or “showing any form of masculinity is problematic.” That’s not what the term is saying. It’s not “masculinity in and of itself is toxic” but “this form of masculinity is toxic” and “being forced to perform masculinity is toxic.” The former happens when masculinity is used to reinforce and uphold sexism against women, the latter when men are culturally forced into that role of protector, and consciously or not, forward the notion that women are weak. These two often go hand in hand, and have disastrous effects on men.
Men are just as much a victim of toxic masculinity. To be forced into manly ideals is stressful. Men are four times more likely to die by suicide, and toxic masculinity may play a role in that. Eradicating toxic masculinity will empower both men and women, and free masculinity or femininity as an expectation can liberate everyone from harmful gender stereotypes.
Translating Isko Moreno: “In ancient societies like the Mayas and Aztecs, women were made to sacrifice their lives to save society. I call on Leni to make the ultimate sacrifice and withdraw, for only yours truly, masculine and strong, can bring salvation.”
Now, let’s back up a bit. The statements “baka ma-offend, babae eh” and “babae kasi” are deeply rooted in misogyny. It implies that women are weak, sensitive, and emotional—quick to get hurt and offended. That same reasoning is what leads many to say that you shouldn’t vote for a woman to be president.
When I was in high school, more than a couple of elections ago, my high school economics teacher advised the class that you should never vote for a female president. “They think with their hearts, not their minds,” she said. I always kept that with me, not as a guiding principle on who to vote for, but as an example of how ingrained misogyny can be.
I can’t say whether or not Domagoso himself is sexist and misogynist. I have no access to his inner world; maybe he’s just another victim of toxic masculinity himself. But what I can say is that he holds some sexist beliefs, and he’s airing them out on the national stage. He’s publicly reinforcing these sexist ideals, and that’s concerning, especially given our macho-driven political climate. It’s not the first time he’s done so either—like when he said that rape and forced incest victims should simply try to overcome their circumstance like he did because “that’s life.”
A woman who was raped or a young girl impregnated by her relative has no right to abort the unborn and must learn to live with the consequences of being a victim, according to Manila Mayor Isko Moreno. https://t.co/38UF5XCywr
It’s not lost on me that people who don’t understand the difference between a person calling out injustice and a temper tantrum are going to see this and think I’m proving his point. “See? He said he didn’t want to offend women and now they’re offended.” (JSYK, there’s a difference between personally being offended and pointing out that something is wrong.) To these people, this is probably just another weak-bellied complaint by a hyper political person.
But if anything, some supporters have been put off by these men in power banding together against the lone female candidate. Former Isko volunteer group IM Pilipinas, for one, called out the presidential bet for taking the “road of vindictive machismo.”
And as for anyone being offended, it’s the men in the press con who have come off as “ultrasensitive.” Days after the Easter theatrics, Isko is still digging his heels into his statement while also playing the victim card, calling Robredo’s supporters “bullies.” VP’s camp, meanwhile, has said they will not give into emotion and are focused on the campaign.
Considering how even-tempered Robredo’s camp has been throughout the campaign, even when fake porn videos of Robredo’s daughter were being spread, Domagoso’s comments come off as even more uncalled for.