This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.
Earlier this week, upon the invitation of the French Embassy, I spoke at the groundbreaking “She For She” forum on women’s empowerment, organized as part of France’s advocacy in favor of women’s rights. I was part of a panel that discussed the role media should play in the empowerment of women.
While I procrastinated, as usual, about what I would say, it occurred to me that writing this column was, in a way, a chronicle of how the role of media has evolved in discussing female empowerment through the prism of sex. And because what is sexual is often political, writing this column has become a political statement, too.
I don’t think what I’m doing is particularly bold or brave, though many consider it so. Hopefully in a year or two, people will look beyond the scandal and focus on substance, and discuss the pertinent sexual issues of the day without judgment. And if we evolve as intelligent human beings in 10 years’ time, perhaps a column such as this will no longer be necessary.
Below is the text of the speech I delivered.
I never imagined a sex column would provoke death threats, but as they say, “Only in the Philippines,” which, by the way, I like to describe as the love child of Borat and Kafka–at times surreal, often absurd, every now and then sublime, but always compelling.
Two years ago, when Inquirer proposed that I write a regular column discussing sexual matters, I was given carte blanche by the editor and publisher of Preen.ph to push the boundaries, whether it was through the use of strong and explicit language or through the use of provocative and equally explicit subject matter. It was called “Sex & Sensibility,” and the first few columns were indeed provocative, the tone somewhere between confessional and ironic. I felt it was important to bring in actual experiences, not necessarily mine—in fact, often not mine—and distil and question prevailing attitudes through those experiences.
And then the focus shifted subtly from just sex to the politics of sex. It was fun to write breezy, humorous columns about penis sizes or sexual deal breakers when deciding to sleep with someone, or Tinder adventures, or the denizens of the sexual menagerie out there in today’s dating world—cougars, tarsiers and the like—but it also began to feel imperative to write about issues like sexual abuse, rape culture, and how women’s voices and experiences were generally regarded as less valid then men’s, particularly in sexual matters.
It helped, of course, that there was no dearth of material to write about; every week there seemed to be a new scandal to digest that highlighted the prevailing hypocrisies in the way women were judged and the way men often escaped with little to no fallout from their actions. From Bill Cosby to Brock Turner to Donald Trump; from the insidious mindset that women were either saints or sluts; from the double standards applied to women who cheat… there was always an issue to dissect. On a national level, there was the overflowing, fetid swamp of misogyny and sexism and homophobia and male entitlement, not to mention the outdated notions of sex and relationships and reproductive rights, warped further by unexamined religious beliefs that people here continued to cling on to that just made public figures like Rodrigo Duterte, Manny Pacquiao, Tito Sotto, Pia Cayetano, Mocha Uson, Aldub even, easy but necessary targets.
As I wrote my columns, week after week, a new mission—or cause, if you will—began to emerge. It wasn’t enough to just expose the hypocrisy in our attitudes, or the shamelessness with which we laughed at jokes made by powerful people at the expense of victims of sexual violence, or the passivity with which we accepted things such as slut-shaming or victim-blaming, or even the way we reduced women to nothing more than one-dimensional sexual beings. It became imperative to emphasize the importance of agency, that each of us has the power to make decisions on our own and enact those decisions upon the world. Each of us can determine the kind of society we want to live in; we don’t have to delegate agency to the government or the church, or, for that matter, to husbands, boyfriends, brothers, parents, or anyone else.
A woman recognizing she has agency is deeply empowering, and as an opinion columnist, I feel it is important to stress this week after week. There are many women without a voice, who don’t even think to question the status quo; my column, fortunately, gives me a platform to challenge the status quo and give otherwise mute—and muted—women a voice.
If there was one column that made me realize early on that I had a voice, and it was powerful, it was the one I wrote about Bill Cosby’s victims—When the Word “No” Fails, Stronger Language May Be Needed—and how a woman’s claims of rape and abuse are often ignored and treated as exaggeration until a man validates them.
Soon after that column was published, one of Bill Cosby’s actual victims—Patricia Steuer, emailed me. “Thank you so much for the piece you wrote about stronger language,” she said.
“I am one of the Cosby women in the New York Magazine article. I have come to really appreciate any articles examining why our culture (and world culture) promote and perpetuate disbelief of women.”
That was a watershed moment for me.
Any column about sex would ruffle more than a few feathers, especially in the Philippines. Throw politics into the mix, and you get death threats. Not from women, mind you, but from men who seem to feel so threatened about what I write. I find it mildly amusing but also alarming that the most virulent reactions to my columns on Preen come from men. The women who comment or email are almost always appreciative that I am discussing openly issues that our society refuses to even confront. I’ve been called fearless and straight-shooting, which is flattering but also bewildering, as I write about sex and not about, say, corruption in government or mining. But then again, I did call Manny Pacquiao a bible-thumping moron and Pia Cayetano a faux feminist… so shoot me?
As for the men who are miffed… all I can say is I must be doing something right if my columns rankle them so. I mean, write about rape or slut-shaming, and not a peep from them apart from “your days as a feminist are numbered;” otherwise next to no acknowledgment from the XY-chromosomed among us about how complicit they are in perpetuating rape culture. But write about circumcision or blow jobs or penis length and boy do they all rant and rail and blame women for everything.
The one thing I’ve learned while writing this column is that women truly are awesome and the male ego is such a fragile thing. Every now and then I do get an enlightened male commenting, saying thank you for illuminating certain issues and apologizing on behalf of his species for being such dicks.
If only more men were like him… Maybe someone should tell men that they have agency, too!
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
For comments and questions, e-mail [email protected].
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Art by Dorothy Guya