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.
If Rodrigo Duterte is like your creepy uncle who makes goo-goo eyes and licks his lips with lascivious relish when he encounters a woman he deems attractive, Donald Trump is the creepy neighborhood stalker or the creepy power-tripping boss who lurks behind you and hovers uncomfortably close by, ready to pounce when the opportunity presents itself.
Neither man’s approach to sex is harmless; both encourage and abet a culture of virulent misogyny. While Duterte plays the naïve country bumpkin, Trump pretends to be the sophisticate. Yet they are barely able to conceal their predatory nature. Duterte couldn’t stop himself from catcalling a female TV reporter at a press conference; Trump couldn’t even hold it together on national TV to refrain from stalking his opponent like a creep. In short, he harassed her publicly for all to see.
As Hillary Clinton recalled in excerpts released from her forthcoming memoir, What Happened, “This is not O.K., I thought. It was the second presidential debate, and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before, the world heard him brag about groping women. Now we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.”
At that moment, she said, she asked herself, “Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space. Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly: ‘Back up, you creep, get away from me! I know you love to intimidate women, but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.’”
She is not the first woman to be absolutely repulsed by such a graceless display of macho privilege. Yet for Clinton’s much lauded competence, strength, and determination, she has had, throughout her career, to temper those same qualities in order to conform to some ridiculous notion that a woman who speaks up is a woman who is shrill and aggressive, drawing attention to herself by complaining when she should just remain quiet, hunker down and get to work.
Clinton “chose option A. I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of difficult men trying to throw me off. I did, however, grip the microphone extra hard. I wonder, though, whether I should have chosen option B. It certainly would have been better TV. Maybe I have over-learned the lesson of staying calm, biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while, determined to present a composed face to the world.”
Like Clinton, I’ve found myself in similar situations. The script is so typical, it is predictably banal but no less infuriating. A man decides you are somehow a threat—at work or within a relationship—who must be put in her place. What follows is a barrage of accusations or a catalogue of imagined slights and failings designed to make you feel less competent or less worthy of love than you really are. Mostly he talks down at you, and if you try to explain your side of things, you are interrupted. You raise your voice so very slightly out of frustration at not being listened to, and you are immediately reprimanded for daring to do so.
There might have been a time when I would have remained quiet and, like Clinton, chosen to just grin and bear it, lest I be branded difficult and troublesome. These days I pretty much give zero f*cks about what some man whose fragile ego is inversely proportional to his need to assert his dominance might think of me, as long as I know I’m right.
A few years back a work colleague who somehow began to resent the fact that he was not my direct boss suddenly turned on me and attempted to put me under his control, from accusing me of not being a team player—notwithstanding the fact that I really had no team to speak of apart from an outsourced graphic designer—to harping on my having my own private office instead of being on the same floor as the rest of the staff, again ignoring the fact that said office was assigned to, rather than demanded by me. And so on and so forth.
I played naïve and clueless for a couple of weeks, suggested being mentored by the clearly threatened colleague who really had no interest in mentoring me. What he wanted from me was that very Filipino servility, that ego-massaging obsequiousness that would constitute as an acknowledgement that he was top dog in the organization and I was merely an underling.
Not long after that initial confrontation, after which I sent an artfully cloying text saying, in essence, how do we make this work, he and three other self-styled alpha males in the office—board members in other words—felt that a meeting to discuss how to move forward was in order. So a meeting for 3 p.m. was called with less than 24-hours notice.
The next day looms, and all day long, the insecure colleague’s superior—a king of the world wannabe—sends me several texts to remind me of the meeting. An hour before the meeting, he texts again, saying they—clearly feeling like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—were at the conference room waiting for me.
Dude, I wanted to say, you’re like a guy so excited to go on his first date! Hold your horses, it’s still an hour away!
30 minutes later, another text. 15 minutes later, 10 minutes later… like freaking stalkers. And at 2:59 p.m., yet another text.
Obviously they thought they could Sun Tzu the sh*t out of me like this was some psy-ops war game. Men sometimes, I swear, are just so pathetically transparent. I’m better at this game than you are, I wanted to tell them. If they expected me to rush into the conference room apologizing for being two minutes late, they were in for a surprise.
Dressed in a leather skirt, a silk shirt, and high heels, I took my time walking into that conference room, gliding on an imaginary catwalk like a model in a shampoo commercial. And what happened when I finally entered the conference room? Three of the members of the board rose to greet me, two of them even deferentially kissing me on the cheek. I turned to the colleague whose ego I seemed to have bruised and asked him if he wanted a kiss too. To which he mumbled a barely audible “no.”
I won that round hands down. And many more.
I don’t really give a sh*t about the insecure colleague but last I heard, he’s still a creep.
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.
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.