PGTW: The culture of rape in Philippine fashion

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 25 September 2014, Thursday

The culture of rape in Philippine fashion

Writer Karen Kunawicz’s Facebook post a few days ago of a t-shirt she found at the SM Megamall Department Store’s boys’ section went viral almost immediately.

It had nothing to do with the garment as an item of fashion, but with the message silk-screened on its front: “It’s not rape: it’s a snuggle with a struggle.”

Kunawicz’s post adds, “SM – the same mall that has a daily angelus and refused to show Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” in the cinemas? Boys, listen to Tita Karen – if a girl says NO and pushes you away, just err on the side of caution, she likely means NO. And go watch Sweeney Todd. WTF, SM.”

The post was shared 4,241 times as of this writing, and was the subject of a piece on GMA News Online, prompting SM to come out with a statement.

The SM Group of Companies said on Tuesday that it finds the message on the shirt “unacceptable” and that they are pulling from their racks the shirt and all items from the consignor that distributed the shirt.

They are also investigating why this shirt was included in their “delivery of assorted t-shirts. The statement also said, “SM does not support such irresponsible and malicious acts that mock important and sensitive social issues…Appropriate action will be taken to ensure this does not happen again.”

The issue was taken up by the international press, one of them The Independent, a UK-based news organization, and Australia’s news.com.au.

In 2013 there were 7,409 cases of rape in the Philippines; 4,234 of those cases were against children, an increase of 26 percent over the 2012 figure of 3,355 children.

To whoever made that shirt: Rape is not funny. Trivializing crime is not funny. Putting this message on a garment for children is not funny.

The kind of mindset that produced such a message stems from the “rape culture,” wherein rape is normalized due to societal attitudes about gender, sex, and sexuality. Behaviors associated with rape culture include sexual objectification, victim blaming (“It’s her fault for wearing a miniskirt!”), and trivializing rape (“It’s a snuggle with a struggle”).

How prevalent is this mindset? One latest display of the rape culture was at the Bench “Naked Truth” show, touted as a denim and underwear fashion show and held last Sep. 19 at the MoA Arena.

At the show, actor Coco Martin dragged around a scantily-clad acrobatic woman on a rope like a pet. Female models performed antics bordering on soft-porn. Mens’ bulges were fetishized. The models, both female and male, were hypersexualized.

Does local fashion need to sink to these depths to sell clothes? It’s impossible that Bench and the show organizers didn’t realize what they were doing. It wasn’t until after netizens (read blogger Plump Pinay’s piece on the matter), and Senator Pia Cayetano and former Gabriela partylist representative Liza Maza erupted in outrage that Bench issued an apology for the “offensive elements of the show.”

In their statement posted on their Facebook page, Bench also said: “We will take all these concerns seriously and will serve (sic) as a lesson learned when we plan our next show. We at Bench shall continue to uphold the dignity of women and our commitment will remain so.”

Why do men rape? A 1985 study by sociologists Diana Scully and Joseph Marolla linked the crime to dominance (“to put women in their place”), punishment (for instance, revenge rape, which has the element of collective liability, as in the Elliott Rodger case), male entitlement (“seizing what isn’t volunteered”), control, and power.

In their conclusions, the researchers said, “The pleasure these men derived from raping reveals the extreme to which they objectified women. Women were seen as sexual commodities to be used and conquered rather than as human beings with rights and feelings.”

This sort of commodification of women is what happened in the Bench show with Martin pulling the female model around on a rope. Maza called it “dehumanizing.” Such displays reinforce already prevailing anti-women attitudes in society.

Scully and Marolla added, “We find that men who rape have something to teach us about the cultural roots of sexual aggression…rape can be viewed as the end point in a continuum of sexually aggressive behaviors that reward men and victimize women.”

This mindset can also be perceived in something as simple as the posting of sexist jokes. Such jokes “reward men and victimize women” because the butt of these jokes are usually females; the same goes for “dumb blonde”, “mother-in-law,” “shrewish wife,” and similar jokes at the expense of women.

Anything that contributes to normalizing rape, sexual aggression, commodification, and objectification in society, and to reinforcing such existing attitudes, is downright wrong and inexcusable. There can be no reasonable justification for it.

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