By Kat Alano
Here in the Philippines we are taught to fear the truth.
From a young age, we are taught NOT to talk about things, we are told that if we talk about our problems ‘mapapahiya tayo’. Anything bad that happens is either swept under the rug in a seamless fashion, or met with incredible aggression to force it into silence. The harder the truth is to face, the more extreme the reaction. In fact, we are taught not to talk about our own problems so much so that we start to focus on other people’s problems and start to judge them as a way of deflecting our attention from ourselves. This creates a safe distraction for us, through pointing out the flaws of others we make the pain of our own insecurities and emotional traumas easier to ignore or bury within ourselves under layers of distractions. We deflect from our issues by discussing those of others.
Or we just stay silent about our unspeakable truths and don’t say anything at all.
This aspect of our culture has become unhealthy. We are in an age where information is readily available to everyone. Children can find information on anything they can imagine, and even if we try and shelter them from it, they will be exposed to it at school, with their peers, on Facebook, wherever we used to think we could shelter our children from the truth, it’s out there; and it’s time we face that fact.
Sex, for example, is one of the biggest taboo subjects in Filipino society. Lets start to examine this by breaking down the walls of everyone’s comfort zone and addressing the cultural connotations of sex in this country. We can start on the first premise of judgment in the regard that if you are having sex and you’re not married, you’re labeled as a slut. Unless you’re a guy, then you’re encouraged to have sex with as many girls as possible to prove your manliness. Being a virgin is important for a girl. However, if you’re a guy then you’re a loser if you haven’t had sex by a certain age. What hasn’t been explained to them is, who are these manly guys supposed to sleep with if the girls who have sex before marriage are going to be considered sluts afterwards? Throw in the fact that we are an incredibly Americanized country and American culture clashes horribly with ours, especially when it comes to ideas about sex. In America, the mindset is much more liberal. People sleep with each other without being in relationships, they have flings, one night stands and this is reflected in the media we receive over here. In fact, it isn’t just in the media anymore, it has also become an integral part of our social norms without us consciously realizing it.
But nobody wants to talk about SEX.
I suppose we can’t be surprised that no one wants to admit the fact that 12 year old kids are having sex in our country. We don’t even have proper access to sexual education, let alone any other communication about sex within our families. How could we know about something as powerful as sex unless people talk about it?
On my ask.fm account, I receive thousands of questions about sex. People send me anonymous questions such as “Is it ok if my 12 year old boyfriend and I, (also 12) have sex all the time?” or “I want to have anal sex with my boyfriend, but I don’t know how, please help me.” Your reaction to both of those questions was probably shock and horror, unfortunately, this is the truth and it is happening everywhere, whether we would like to accept it or not. These people are asking me, a complete stranger about sex because they’ve been told not to talk about these things. How else are they supposed to ask about something that is completely foreign to them but they need it to be accepted into society at the same time?
I’m confused too. We have been immersed in an international culture that has been adapted into our society, but with our own culture condemning what we are becoming.
No wonder people are so angry about sex.
This explains why recently when I made comments about rape I was met with such aggression.
What happens if you mention the word ‘rape’ in a confused society like ours?
You get called a “pokpok”, a liar, told that you should be killed (!), that your personality and your behavior mean you should be raped, that because you dress a certain way or say certain things that rape was bound to happen to you, that you deserve to be raped.
Deserve to be raped?
Who ever deserves to be raped? What is it that people consider rape to be?
These are the questions that crossed my mind as hundreds of people took to social media to condemn me into silence for speaking about something they did not want to hear. At first, I became so shocked by this reaction that I was stunned into silence. How could people be so cruel? They didn’t even know the truth, yet they were willing to condemn someone to such extremes just so that they didn’t have to hear it. In my silence, I started to feel outrage. Why should I be made to be silent? I wasn’t hurting anyone and I was telling the truth.
I began to speak to people, even people I didn’t know too well about what had happened to me. I broke my silence and started to talk about the things that people “don’t want to hear.” Imagine my surprise when in about 90% of those instances people started to open up to me about rape or abuse that had happened in their lives or to someone close to them. I was absolutely astounded. People just pouring their heart out, sometimes within the first 10 minutes of meeting me, talking about how they were raped by their uncles, by their close friends on a drunken night, abused by priests or siblings, molested by relatives or drugged and raped by celebrities. The list went on and on.
In each of these situations that I heard, only one of them had ever spoken up about it. Each and every one of those people had been silent about their trauma up until the moment they told me about it. Which is funny because if you think about it, had each of these people spoken to others about it, chances are they would be able to relate. These things are happening so frequently in our country that they have been commonplace and could even be a part of everyday conversation as a “normal” topic because it surrounds us in our everyday lives.
Pero nakakahiya diba.
These people all had one thing in common.
These people are some of the strongest people I have ever met in my life. None of this false bravado that others put on; but instead this quiet, dignified strength that resonates from the depths of the soul. In fact, when they all started to talk about their traumas, you would have thought it was nothing to them. That it was something very normal, that this kind of thing “just happens” and you are supposed to get over it, alone and in silence. But when you really stop and listen, when you actually let them tell you their story instead of making them feel embarrassed or judged like society usually does, you begin to see a slight tremble in their resolve. The first hints of a crack. Then it breaks, and the tears start to flow. Quietly, with dignity, filled with so much pain. All of them had been called liars, been told that what had happened to them wasn’t real or that they were just imagining it, that it was their fault, that they would bring shame on their families and themselves, that nobody would believe them or respect them if they told anyone their story.
What people seem to forget is that victims of abuse and rape are exactly that. Victims. They do not choose, nor do any of their actions or behavior mean that their rights as a human being should be violated.
Rape has been sensationalized by the media and made out to be perpetrated by a tall, dark stranger who looks for victims in a dark alleyway. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In a majority of cases, rape or abuse is carried out by those closest to the victims, people who have easy access to them, people in their lives like their husbands, boyfriends, friends of parents, siblings, relatives, household help, members of the clergy, teachers etc. The list goes on and on. We have been taught not to talk about these things, yet they are happening in our own homes without our knowledge, right under our noses. If we never talk about sex, how could we know what sexual abuse is or that it is wrong? How can we know that we have a right to speak out about it?
We are guilty of a heinous crime, especially in the case of many women who have been taught to repress their sexuality, this crime is entertaining “rape culture”. Rape culture is defined as: “A culture in which sexual violence is the norm and victims are blamed for their own assaults.”
We have been taught for so long to be ashamed of our sexuality that even if we are a victim of a crime, we are taught to be ashamed of ourselves for having been put in that position in the first place.
The worst part of being a rape victim, next to the act itself, is being a victim all over again when you tell people your story.
How many people have we condemned into silence because of our own unwillingness to face the reality of our society?
I mentioned earlier that out of all the people who opened up to me about their experiences, only one of them spoke out about it. You might be surprised to hear that he is a man. He was sexually abused and molested by his uncle for years when he was a child. Forced to perform sexual acts on him and violated on his own person. My friend was brave enough to tell his family what had been happening to him and wonderfully, his family was one of the few exceptions that responded well to what he said. When the story came out, they soon found that my friend was not the only person his uncle had abused, but that he had abused almost all of his cousins as well. Had he not spoken up about it, who would have ever known what had happened? How many other people would have been a victim of this man who was a close member of their family?
In keeping our silence, we are just as guilty of the crime as they are. When we do not speak about these things, we enable bad people to keep doing bad things. How many more people have to get hurt until things change?
How much longer do those who have already been hurt, through no fault of their own, have to stay silent?
“One in five women aged 15-49 has experienced physical violence since age 15, (according to the 2008 NDHS survey ).” That’s 20% of women in our country. That figure doesn’t even include men.
Its time to speak up Pilipinas. Let us break our culture of silence and walk into a future where people can be free to speak up about the crimes that have been committed against them.
Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Speak for yourselves. Let us forget about shame, about meaningless cultural judgment, and instead let’s focus on what needs to be done to address the issues so many have to bear alone in silence.
Let us protect ourselves; even just by speaking out, we can do so much to start to address this problem. I am not silent anymore. I will not let this go unnoticed. I will not turn my back on those who are too afraid to speak up for themselves. I’m ready for change. Are you?