By Hershey Neri
For decades, women who choose to speak up against sexual harassment have either been blamed for it—or, worse, silenced.
For instance, while Taylor Swift was being questioned during the trial of her countersuit against David Mueller, the former DJ's attorney said that if she was so upset about being groped in the ass, she could have taken a break in the middle of her meet-and-greet.
But Taylor’s reply was swift and strong.
“And your client could have taken a normal photo with me.”
It’s 2017. Women now refuse to be silenced.
I'm proud of Taylor Swift for making a strong, powerful statement for women around the world. By winning a trial on sexual assault, she is helping take down a misogynistic system that has, for years, oppressed us. I say “us” because sexual harassment can happen to anyone—it happened to an award-winning pop star just hours before her concert, it happened to me as a senior college student finishing her thesis, and it happened to a family friend riding a cramped tricycle on her way home. And it continues to happen to thousands of women, every day.
In the Philippines, people act as if sexually harassing someone in public is the norm. What’s worse is that even government officials propagate this kind of culture. Girls—young or old, dressed up or dressed down—get catcalled everyday. As I scrolled through Facebook the other week, I read a woman’s account of a jeepney passenger who sat in front of her to masturbate. The man even had the guts to look at her in the eye and say that she was “delicious.” I was disgusted and furious. Too often, men think they can get away with their actions.
I remember my sister’s experience back in 2005. It was her first time touring Cebu when a man walked towards her and cupped her pussy. My sister froze. When she finally realized what had just happened, she shouted for help, but no one bothered to assist her. All she received were stares from passersby who pointed to her pair of shorts, as if what she decided to wear that day caused the situation.
But my sister decided to be her own hero anyway. She elbowed her way through the crowd, parting the Red Sea to run after the man. When she finally caught her harasser, she kicked him in the balls and pushed him viciously. To everyone’s surprise, bottles of shampoo fell out of his pockets, rolling across the floor as he hit the ground. He was a shoplifter! Only then did five men come out of the crowd to hit him. They called him a criminal and a thief, but nobody called him out for touching a woman without her consent.
In a society where women are treated not as equals, but as sexual objects, we must stand our ground and act now. Here are some ways you can stand up to the patriarchy:
1. Speak up. Let’s help one another. In the face of oppression, we must let our voices be heard. Whether we experience it firsthand or we see others—both women and men—being harassed, we simply must call out such behavior. We must all speak the truth to power.
In addition, we must teach people around us, especially the next generation, what consent is all about: another person’s body is not your property, and "no" simply means "no." Our daughters must grow up in a better world than the one we experience today.
2. Take action. Let’s maximize all platforms and avenues for women’s voices to be heard. Sign petitions, join movements, and even participate in protests to support bills that seek to protect women and minorities.
One group Filipinas can join is GABRIELA, the biggest alliance of women’s organizations in the Philippines. Through education, campaigns, and legislative efforts, they address issues such as human rights, poverty, violence, rape culture, and sex trafficking. They also offer counselling for victims of abuse.
In Quezon City, people caught harassing, catcalling, and stalking women in public can be fined and jailed. The Gender and Development ordinance mandating this would not have existed if it weren’t for the people who voiced out this concern.
Early this year, Senator Risa Hontiveros filed the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act of 2017, a bill which seeks to penalize gender-based public harassment such as catcalling, wolf-whistling, cursing, groping, and homophobic and transphobic slurs.
By taking action and getting involved, we can get things done.
3. Fight hand in hand. Taylor Swift, Kesha, Lady Gaga, and Oprah have all been using their power and influence to speak up about sexual assault and the emotional damage it brings.
But what about us ordinary women? If you’ve ever been a victim of harassment, sexual assault, or rape, take courage and do not let that moment define your life. More importantly, remember that, despite the world telling you so, it is not your fault.
As our girl Taylor said in court, “I am not going to allow your client to make me feel like it is any way my fault, because it isn’t.”
And while we’re here celebrating Taylor Swift’s victory, we must remember that the fight goes on; stand up and stand together, hand in hand. Every woman’s testimony matters; and as long as there is injustice, we need to stand up, hand in hand.
Just imagine—a world where it's safe to walk alone at night, a world where everyone' rights are fulfilled, whether they be rich or poor, whether they be male, female, or LGBTQIA. A world where respect for one another is the norm.
It is possible. We just have to fight for it together.
ALSO READ: In Focus: How To Handle Catcallers
Banner photograph via