I have been monitoring with great interest this wave called #MeToo, on the surface a very female thing, which it is, but also about sexual abuse beyond just female in scope. It is a multi-faceted phenomenon, yet very simple, too. Its simplicity is what gives it awesome power. It is also what will give it sustainability.
Power and sustainability need at least two basic factors. First is its universality. University gives it numbers and presence everywhere. That is an awesome power. Second, it must be fresh, new, and natural. This gives it the right to be, even if that right had been suppressed for a long time.
The history of mankind has long hosted the reality of survival of the fittest, of might is right. That reality was also very male-dominated, muscle over the brain, and where the muscle and brain combination would almost always be a winning formula. It has not been rare that the muscle and brain combination would not just be present in a person but in a couple, too, of the mighty husband and wily wife. The general pattern, though, was male over female, from physical superiority that spilled over to societal roles. Understandably, even the 20th century witnessed women voting for the first time in even developed countries.
Naturally, when historical momentum and tradition placed physical strength as the primordial arbiter of power, men had more rights than women. The term and meaning of double standards were par for the course. This is still very evident in many countries, maybe in more countries in the world than not. The Philippines, although considered the more democratic and liberal for a longer time than its neighbors in Asia, continues to experience the strong lingering dominance of the male, even in the law. For example, the contrasting rules on adultery and concubinage are effective examples of what is good for the gander is not as good for the goose.
So it is with sexual mores. Men simply have enjoyed more sexual freedom than females. I am not talking about the last decades or centuries but of the duration of mankind until very recently, and in only the most progressive societies. Chastity among women has always been demanded even while promiscuity among men could be considered as a feather in their cap. Today, many countries would punish the adultery of women very harshly yet tolerate the same among men.
Luckily for women, a great shift has begun. Yes, it has only begun so we should be witnessing it grow from this day onward following a trajectory which I believe is irreversible. Tradition has a way of holding on, of digging in. However, evolution is even more powerful. While it can tolerate the status quo no matter how unfair it may seem, a balancing act appears in due time, as though the design of life itself has a purpose and journey that cannot be denied, no matter the odds. The recognition of when in-due-time is must be what we should be keenly aware of. It seldom ever just barges in unless man remains blind to the hints.
The emergence of equal rights based on gender is one such hint that men have not been very sensitive to. For generations, the signs that women have arrived have been there. But the men, largely due to the tradition that they have more rights than women, have been quite reluctant to level the playing field. Truly, one is not prone to giving up an advantage. Many men will agree with gender equality reform in theory but encounter difficulty in perspective and coverage.
In the United States, for example, this spirit of equality from a history of inequality is emerging and catching male dominance by surprise. TV star Bill Cosby got hit with sexual misconduct allegations a few years ago and just sentenced to imprisonment. His sexual misadventures caught up with him and several women alleged the same pattern of sexual abuse. The popular media personality, Bill O’Reilly, began paying off women complainants until Fox News had to terminate him. Several other media and Hollywood personalities fell in like manner, all accused of sexual misconduct and all having to leave their exalted positions. Even an IMF chief got caught in the maelstrom and lost his job.
The list goes on and on, not only in the US and not only involving media and entertainment personalities. Politicians have been hit in a big way, as have sports bigwigs and icons. Everybody is aware of the continuing scandals affecting the Catholic Church. It is not new, having started many years ago. But the intensity is so strong that it is not only affecting priests and bishops but Popes themselves, not for commission but omission. And, today, the nominee for a Supreme Court Justice in the United States faces the same allegations and he will not escape unscathed here. Even in the NGO world, an Oxfam officer was accused of sexual misconduct in Haiti, an accusation that the organization did not bother denying and instead openly apologized for.
Traditional Philippine society is well advised to prepare for the same onslaught of an inequality that is being confronted globally. What the #MeToo movement represents will not automatically succeed in the country but it will not be denied either. It will simply grow and intensify until it will become the societal standard. After all, women in our society are not pushovers and never were. It seems they submitted more than were forced, but quietly kept their premier role in the family. Any gender inequality will be disrupted despite the advantage of a long past and tradition.
I have witnessed this shift in paradigm and accept the inevitability of its success. Of course, in my younger days, I myself enjoyed the decided advantage of male dominance. But since the 80’s when a simple housewife, as if on cue, dislodged a dictator, another female had been elected president of the republic. And guess what – more will come.