By Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza
MeToo is a movement against sexual violence — it calls out perpetrators of violence and places them in an arena of shame. Unfortunately, in most cases, those who come out and share their MeToo narrative are met with doubt, blame, and are shamed themselves; in other instances, they are lauded by some for their courage amidst tragedy but they turn a blind eye to perpetrators whom they know.
Nonetheless, MeToo is also a moment when a victim realises that she has the power to overcome her frailty and self-assigned guilt and transforms herself into a discourse of justice.
OF EXPERIENCES AND REACTIONS
Sexual violence — advances, harassment, assault, rape — are mostly done by people we know, a mentor we look up to, a friend we trust, a colleague we work with. It knows no age, it cares not for boundaries, it does not matter how we look, and there is no such thing as respect.
My students know these too well and yet they still fall victims to sexual violence. It can happen to anyone… even to me.
Yes, I am a feminist, a staunch advocate of women’s human rights, a fierce no-nonsense woman and yet, I myself have not been immune.
Sexual advances by those known to us is a betrayal of personal trust, is a traitor to a meaningful advocacy, shows utmost disregard for a respectful working relationship. Touching the back while seated together in a vehicle, a slap on the butt after a joke, holding your hand as you fall asleep from anti-anxiety meds while on a flight, having an annoyingly repetitious script of casually telling others about wanting someone specific to be a “second” wife, etc. etc. Sexual predation displayed with normalcy! Sexual predators all assume the same thing of the non-reaction of their prey — the illusion of silence as consent, an amulet for impunity.
But silence is NOT CONSENT. Victims fall silent because of shock, disbelief, paralysis, trauma — there is an inability to comprehend how a person you trust can be so monstrous towards you. One just wishes the surreal unfolding situation stops — but it never does. Perpetrators are obsessed with their prey — they want to subdue them, control them, leave them to shame themselves to the point of self-flagellation. They have their own reality. “Peminista ka pa naman — bakit di mo sinapak, sinigawan o hiniya man lang?” (You are a feminist — why didn’t you slap me, shout, or shame me at least?)
Easier said than done. At worst, it puts the burden on victims who were not able to physically or verbally react at the time when the sexual advances were made. Believing or saying so is simply victim-blaming.
MAKING SENSE OF WHAT HAPPENED
We victims would wish never to see our predators again. But sexual predators are all over the place — not just in industries that deal with the most vulnerable, but also in places where even the most empowered women are victimized. They really are everywhere!
Seeing predators and perpetrators of sexual advances in a “collegial” environment again leads victims to put up their guard, set boundaries, move away whenever they move in close. Or ask genuine friends to act as “buffers,” to sit or stand in between us and predators when the latter insist on being near us. Yes, genuine friends must know. Victims must tell their stories to others. Anyone can be a victim and thus, sexual predators should be named and shamed.
As for institutions or organizations that the victims belong to, they should know about episodes of sexual predation. They should demand action from the perpetrators — tell them it can’t be “business as usual” with victim and perpetrator in the same space. Something must be done. Silence is not an acceptable response. Regardless of any strategic partnership or powerful connection with the perpetrators, sexual violence must never be condoned. It must never be rewarded with complacency from the organization. Don’t leave it to the victim to take matters in her own hands. For in the end, “aba, ang biktima pa ang masama at pagbibintangan na nag-maneobra na maalis ang may mga sala?!” (what, the victim has to be the villain and be blamed for having maneuvered to get rid of the culprit?) Jeez!!!
MY METOO, OUR METOO
The embeddedness of the patriarchy leads us to align with predators themselves. Woke groups, progressive organizations, reflexive institutions that have not responded accordingly and appropriately are nothing more than accomplices, are no better than the macho-centric institutions that laud male supremacy over women.
MeToo is about resisting, about fighting back when the victim/survivor has mustered the courage to speak out. Despite the general public’s victim doubting/blaming/shaming, it is reclaiming one’s own power to finally stand up and defend oneself. It’s a fiery beacon announcing to sexual predators — be they bosses, colleagues, peers, friends, etc. — that they will never get away with their advances again.
MeToo is about having a victim-centric orientation when it comes to empathy, support, and meaningful responses. MeToo points to perpertators of violence who should have no other opportunity to freely move around their victims, the same spaces that gave them the opportunity to victimize.
At the very least, we should support the MeToo movement and replace the culture of impunity with that of accountability.
Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University. She is also Program Director of Gender and Atrocity Prevention at the Asia Pacific Center for the Responsibility to Protect, University of Queensland.