Open Letter by Actor to Mayor Who Justified Rape Saying "..the Mayor Should Have Been the First"
Dear Mayor Duterte,
I don’t know you personally, although I know what you have done for women in Davao City and the support you have given our women’s groups there, including our One Billion Rising (OBR) campaign for the last 4 years.
I have been to Davao many times for OBR and have seen first hand the projects you implemented there – the Davao City Women’s Code, and the Davao City One Stop Crisis Center for Women – all achieved side by side with our women’s advocacy groups there like Gabriela and many others.
The incredibly diverse, radically political and fiercely creative OBR annual Rising events that happen there each year, joined by so many, if not all sectors of society in Davao, is testament to the dignity and respect and value given to women and girls there.
I also know how you fight for the Lumad and workers - insisting on their rights - fighting against militarization that continue to kill and harass them. I was in UCC Haran at the Lumad camp in Davao, and our brothers and sisters there told me how you continue to send food for them.
I see how you stand by our most marginalized, like the ongoing Kidapawan injustices happening to our farmers, more than any other leader. I see the way your heart beats loudly against the injustices heaped against them.
But these days I am having sleepless nights thinking of the male machismo entitlement in which you wield words on a privileged whim because of your elevated status as a man of position and power.
I grew up in a household where my father also wielded words – words that were used as swords to assert his male superiority and power over my Mother.
Words that hurt her person and shattered her soul. Words that destroyed any feelings of value or security she may have had in order for him to feel more powerful, to feel manly, to feel in control. Words that were meant to put women in their place – inferior, no value – violent language.
You see Mayor Duterte, you remind me of my father, who fought for the poor and the marginalized, and despite being a Marcos man, always told his children we should always be proud he never stole from the government, which is, he reminded us, why we did not live in Forbes Park like the Marcos cronies.
He was of the people, for them. He served them. I witnessed this truth my entire growing up life. But at home he called my mother names and put her down. He was mean to her. He womanized.
He called women every derogatory name much like how you do. His male macho privilege permeated our home, our family – and his devaluing of women created fear, insecurity, anger, instability, duplicity, double standards.
My first sense of injustice came from him, and for many years I could not see past all the good he had done as a public official, all the policies and programs he created in Makati for the women and the poorest communities as vice mayor for years, because all I could see and feel was my mother’s hurt.
All I could see was how his constant misogynistic macho sexist diminishing of her affected her life, affected ours. I can still hear her cries and smell her fear. For decades, I never said anything, again to protect my father’s good public name and the service he had done – even if the truth about him burned with rage inside me.
It took many years, and doing the work I do now with OBR and Gabriela to realize that it is not him I should be protecting. The ones causing hurt should be the ones exposed, even it means losing family and friends.
When I am at a crux or crossroad of principles, beliefs and courage about these issues – all I have to do is imagine her, my mother. As I wish you would imagine your mother every time you crack a joke about women or talk about them in a derogatory way, or make a joke about rape.
Mayor Duterte, rape is rape. I don’t have to tell you what that means. But you need to understand the full gravity of rape and rape culture. And where your actions play a part in perpetuating that.
Rape culture is denying the weight and seriousness of the crime by joking about it. It doesn’t matter that you tell us later on what the context of the story was.
All that matters is that you made light of it, and allowed your followers at that rally to laugh along, diminishing the gravity of the rape.
Words are important Mayor. You cannot throw them out playfully and casually and not look at the consequences of what your words do.
Rape culture is allowed to exist when you first say Jaqueline Hamil – an Australian missionary – was “beautiful, and looked like an American actress”. You could have mentioned that she was a missionary, there to help and serve.
Instead of noting her physical attributes, which commodifies and objectifies her. Which treats her as an object, instead of as a woman, a person, with more than just looks. Without you realizing it, you have already diminished her by objectifying her on that level alone.
Rape culture is then further perpetuated when you say your most criminal words, to paraphrase: “that she is so beautiful, it’s a shame – the mayor should have been first”. You meant first to rape her. You meant the mayor should have had first dibs, first right over her.
Again, it does not matter that your words came out of rage as you said later. Think of what you are saying here Mayor. The mayor should have been first to rape her.
To me that is not rage; that is, again, chauvinist sexist misogynist male privilege. And more seriously, it is a diminishing of the act of rape. It is trivializing rape. It is the normalizing of rape.
Imagine if Jacqueline was your daughter, and someone else had said your words about her. I have no doubt you would be coming after them with your guns.
I have no doubt you would be placing the full force of your position and might over them, not even for a sorry, but because you would not even see that as injustice, but as a grave insult to your loved one.
I don’t think, for a second you would allow that person to sit, in front of the media, and try to justify their words and action by relaying a long protracted story on context. I don’t think you would take it sitting down if that person said they are not sorry at all and sees no need to apologize.
I don’t think you would accept it if that person simply tried to take the gravity of the situation away by saying he was just using "crass language" because he was “angry”. Nothing justifies rape as a joke.
And then rape culture is deepened by a refusal to own your actions. You didn’t really apologize directly - it was enshrined in even more defensive justifications. More than an apology it is the lack of humility in which to admit you did wrong that also perpetuates rape culture. The laws and policies implemented mean nothing if respect and dignity for women is not fully embodied in concrete thought, actions and words.
Mayor, you are running for the highest position in the land, and by all accounts, are topping the polls. You are influential. People believe in you, follow you, are relying on you to change this corrupt poisoned system that has driven our people to such unimaginable abject poverty and suffering.
This belief from the people holds you even more accountable than most. Holds you in even greater responsibility for your words and actions. And we put this out now because we know you have been on the side of women in the past, your Davao record as Mayor speaks for itself.
Davao rises so gloriously and fiercely for its women now because of the belief you have also put into the women’s movement there. This is not an attack. It is a request for you to look deeper into your heart that we all know beats more authentically than most leaders for the people and their best interests.
You cannot speak on revolution and rights, if you do not give equal weight to this issue. The issue of rape and rape culture. Revolution after all, first begins with the radical shift in consciousness of deeply entrenched mindsets. Patriarchal mindsets.
No change can happen without this. And no transformation can happen without the humility to acknowledge where one has done wrong.
LOLA NARCISA. She is one of the Filipina comfort women who was raped sometimes by 70 soldiers a day. Photo courtesy of Monique Wilson
‘Mayor, this photo is of Lola Narcisa – one of our Filipina comfort women – fighting for justice for what happened to her and thousands of other comfort women who were raped and sexually enslaved during World War II.
Just imagine this, as you imagine your own mother or grandmother as one of our Philippine comfort women – fighting for justice for what happened to her and thousands of other comfort women who were raped and sexually enslaved during World War II.
Abducted by the Japanese army at 14 years old. Held for two years in a “comfort station." Raped sometimes by 70 soldiers a day – a day.
In silence for 50 years. Speaking out and fighting for justice for nearly 23 years now. She has carried this all her life, and still no justice.
She is one of the lucky ones. The others have lost their minds, and families who shunned them. Many lost organs, and the ability to bear children from so many rapes.
Most have already died. Lola Narcisa continues to fight for them, and for the next generation of comfort women. Some today as young as 9 years old, raped by police, by military, sold and trafficked, sexually violated for P15 just to get to school or half a kilo of rice just so that their families can eat.
Imagine this as you imagine your own daughters.
Rape ruins a life, and takes it away a life recovering, healing, surviving in constant breakage and pain instead of a life thriving, living, creating, growing.
Lola Narcisa has given her entire life to this cause. For speaking up after all the years of silence, and facing daily the risks of being re-raped by indifference and apathy that rape culture allows to exist.
She is still marching on the streets although barely able to walk now, even when justice is not forthcoming because rape culture breeds impunity.
She is still fighting so that the legacy she can leave behind for us is consciousness, a deeper understanding of what rape does to a woman.
Her life and sacrifice should propel us now with everything to fight against rape and rape culture in all its forms. Rape is no laughing matter for her.
Mayor, in this country you profess to love, our country you are pledging to serve, one woman or child is raped every 53 minutes, 7 out of 10 are children.
Majority never get justice. Rape culture allows this.
Please give Lola Narcisa, and the countless, oftentimes nameless, faceless, invisible women and girls dignity. Please allow humility to deepen your education and understanding of rape.
And please, please, use your privilege, your influence, and your power, to end rape culture. – Rappler.com
(This first appeared as a Facebook post of Monique Wilson.)
(Monique Wilson is an internationally acclaimed actor known for her lead role in the original London production of “Miss Saigon” and for founding the New Voice Company theater group. She is also the Director of One Billion Rising, a global campaign to end violence against women.)