In case it’s not quite obvious, the words of any President in the world have immense power not just among his constituents but also to the general public. A president’s words, whether uttered by him or herself or through his spokesperson are always deemed official. In today’s highly volatile political scene around the world, this has taken a negative impact. Take for example these latest news from two of the most controversial leaders: Pres. Donald Trump from the US and Pres. Rodrigo Duterte from the Philippines.
‘Trump says it’s okay to grab women’
Trump was caught on tape from a conversation in 2005 that went viral last year, boasting about being able to “grab women by the pussy.” More specifically, he said, “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” Trump said on the tape, while talking to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump continued, as Bush laughed. “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Fast forward to 2018, these words still rang clear, at least to one person who used it as an excuse for his deplorable actions. Bruce Michael Alexander was arrested on suspicion of groping a woman on an airplane, and his alibi, according to a report by the FBI, was just as revolting: “President Trump says it’s okay to to grab women by their private parts.”
In an article published by Vox, an unidentified woman was flying on a Southwest Airlines flight from Houston to Albuquerque on Sunday, when she felt someone grabbing her breast from behind. She thought it was an accident until it happened again a few minutes later. The woman asked to be re-located to another seat, and requested assistance from law enforcement once the plane landed.
The alleged suspect was charged with abusive sexual contact.
Trump on many occasions has condoned sexual misconduct in his speeches, and has resorted to victim blaming. This was evident from his statements during the highly publicized case of Brett Kavanaugh who had just escaped sexual abuse accusations and ascended to the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Trump had made fun of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who filed a sexual assault report against Kavanaugh.
Trump’s comments, once they get heard by the public and make headlines, encourage the entire nation to disregard consent and mock victims. And this alarming trend can also be seen in the Philippines.
‘It’s already normal in the police force’
Recently, a Police Officer I Eduardo Valencia from Manila was arrested for allegedly raping the 15-year-old daughter of detained drug suspects, promising freedom for her parents in exchange for sex. The accused cop said that this incident is “not new” to their drug operations, implying that other cops could have done the same. He has also used the argument that he is married and a family man as his alibi.
In retrospect, Duterte’s “macho” image, crass and no-filter way of speaking reflect this kind of attitude. The president himself has made jokes about rape in public speeches and made sexist remarks against women on several speaking engagements. “When he says these things, he’s sending out a message to all men out there that ‘I get away with it, so you can,’” Inday Espina-Varona, a 54-year-old journalist and one of several co-founders of the #BabaeAko movement, told Time in an interview.
This is not to say that the alleged sexual predators don’t have their own minds, because they acted on their own free will. They can only be blamed for their actions. But what these incidents have taught us is that a leader’s words have the potential to “normalize” sexual misconducts and condone them.
We have to be aware about the broader underlying sexist attitudes that these leaders proliferate. It’s not enough to cover their controversial remarks as mere jokes—because nobody is laughing.
Feature photo from Reuters