I am trying to understand this brouhaha over Duterte’s whistling at reporter Mariz Umali.
On the one hand, we have those who decry it as foul, as encouraging catcalling and rape culture, and seeing it as demeaning to women. On the other hand, we have those who say there’s nothing wrong with it, with some women even saying they are not bothered, or even enjoy being catcalled.
Those who know me know that I have friends on both sides of the fence (heck, I have all sorts of friends across all sorts of fences), so you can imagine what my facebook wall looks like when debates of this sort occur. I sometimes have to step in their arguments (when they do it on my wall) and remind them to be civil because they are both my friends, after all.
Once again, I am caught in between trying to find some sort of balance between the two (and my astrology-believing friend would point out to me once more it’s because I’m a Libra). This is not because I’m a Duterte-supporter and am trying to find some way to justify his actions, but because I have long been in the middle regarding the issue of catcalling.
I have read stories of women recounting their own horrible experiences of being catcalled (or worse) hence I understand their hatred of it in any form. And yet, I also understand Gabriela representative Luz Ilagan (also a friend and fellow Toastmaster), when she said that Duterte’s whistling was not sexual harassment (though I disagree that it’s “Bisaya culture”).
I watched the video again to understand the circumstances when the incident took place. The press conference had been going on for about 30 minutes, with reporters jostling with one another to ask their questions. Duterte hears a question and is trying to find the speaker who says, “Sir, I’m over here.” Duterte sees her and has an expression on his face of mild, pleasant surprise, and then smiles says “Talagang nagpapapansin ka sa akin ha.” Then he whistles and sings, “Malayo ang tingin…” Mariz is caught by the camera to be also smiling but gently and firmly insisting that her question be answered, which Duterte does, and the presscon then proceeds normally.
The way I see it, it is simply comic-relief, a short break from 30 minutes of seriousness. That is simply how Duterte is. Talking to the press is like talking to his barkada. He does not hide behind a cloak of formality or politeness (which is both good and bad for him, so it seems). I don’t know if it’s just me but that sort of informality does not bother me. Using romantic overtures for humor is something Filipinos commonly do. I remember presentations in high school — when a fellow student was singing onstage, some guy or girl would go up the stage and pretend to wipe the performer’s sweat — whistles and shrill giggles would abound. When a student teacher sat in our classes to observe, and we teased her romantically with our teacher, he would sometimes oblige by making some remark addressed to the observer. Even when I was a teacher, I would sometimes ride with my students teasings, either for a humorous interlude, to establish better rapport, or simply to lighten the mood.
From where I sit, that was all Duterte was doing. There was no intent of disrespecting or demeaning women, or even of making sexual innuendos or advances.
An interesting observation though of those most vocal on my facebook feed: Those who are vehemently against Duterte’s whistling seem to be on the younger side — those in their thirties or below. While those who are saying it’s ok tend to be in their forties, fifties or above. So perhaps it may not be a Bisaya thing, as Luz Ilagan says, but more of a cultural-age thing. Perhaps those of us who are more advanced in years (dang, I’m in this category already!) are simply more used to this kind of humor. After all, we grew up where teasing one another as “bayot” was not the social faux pas that it is today.
I found it slightly strange, though, that many of those who found Duterte’s whistling offensive were the same ones laughing at and sharing the #rp69fanfic stories that became popular during the election season. For those who are not aware of what it is, there was this person who started some short dialogues between Baste Duterte and Sandro Marcos that had homosexual overtones mixed with election references. For example:
Sandro: I thought we were going to do Du30 rounds.
Baste: Why? How many have we done?
Sandro: I don’t know. We need to do a recount.
This may seem like harmless fun but I know people who were offended by this as well.
I also wonder, what if it was a woman politician being interviewed by a handsome male reporter, and that woman whistled in the same way that Duterte did, would she get the same flak? What if it was a gay or female transgender politician doing the same to a reporter of the opposite sex? Just some things to think about. Who decides what is offensive and what is not?
And just in case you think I am being a bit naughty with the title of my piece, it is actually a reference to a 1974 song by Kenny Rankin called Pussywillows Cattails, both of which are kinds of flowers. I grew up at a time when ‘pussy’ referred only to cats, when ‘cocks’ only meant roosters, when ‘gay’ only meant happy and when ‘queer’ only meant strange.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.