Commentary: Behind a strongman is a stronger woman

The patriarchal society has tricked us into believing that the nation’s development is heavily affected by its chief’s gender.

The patriarchal society has forced us to believe that women will constantly be on the receiving end of criticism. Women are simply held on a higher pedestal when it comes to public scrutiny—no matter the circumstance.

With female politicians getting dragged through the mud by critics, calling them useless and weak, there’s no denying that the Philippines is far from being a country where women are viewed the same as men in the political arena.

And how could they–when even male politicians are highly critical of women’s capabilities as politicians? Even President Rodrigo Duterte said that his own daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, is not fit to be a president because “the emotional setup of a woman and a man [are] totally different.” Indeed, such statements coming from the president are nothing new as he’s had his fair share of making absurd, misogynistic remarks.

Still a men’s room

Although the Philippines has made significant progress in making legislation catered to women, these laws are still created by men and are from the perspective of men. When it comes to implementing laws to ensure their welfare, there’s a lack of involvement from women legislators. According to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, the gendered division of labor is more emphasized in the government, it being a male-dominated field.

When women are given the opportunity to serve as leaders, the way they are seen by the general public is often limited to their role outside of politics. Rather than seeing these women at the same level as men in the field, their roles are reduced to their ability to adhere to gender stereotypes, such as fulfilling domestic positions like being a wife and a mother.

Moreover, there’s still a lack of female representation in politics. In fact, in 2019 only 20.16 percent of the candidates for the national and local elections were women. From the Commonwealth of the Philippines to the 18th Congress, only 59 seats in the Senate have been occupied by women—a very low number when compared to the male legislators in the country, whose tally sits at 430.

Along with this, family connections and systems that cater to men’s interests are common limitations for women when running for office. Female politicians are made to think that there’s a need to hold onto their connections with men in order to secure a position in governance, often left behind the shadow of the patriarchy.

‘Too weak’ to lead

In the Philippines, the phenomenon of strongmen in politics is rampant. At the promise of violence, citizens turn their heads, seeing it as a sense of hope to renew the country for the better. After making an oath to protect the people, these men have left bloody paths behind during their authoritarian regime, making it seem like these acts of violence against humanity charm the people more than a clean track record.

The country, most especially, is not new to this strongman phenomena as our very president—the one with the highest post in Malacañang—is known to not shy away from brutality and ruthlessness. As elections grow closer and Malacañang awaits its new leader, sexist remarks have been more glorified than ever despite the country badly needing reforming.

A female candidate that is not new to this ridicule is Vice President Leni Robredo. Since the start of her term, she has been targeted by Duterte and his devoted followers, those who lovingly call him “Tatay Digong”. The insults thrown at Robredo ranges from her being a stay-at-home mom to her being an incompetent politician. Recently, even supporters of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. have coined “Leni Lugaw”—a derogatory nickname given to Robredo—to brand her as unfit to reign in politics.

But at its root, the very reason they and members of the Filipino society see Robredo and other female politicians as unsuitable public servants is because they’re women. Macho culture in the Philippines has convinced many to value even the lackluster and subpar contributions of men over women’s exceptional and well-thought-out plans and programs. Through this, the epidemic of misogyny and sexism continues to thrive—ultimately leaving women behind and preventing the progression of politics in the country.

Male politicians who continue to make misogynistic remarks against their female counterparts only add fuel to the fire. People are more inclined to hold this stigma against women in politics as that’s what’s being fed to them. But why should we base good governance on gender alone or at all?

A politician’s gender has little to no importance in governing a country—but competence does. A politician’s capability is dependent on their skills and experience, not on whether they’re a man or a woman. The idea that women are too weak and too emotional to lead is an outdated belief meant to discriminate. We must strive for a better and more progressive society, one that unlearns obsolete points of view on gender stereotypes that have been deeply ingrained in us. This change starts with electing politicians that are actually capable of doing the job, not those with the sexist, macho facade who are nothing but insecure and incapable of leading.

Change starts when we allow ourselves to deviate from societal norms that skew our perception of things. Women are more than the roles given to or associated with them; they’re capable of anything a man can do and maybe even more.

Before the end of National Women’s Month this year, we should remember that it is in our hands to dismantle the patriarchy that undermines women. To eradicate the sexism that continues to promulgate discriminatory views not only in politics but in everyday life, women shouldn’t be alone in striving for progress. Men need to acknowledge their privilege and unlearn the harmful biases and perspectives that the patriarchy has been feeding them. Only then can we move forward in establishing a society where men and women are on equal footing.

Margarette Mangabat

By Margarette Mangabat

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