What is sexual harassment? On Sofia, Cristina and the Woman Question

Itís quite ironic to usher International Womenís Month with a headline that a match commissioner and former president of the Philippine Olympic Committee filed a complaint against two players of the Philippine menís national football team for sexual harassment.

Such a complaint has generated massive attention and defense for either side, both in mainstream and social media. Now youíve got both trial by publicity and trial by Twitter.

Admittedly, when I first read the headline that Cristy Ramos filed a sexual harassment complaint against Lexton Moy and Angel Guirado when she visited the teamís locker room to conduct pre-match inspections, my reaction was to think that this was the last thing the team needed at the moment ó another controversy to respond to.

Yet, when I was reading through the complaint, I recalled all those lectures about the Woman Question back in high school, when we were discussing feminist literature. Discrimination and inequality against women happen even in the subtlest of forms, in everyday situations: from employment positions, preferences, or salaries to language to even being comfortable in their bodies, in celebrating a womanís form.

Cristy Ramosí sexual harassment complaint even caught the attention of Spanish newspaper Marca, which ran the story. Naturally, the immediate reaction from that part of the world was to point out that Spainís Queen Sofia visited the Spanish national teamís locker room herself and did not file a sexual harassment complaint against Carles Puyol, Spainís centerback and Barcelonaís captain, when he met the Queen while having nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist.

Being a die-hard La Roja supporter myself, I remember that video footage quite clearly. Queen Sofia visited the Spanish national teamís locker room after they booked a spot in the World Cup 2010 finals, following their victory over Germany, 1-0, off a sublime header from Puyol himself, left unmarked as Xavi Hernandez took a corner kick.

In the video footage online, one can clearly see the team hastily attempting to fix the locker room as the Queen entered, kicking away some stray socks, standing and applauding politely in her presence. Puyol was in a separate room, undergoing physical therapy, when the Queen arrived. He was then called to meet her and was later reported to have been very embarrassed over the situation of meeting the monarch with nothing but a towel on.

While this seems to have some similarities over the incident narrated by Cristy Ramos, the contexts are different. Obviously, the womenís statures are quite different from each other, and the atmosphere in the Azkalsí locker room was far from celebratory. While we are not entirely privy as to what exactly happened sometime before 6 p.m. on February 29, 2012 in that locker room at Rizal Memorial Stadium, one can surmise what any woman entering a room full of testosterone could be subjected to. After all, what do men talk about in those situations, inside the confines those walls? (I donít want to know either.)

Stemming from this situation, there is a whole slew of defense and apologetics in support of either side. Much of the discord in the debate, however, seems to come from the differences in meaning. What exactly constitutes sexual harassment?

A look at existing Philippine laws would yield Republic Act 7877 or the Philippine Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995. This legislation defines sexual harassment as being committed by a person having authority, influence, or moral ascendancy over another in a work, training, or educational environment, who ďdemands, requests or otherwise requires any sexual favor from the other, regardless of whether the demand, request or requirement for submission is acceptedĒ in exchange for something else, i.e. employment, continued employment, passing grades, scholarships, and other benefits, etc.

Given this limited definition of sexual harassment in existing Philippine legislation, Ms. Ramosí complaint would not have much bite, so to speak, if this case were brought to court. Even advocates of gender equality would point out that such definitions absolve a great deal of perpetrators, who have uttered sexual innuendo, derogatory gender-specific humor, threats of a sexual nature, and the like.

As it stands, the complaint against Moy and Guirado were brought before the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Disciplinary Committee, chaired by Lim Kia Tong of Singapore. While a look at the AFC Disciplinary Code yields no specific provisions on sexual harassment, there is a provision on discrimination, which sanctions ďanyone who offends the dignity of a person or group of persons through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigratory words or actions concerning race, colour, language, religion or origin.Ē

Meanwhile, the only mention of gender is in AFCís Code of Ethics, which is intended to safeguard the confederationís image against unethical actions of officials. The provision on discrimination specifies that officials ďshall under no circumstances act in a discriminatory manner, especially in terms of ethnic background, race, culture, politics, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or languageĒ. Moreover, the Code of Ethics also has a blanket provision on respecting and safeguarding the personal rights of the persons that they deal with.

While these donít necessarily prove to be a perfect fit to the situation, one can guess that these may be the pertinent provisions that Ms. Ramos would invoke to support her complaint.

As for me, I find two major sources of discomfort in how this has played out publicly. The first, thereís only one side to the story that weíre still hearing, and understandably so. For those of us that actually care about how the team fares in the AFC Challenge Cup, the insulation that Nepal provides from the controversy is a welcome break — but it does come with great expectations for those concerned to clear things up once the teamís run in the tournament is over.

The bigger discomfort for me, I suppose, is the discourse on the Woman Question. Is it merely a matter of Cristy Ramos bringing the situation upon herself because she was a woman that entered the menís locker room? Are we being dismissive about this matter because she is a woman? Are we looking at this matter with a common understanding of what sexual harassment means?

One cannot easily stop the trial by publicity or the trial by Twitter. If there should be any benefit stemming from all of these, it should be an examination of ourselves and how we relate and interact with each other.

WomenWatch, the information portal of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, has published a material from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that defines sexual harassment as an unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature, be it verbal, non-verbal, or physical. What is critical to note is that sexual conduct is unwelcome whenever the person subjected to it considers it unwelcome — including unwanted sexual looks or gestures, sexual comments about a personís clothing, anatomy, or looks, and even unwanted sexual jokes, remarks, or questions.

Sexual harassment, in many instances that we consider normal, essentially means making someone else feel intimidated or disrespected because of their gender — and this applies to men, women, homosexuals, bisexuals, and whatever other classifications there could possibly be.

At the end of the day, this is a matter that must be managed with extra care and sensitivity. After all, this controversy centers on the dignity of a woman and the future of two young men.

Mika Palileo is a proud football fangirl ó albeit one with intricate knowledge of the beautiful game. Follow her thoughts on Twitter or on her blog.

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