Why the impact of public figures’ rape jokes cannot be shrugged off

May 27, 2019 - 7:27 PM
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Duterte at PMA event 2019
President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech during the commencement exercises of the Philippine Military Academy "Mabalasik" Class of 2019 at Fort General Gregorio Del Pilar in Baguio City on May 26, 2019. (PCOO/King Rodriguez)

President Rodrigo Duterte has no letup in spitting rape jokes every now and then, but some people surprisingly still find this amusing.

Some cadets at the Philippine Military Academy graduation rites laughed at Duterte’s jokes during the pardoning of offenses even if their class valedictorian is a woman.

The pardoning of cadet’s offenses is a tradition during the graduation of PMA cadets.

“The Number One is for rape, putang ina. Ang Number Two is drugs with rape with robbery. Para sa Muntinlupa ito. Pangatlo, multiple rape of the women of Baguio. The beautiful ones. Sino ‘yan?” Duterte said.

He went on and said that he would let off those who committed these crimes for now because he needs “good and capable” soldiers.

“Para ring pulis natuto na kayo sa pulis [na] ayaw mag-admit,” the president said.

Dionne Mae Apolog Umalla, a 21-year-old native Ilocana, topped the class of “Mabalasik” (Mandirigma ng Bayan Lakas at Sarili Iaalay para sa Kapayapaan) who graduated that day.

It’s not certain whether or not she also laughed at the gag.

Duterte’s allies and supporters kept downplaying this as humor that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Numerous psychological studies, however, showed why rape cannot be the subject of jokes.

Rape or sexist jokes have an impact

In an article on The Conversation, social scientists write that being exposed to sexist or offensive humor affects people’s perceptions about themselves and toward each other.

“One study even found that exposure to sexist humor can decrease male perceptions of the seriousness of rape,” authors Simon Weaver and Karen Morgan said.

“Another study found that women were more likely to view themselves as objects and worry more about their bodies after viewing sexist humour. This research suggested that although jokes may not instantly change the world, they may affect people at an interpersonal level,” they added.

Meanwhile, an article from Psychology Today said that humor deemed as misogynistic increases the person’s tendency to commit rape.

“Humor demeaning to women, even when nonsexual in nature, may reinforce some men’s readiness to rape,” Dr. Travis Langley said.

He cited a study that revealed men exposed to sexist humor expressed “greater rape proclivity” than those who weren’t.

“Thomae and Viki’s studies further indicated that this effect depended on existing tendencies toward hostile sexism, an interaction which would mean that men with strong feelings of hostility and bias toward women were the ones most likely to express greater rape proclivity after exposure to sexist humor,” Langley explained.

This is worse when uttered by public figures such as comedians and politicians.

According to a political analyst, supporters or allies of these personalities may interpret jokes seriously.

Duterte’s words, in particular, are important to the people regardless of how ridiculous they are because he holds the highest position in the land.

“The words of the president may be interpreted by the people, particularly the Duterte supporters, as a government policy,” said Dennis Coronacion, a professor of political science at the University of Santo Tomas.

This makes offensive humor as “political” in nature because it connects the identities of the people who tell them and the perverted pleasure of committing a crime.

“In contributing to a blurred distinction between a culture of sexual abuse and humor, rape jokes may contribute to the normalization of such abuse and make it more difficult than it already is for victims of sexual abuse to speak out,” Weaver and Morgan said.

A growing list

Duterte’s colleagues in governance are not spared from his distasteful quip.

Earlier in May, he told Bohol Mayor Tita Baja-Gallantes what he’ll do if he was her husband.

“You are truly beautiful. If he were me, why would I ever break up with you? I will really grab and hold on to your panty if you try to leave, even until the garter snaps. You’re just too beautiful,” he said.

It also drew laughter from the audience at that time.