the double-standard: women in politics

Posted: February 24, 2009 in All and Sundry, commentary, feminisms


Clearly, what happened to Elizabeth Wong is an indication that there is an enduring double-standard regarding women in politics, which is more apparent and predominant in most repressive states but equally disconcertingly subtle in other “democratic” countries like the Philippines.

My colleague John and I were talking about this recent event that has belabored my friend from Malaysia, and while we both agreed that as Pinoys  we are somewhat used to character assassinations in our country’s political realm, we also observed that as far as we can recall, we couldn’t remember a female politician being treated this way by the press. In our recent political history, we have not witnessed women politicians being discredited by virtue of their sexual lifestyle through the release of sex tapes in the mass media. Yes we have observed male politicians being criticized for their philandering acts, but no woman was ever accused of being adulterous, much less lascivious. Why? We ask.

Perhaps because our society still does not tolerate impropriety towards women in general. We can hurl accusations of all sorts to our women leaders but oh no, we can never use sex in its explicit sense as a political weapon to destroy their credibility. Sex is still considered as belonging to the private realm. And to bring it out in public is not fair game, and will not even hold ground so to speak.

Also, John and I noticed that most women leaders in higher positions of power in our country have always been regarded as “untouchables.” Whatever you say about Loren Legarda, she is a daunting political opponent, and as usual, the only way political enemies can get to her is through her husband. The same thing that’s happening to our own president. If they couldn’t hurt her “womanity,” they try to poke at her so-called Achilles heel–her husband, the first gentleman who is often perceived as her sore appendage, and more than that, the person behind her success, the puppeteer. This is where the double-standard comes in, I guess.

The woman is still considered as sacred ground that connotes concepts of passivity and weakness. In order to justify her success, there must be a plausible reason outside of her abilities. And if one can’t find that reason, one can always attribute it to madness, as with what happened to Senator Meriam Santiago. Because of her apparent display of wit and intelligence, and yes, sheer grit, she was tagged as “brenda” as in short for “brain damage” in the past. The Philippine society could not at that time reconcile the existence of a woman as opinionated and outspoken as her, and so she had to be demonized. No, no, one cannot be a woman and have a mouth as loud as that. It is implausible!

Of course, despite all these odds, I would hazard to say that these women still survived. For instance, Miriam survived all sorts political assassinations–even her son’s suicide was forcibly blamed on her being a “bad” mother–still holding on to power and a bit of political clout to stay in office. Same can be said about Loren and Gloria. Now, we have other more outspoken congresswomen belonging to both the opposition’s and the administration’s side. And yet, not one of them experienced the same character assassination as what my friend Elizabeth did.

It is amazing how we can always look deeper into how gender is subtly seen as a dividing line in politics, and still come up with the general observation that in the core of all, lies sex. That ultimate tool we can wield to hurt someone, especially a woman. 😦

  1. Great blog man. Check mine if you want, let me know what you think of it.

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