MILLIONS of us voted for a man who can out-cuss street ruffians, jokes about rape and catcalls women. He tells the Catholic Church, the United Nations, the United States, and other allies to keep out of our politics. And he frankly talks about his outsize virility.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks his mind and appears to fear nothing and no one. His brand of power and manliness is worryingly attractive.
By most accounts, men remain the top dogs. Even if Hillary Clinton is elected President of the United States, men will still make up 93 percent of the world’s government leaders. Ninety-eight percent of self-made billionaires on Forbes’ rich list are men, and men constitute 95 percent of CEOs listed in Fortune 500. But some men are not doing as well.
In fact, quite a lot of men are doing very badly. As The Economist recently discussed <http://www.economist.com/news/essays/21649050-badly-educated-men-rich-countries-have-not-adapted-well-trade-technology-or-feminism>, poor and badly educated men are at the center of what is now being perceived as a growing crisis in manhood.
Throughout America and in other parts of the rich world, men who had once relied on jobs in the manufacturing sectors, in farms, mills, and mines—work that called for more brawn and less “book-learning,” are faced with very bleak prospects. The loss of these traditional blue-collar jobs is taking a severe toll on men’s confidence, self-esteem, and economic power in the workplace, in family life, and in men’s personal sense of manliness, dignity and self worth. While women are more successful in finding employment, attain higher levels of education, and are often the family’s main or sole breadwinner, their male working-class counterparts, by contrast, find themselves alienated and struggling to cope with this brave new world.
The Philippines still has a long way to go before it joins the ranks of advanced countries.
But the manliness of working-class Filipino men has, in some ways, been under similar attack. In the early 20th century, the majority of international migrants from Southeast Asia were men. A striking example of this is male work-related migration from the Ilocos region. American labor recruiters hired Filipino laborers to work in the sugar and fruit plantations of Hawaii and California. What began as a trickle, around 1907, ended in a flood by the 1920s when an average of 7,500 Filipino men, many of whom were Ilocanos, arrived annually in Hawaii. In contemporary times, as global economies increasingly sought a female labor force in health care and domestic service, the number of women migrating internationally to work, often finding employment in low-skilled and poorly paid work, has now outstripped male migration.
Studies on Ilocano communities published in 2001 by the sociologist Alicia T. Pingol show how Ilocano family structures and male gender identity are being profoundly rocked by married Ilocano women migrating overseas to work. The men left behind are compelled to take on the role of house-husband and “take charge of the domestic scene.” While conventional standards and ideal conceptions of masculinity, kinalalaki, hold men up as providers, family breadwinners, and authority figures, especially the head of the family—ama ti pamilia, in practice, Ilocano men find themselves subordinate to their absent wives and in danger of losing their authority in the home. Dependent on their wives’ earnings and forced to do traditionally female tasks—child care, housekeeping, marketing, laundry, and managing their wives’ remittances, Ilocano men, Pingol observes, face the everyday effort to resist “feminization.”
Reconstructing manhood is hard work. Some Ilocano men laudably express their manliness by efficiently managing the home and being attentive and caring fathers to their children. Others exercise autonomy by entering into adulterous relationships. Fathers who feel emasculated, or are disrespected by their children and mothers-in-law are the most destructive, withdrawing into alcoholism or becoming violent toward their children.
The Ilocano case resonates throughout the country. Women continue to account for over 50 percent of the millions of overseas contract workers who leave each year to work abroad. It is arguable just how much Hollywood, local films, and media exert an influence over Filipino conceptions of manliness. Glossy magazines such as Esquire, FHM, and Rogue regularly feature male movie stars, rich young entrepreneurs, and successful politicians and businessmen. A flick through a few recent editions comes up with hot young journalist Atom Araullo and actor John Lloyd Cruz. Esquire, in July 2013, thought it appropriate to feature President Benigno Aquino on the front cover of the “How to be a Man” edition.
Anyway, the men in magazines are mostly wealthy, successful, cosmopolitan in outlook, do travel abroad for pleasure, and are swooningly handsome. These images of manhood convey a self-satisfied, narcissistic, and privileged kind of manliness that seems dreamily far removed from the norm. The Duterte man sticks a finger up to all that manly sophistication and renders that sort of smooth, suave maleness as effete if not downright limp.
We are living in an era when millions of able-bodied Filipino men are frustrated, without work or are underemployed. The brutal, snarling, take-no-prisoners, fatuous machismo of Duterte offers a model of manliness that will be more seductive than ever.