A MOVE to shame President Duterte and his men for being “bastos” when they “sex talk” is doomed to fail because ordinary people could not relate to it.
This is rooted in the relative ease by which sexuality is normalized in the everyday fabric of Philippine society, despite the strong push to control it. This is a logical outcome of the deeply embedded discourse of sex in the Filipino habitus.
President Duterte is endearing to many people because he manifests the raw and ordinary. One can observe how sexualized ordinary “Pinoy” talk is by listening to everyday conversations between people. Ordinary people refer to sex not as exogenous and malicious, but in the spirit of youthful playfulness. One can hear people refer to sex organs without willful malice, and these words only take on noxious meanings and become “bastos” when they are said in the formal context and vis-à-vis the prudish and moralistic social elites.
Nudity, particularly in the rural countryside and among the urban poor may not be as offensive, considering that their living spaces are designed in such a way that privacy becomes an alien concept. It is normal to see people taking a bath almost half naked; men wearing only their underwear in public artesian wells, or along rivers and irrigation canals; or women doing their laundry in “wet look” where they wear only tapis, malong or “duster.”
Living places of many Filipinos are small to a point that these become spaces which deny them the privacy that people normally living in big houses can afford. In this architecture of the ordinary abode, the display of bodies by family members is taken in the context of rituals of familiarity. Thus, one can observe that ordinary peoples are not as hesitant to strip naked with friends as they take a bath in a common shower.
A woman nursing her child may not even be shy about exposing part of her breast in public, in street corners as she engages in idle talk with others, or even when riding in jeepneys. Men are not as restrained in relieving themselves in public.
This lack of hesitation to display the body is not to be interpreted as being “walang hiya,” or “shameless,” but more as expressions of “walang malisya,” or “without malice” and therefore innocent. Hence, in the habitus of the ordinary Pinoy, shame, which is a Victorian construct that was foisted on us to prohibit the public display of our bodies, is replaced by innocence. It is this template that produces ordinary narratives about human bodies and sexuality that do not see sex as taboo and “kabastusan” and instead have a healthy attitude toward it.
In fact, one can even conclude that viewing sex as “bastos” is a construct that is more predominant among the educated and the urbanized elites, as they operate in spaces in which the division between public and private is defined. In the ordinary and everyday lives of the Pinoy, the divide between public and private, and the demands to respect rights to privacy, are not as important an issue.
This is reflected in how ordinary Pinoys usually value more kinship and camaraderie over rights to privacy, and consider meddling into the affairs of family members, friends and even neighbors as not as problematic as in Western societies.
The other dynamic that drives the institutionalization of this narrative about the human body and sexuality lies in our enormous capacity for humor and fun. This is manifested in how we can easily turn a serious event into a material that can be given a comic spin, either through jokes or in gigs of stand-up comedians. Parody and satire are ordinarily deployed not only as forms of entertainment, but as coping mechanisms to deal with stressful events. It is here that we turn the dangers of sexuality on its head and recast it as a resource that we can spin around to take on an element of fun and pleasure not in a vulgar sense, but as antidote to the seriousness of life.
Sex jokes proliferate in the ordinary setting, some of which may be offensive to the sensibilities of some people, while others may see in them the redeeming function of providing a venue by which people can detoxify their lives relative to the serious challenges that they face. In fact, when one takes offense with a seemingly innocent sex joke, peers may respond by reminding the one who took offense not to take life seriously, even as others may even chastise the latter for being the one with a malicious mind thereby shifting the burden of malice to those who interpret the joke as offensive.
Attempts to control the body in late capitalism are replete with symbolic violence, but we have not succeeded in confining the body to merely becoming a canvas for the articulation of the dominant narratives that govern it as a usual project to be produced or a resource to be consumed. Validating Michel Foucault’s critique of the repressive hypothesis, we have institutionalized the body narratives in the Philippines not as a settled template of silenced debates and repressed desires, but in the explosion of talk about it. Much as we want to confine sex under the sheets, inside bedrooms, or things to be confessed to a priest, ordinary people talk about it in various ways.
Thus, while some institutions deploy control mechanisms, others are able to offer venues by which individuals and collectives express their own sexualities and body narratives by using ordinary discourses through the language games through which they are expressed. Thus, in the heat of attempting to banish and silence talk about sex in our normal lives, we have ended up not only sexualizing the normal, but even normalizing sexuality to a point that the Filipino body is now told about in narratives as no longer as alienated, conservative and repressed as we have been made to believe.
And the President, like most of us, is a child of this discursive landscape.
It is in this context that calling him “bastos” for his “sex talk” doesn’t resonate with the ordinary people simply because its premise is so Victorian, inauthentic and elitist.