A couple of weeks ago I went out for outdoor adventures with a friend from Europe, enjoying the sunny and sandy beaches, picking few wild fruits, trekking the nearest waterfall in the area while binging on our poetic experiences and meaningful conversations at that time. It was so great and exciting for both of us coming from a different cultural background especially for me as a native here in the Philippines who are very curious about other places and cultures that are so different from Asia. We’ve exchanged so many words and stories about each other’s country including food, culture, politics, and personal philosophies while swimming in a public resort full of people, mostly non-locals of the area.
But while being there, I concluded to my self that in many places here in the Philippines, people are not really used to foreigners (or women in general) walking around with their bikinis only or with very revealing clothes. Either Filipinos would hate them (those who are very religious and think that most white women are too sexually liberated) or would lust on them (those people, especially males, who regularly watches porn and thinks about sex often and sometimes thinks that most white women are sexual perverts). There could be many factors but one of the reasons for this is that most people here have been so Christianized since birth and like in most conservative Christian cultures in Asia, showing too much skin on public is either a taboo or a festival gratifying lustful males. Since many centuries ago, Filipinos accepted the bible (including many of these shameless lustful males, ironically) and of course, the bible suggests that this is a bad thing. However, this is not to suggest that all Christian Filipinos think like this.
Perhaps there are some places in this country that has been used to foreigners or women walking around half-naked such as Boracay, Palawan, or Siargao but still, we cannot say that it is totally the case. Personally, in my experiences in Siargao and Bohol and in other few places, it is not really the case. I still hear nasty sexual comments every now and then towards women, sometimes including the people that I personally knew. It was very disappointing but I always try to remember that as a society, this exists and has been so normalized that’s why it is so difficult to dismantle or not to witness or experience. Or, I don’t know, maybe this is a biological thing. The thing is that other cultures do not do this kind of boundary crossing. For sure, this doesn’t only happen to foreigners, it also happens to Filipino women. Perhaps, this is why many Filipino women do not feel comfortable wearing short dresses or bikinis in public.
To look at it from a sociological perspective, there is a very strong cultural and religious factor why when this friend of mind walks around wearing bikini only, Filipino men cannot help but gaze for a long period of time and sometimes leave nasty comments. According to my friend, in her place, staring alone to people for long is considered disrespectful and rude. Then I asked, how about openly giving nasty and disrespectful comments? Somehow, it is a form of bullying and harassment. Of course, for my friend this is not new. She just doesn’t know (or she doesn’t want to know?) how bad it is because she doesn’t understand the language and the culture better; although she is aware about the stare (according to her), including the malicious ones from the lustful Filipino men of the area. Besides, it’s not really her fault and she cannot control that. However, as a person who cares and understands what is happening and seeing their disrespectful reactions, including from some of the women of the area (probably the resentful wives), it was so difficult for me to ignore and tolerate. I started to ask questions to my self, am I just too sensitive and moralistic or there is really something seriously wrong happening here? Is this really the way to treat a person? Is it normal for humans to treat others as sex objects?
But still, we hanged out in that public beach for more, talking and, trying to discuss my discomfort. There were many people, mostly men, old and young ones… staring at my friend walks along the sand or going to the water with her bikini that also reveals a little bit of hairs in her private parts. So what? I told my self. It was so awkward for me but of course it is not my friend’s fault. Just because this means pornography to my people, I should tell my friend to cover her self? I don’t know and I don’t want to do that because I don’t want her to feel guilty. At that time, I just wanted to leave the place but I don’t want to be impolite to my friend that’s why I stayed. But I was asking my self, what should I really do and who should really adjust? What kinds of adjustments? Should I report them to the police? These are some of my questions that time. So we swam together again then went back to the shore to sun bath for more minutes. But still, there are eyes staring at us and I almost cannot bear. I started to get pissed off because some Filipino men were cheering and were very excited to see something like this; sometimes, including those who had their girlfriend or wife with them. How sick. Even one father told her very young son to look at my friend and see the almost naked body of my friend. It was so embarrassing, so awkward to me to experience this kind of situation.
At some point, it is somehow a sort of a cultural clash; and also, some sort of sexism against my friend. Of course, I cannot blame her and I cannot also totally blame those people because of their ignorance. But still, it was so inappropriate and I felt so bad and even mad at those men who aggressively came near just to watch my almost naked friend lying. For me, it was very rude and disrespectful. I don’t do that to people. If I see naked people for example, I leave them alone. That’s why I wanted to beat the shit out of those people but of course, I cannot do that. Because no matter what, I should remind my self that sometimes, somehow, people are just animals. It’s sad but it’s true, some people are just animals. So for now, I just ask my self: should I take this seriously and do something soon? Is this something very threatening to women in that area in general? For now, I don’t know yet. I just hope that this will be stopped.