An incident involving the Liberal Party in Laguna where girls twerked and did a risqué performance has put the ruling party in hot waters. The girls were said to be a “present” from MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino who is also a prospective LP senatorial candidate to Laguna Rep. Benjie Agarao who was celebrating his birthday that day.
In an interview after the video of the incident earned the ire mostly of netizens, Agarao still had the gall to defend the ‘sexy show.’ He said, “Depende yan sa appreciation. Katulad ko, lalaking lalaki ako, hindi ako masasagwaan. Diyan nga sa Maynila, mayroon pa ngang sumasayaw sa hawla. Sa probinsya, luluwa pa nga ang mata, walang malisya. Dito sa Metro Manila, marami pa ngang congressman inaabot ng umaga diyan.” These comments only reveal the kind of hypocrisy that resides not just in the ruling Liberal Party but in the logic of most politicians. Aside from this, the comments serve as a symptom of a bigger yuckiness, a yuckiness that is otherwise well-known but scarcely confronted, let alone addressed: machismo and the exploitation of women in a patriarchal society. As such, the entire incident and the way Agarao has defended it has become, wittingly or not, reminiscent of Andersen’s fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, a tale that speaks of the refusal to speak up even in the face of its piquing necessity.
The Emperor is Naked!
In Emperor’s New Clothes, there was an Emperor whose vanity is best manifested in his discrimination for chic clothes. Two people, well aware of the Emperor’s distinct trait, pretended to be tailors in order to trick him. They told him that they can “weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible.” But there is an added twist: it will look invisible only to those who are “stupid” or “incompetent.” The Emperor was convinced and he immediately gave the pseudo-tailors a huge sum in order to start going about the weaving. The tailors then started ‘working’ on the cloth that does not actually exist. After a few days, the Emperor asked the Prime Minister to check on the progress of the weaving. Upon checking the work of the tailor-tricksters and seeing nothing – for there was really nothing to see! – the Prime Minister pretended to marvel at the cloth. In this way, it will not appear that the cloth appeared invisible to him and that as a result, he was stupid and incompetent. Then it was the Emperor’s time to see and try on the cloth himself. But just like the Prime Minister, he saw nothing – again, for there is no cloth to be seen! – and he likewise pretended that he was seeing something, a fantastic cloth to wear. Then the Prime Minister told him that his people were calling on him to appear to them with his new suit. The Emperor balked at first for he thought of appearing naked but then realized that he will appear naked only to those who are stupid and incompetent, those for whom the clothes will appear invisible. As he appeared to them – actually naked – the people pretended to marvel at the fine clothes too; unwilling to admit that they are really seeing nothing and that as a result, they are stupid and incompetent. The gallant show of pretension was then curtailed by a remark from a child exclaiming, “The Emperor is naked.” He was reproved at first by his father but gradually, other people started shouting in concurrence: “The child is right! The Emperor is naked!” The Emperor tried to finish his procession unfazed, clinging to the illusion that he was really wearing something and that those who will not be able to see the clothes he’s wearing are the stupid and incompetent ones, the ones illusioned. As he clung to this illusion, he continued his procession naked, without any real ‘fine clothes’ on him.
The Emperor’s New Clothes and Girls with no Clothes on
How does this tale of the Emperor run in parallel with the twerking girls in the birthday party of an LP member in Laguna? The parallelism is not completely commensurate and it is precisely where the LP incident digresses from the tale of the Emperor that the crucial points reside. Moreover, establishing a parallelism between the two can also unearth the larger setting which informs the LP incident – patriarchy and machismo in Philippine politics and society.
The Emperor’s vanity can be likened to the ‘vanity’ of those in power, their manic ways of protecting their political force. The Emperor’s predilection for fancy clothes in particular signifies the vanity in the same way as particular ascriptions and designations, i.e. men are superior to women, are strewn in order to signify and legitimize the patriarchal order. It is notable that these two – the fancy clothes and the ascriptions and designations – can be replaced with something else had their frame change as well. In the tale of the Emperor, the fancy clothes which expresses the Emperor’s vanity can be his attention to the look of his eyebrows perhaps, or the shape of his mouth when he speaks. But for this to be manageable, the point of the story might have to change. On the other hand, the ascriptions and designations that legitimize patriarchy can be held otherwise. But for that to occur, the very frames which patriarchy set up must likewise be changed. For the designations to change from “men are superior to women” to something more egalitarian, patriarchy must be displaced.
Here, we arrive at the first important disjunction: the tailor-trickster move was done in order to poke fun at the vanity of the Emperor. But when it comes to the patriarchal system, the efforts to poke fun at its attributions are outweighed by the processes that normalize them, make them invisible, taken-for-granted. These are the very designations and attributions that arguably underlie the Liberal Party twerking incident in Laguna: female bodies are to be turned into spectacle for males, and not just any male but powerful males, males who are in the Congress, in the Senate, in the government.
In the face of these processes of normalization then, we have been discreetly warned: those who do not accept these ‘normal’ things are stupid and incompetent, can be stigmatized in the society. Hence, just like the Prime Minister, and the Emperor himself and his people, we accede: yes, these attributions are normal, patriarchy is normal and fine; yes, men are superior to women; yes, men can make a spectacle of women; yes, the Emperor wears such fine clothes, very brilliant clothes!
We arrive then at the second important digression between the two. In The Emperor’s New Clothes, it was a child who uttered what everyone has been denying, has been refusing to affirm: “The Emperor is naked!” But in the LP twerking scandal, it was the ‘emperor’ himself who cried it out loud, for Christ’s sake: “Katulad ko, lalaking lalaki ako, hindi ako masasagwaan. Diyan nga sa Maynila, mayroon pa ngang sumasayaw sa hawla. Sa probinsya, luluwa pa nga ang mata, walang malisya. Dito sa Metro Manila, marami pa ngang congressman inaabot ng umaga diyan.” It was Liberal Party’s Agarao himself who admitted his nakedness, as if saying, Yes, we had those shows and I like them very much. I am a man, for Christ’s sake. Shows of this kind are everywhere. Just like in Metro Manila, just like elsewhere, where girls dance in front of millions of men, in front of moneyed millions of men.
Unlike in The Emperor’s New Clothes, Agarao did not deny what others have been denying and refuse to acknowledge. In doing that, he has just affirmed what all of us know anyway right at the onset, what we have been taking as normal or acceptable: our politicians are hypocritical machos; that hypocritical machos like them thrive in a political system where they belong precisely because the likes of them have made and sustain this system. And we, the people, are mostly looking, acceding to the ‘normal’ state of things.
Maybe it is all on us now. The Emperor is naked; Agarao and the men of Liberal Party and the macho political setup are making women take their clothes off and they are going away with it.
Clearly, it is all on us now.