By KERRY TINGA

IMG 03ba932f6a25321d1dac3397bde532a2 V - The Empress’ New Clothes

In Hans Christian Anderson’s famed fable The Emperor’s New Clothes, two con-men disguised as weavers tell the vain emperor that the beautiful suit they have designed is invisible to anybody who is “hopelessly stupid.” The two con-men present the emperor with nothing, merely miming that they are putting the clothes on him. Embarrassed that they cannot see anything, everybody, including the emperor, remarks on how exquisite the clothes are, not wanting to admit that they are “hopelessly stupid.” The emperor embarks on a procession, stark naked, with the whole town uncomfortable but silent, lest they are labeled “hopelessly stupid.”

Finally, a young, innocent child yells that the emperor isn’t wearing anything at all! The townsfolk agree and admit that they see nothing but a naked man. But the emperor, vain and proud, continues on with his procession. It was never about the clothes.

Emperor Clothes 01 - The Empress’ New Clothes

Illustration by Vilhelm Pedersen, Andersen’s first illustrator

“Take the time to read our stories. Learn about our shared pain. Find comfort in the strength of others. I hope we can be a little braver and a lot less tolerant of this toxicity,” writes Frankie Pangilinan on Twitter, the culmination of frustration and weariness over being the constant target of attacks on social media that reinforce a hypermasculine narrative and environment every time she speaks her mind.

Frankie is known for her outspoken presence on social media, much to the admiration of her many young Filipino followers.

This weekend, however, has been her crowning moment, giving her followers and the general public the now-trending hashtag #HijaAko. It has the makings of a movement with over 80,000 tweets from Filipinos coming forward with stories of sexual assault, harassment, and words of comfort and support. Many leaders are known to speak on their followers’ behalf, but great ones lift people up so everybody’s voice can be heard.

We could say this all started when Ben Tulfo tagged Frankie on Twitter, starting by calling her “hija” and suggesting that women may be “inviting the beast” because of how they dress. We could say this all started with the Lucban Municipal Police Station’s now-deleted Facebook post saying that girls should avoid wearing short clothes in order to avoid getting harassed. We could say this all started when one bad man did one bad thing this one time so now everybody has to be careful, but most especially women.

The difficult thing about normalized hypermasculinity and sexism is that it is so ingrained in the culture, creating a feedback loop that has no real beginning and, unfortunately, no end in sight unless we break the whole system.

This is the case with the objectification of women through their clothing, a tale as old as time, blaming the victim of sexual assault and crimes for what has happened to them. It is grounded on the false premise that women, that anybody, dresses for the sake of others, giving them the right to objectify women based on what they wear. And when a woman tries to speak out, language is used against them, they may condescendingly be called “hija” as a way to infantilize and belittle them and their comments.

Like Anderson’s fable, it was never about the clothes, but the way the clothes are perceived to reinforce a social hierarchy and system. Like Anderson’s fable, the young call it as they see it, ignoring the sexist system that many people may be uncomfortably acquiescing to.

Letting others define or interpret a woman in any way other than how she defines and interprets herself is the grounds on which such heinous crimes are eventually committed. An environment where women are assumed to be judged will undoubtedly lead to people acting on judgments they feel they have a right to pass.

 

Frankie has ushered in a wave of women using the hashtag #HijaAko to define themselves and their experiences in their own terms. Much smarter than the emperor of the fable, who could honestly be called “hopelessly stupid,” the empress of Philippine social media activism has given back power to women, young and old, who dare to speak against the injustice and misogyny that are pervasive in our society.

Because let’s be honest, it was, and is, never about the clothes.

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