“IT’S NOT RAPE / IT’S A SNUGGLE WITH A STRUGGLE” read the statement tee-shirt – emblazoned with big, bold white letters, two hands forming a heart-shape in between two text lines—shown in the photo.
I almost could not believe my eyes: was this Tee FOR REAL??? Surely, this was some idiotic prank generated by Photoshop and a sick mind. If not for the fact that this was posted on writer, pop-culture icon, and my dear friend, Karen Kunawicz’s Facebook timeline, I would have seriously doubted its authenticity.
Then again, such are the times in which we live, it seems.
“Really SM Department Store? In the boy’s section? “It’s Not Rape, It’s A Snuggle With A Struggle?” SM—the same mall that has the daily angelus and refused to show Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” in the cinemas? Boys listen to Tita Karen—if a girl says NO and pushes you away, just err on the side of caution, she likely means NO. And go watch “Sweeney Todd.” WTF, SM,” was how Karen captioned the photo.
Karen happened upon the shirt while out shopping at SM ShoeMart’s Megamall branch. Not at some underground shop selling expletive tees (not that that would have made it any more correct; just a tad more expected, perhaps). This wasn’t hanging on a rack next to some “F*ck the Police” or “I <3 Hitler” shirt; this was hanging next to run-of-the-mill statement tees on the racks of the country’s largest super chain retailer! AND—here’s where it gets REALLY demented—this particular rack of tees was located at the TEEN’S DEPARTMENT, Boy’s section!
The evil trifecta (a “rape joke” + major distribution + a young, impressionable market) of rape, trivialized. Commercialized. Monetized, even. Sick—utterly so.
This definitely went down among my biggest face-palm moments—no, make that slap-myself-silly moments—ever. “How could this have happened?” I asked myself, as did many others. I was livid, incensed, outraged; as were many others.
The post quickly went viral. Overnight, it was shared close to 2,000 times, and received almost as many “likes.” Two days later, at the time of this writing, the share count is up to almost 5,000. The post was picked-up by local news sites, as well as by those in countries further away: New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, the UK, the US and Singapore; among many others.
Disbelief and disgust
Karen recounts her own disbelief, which quickly turned to disgust, upon first seeing the shirt: “I’m usually a calm person but I was shaking when I saw it, which resulted in the poor quality photo that has been making the rounds,” she said.
She did not, in that almost surreal moment, think to take a photo of the shirt’s label. People wanted to know who was behind this ludicrous design; people wanted to see that these misogynistic monsters would get their comeuppance, somehow.
“Thoughts that ran through my head: What is this doing here? Though after that, you realize a sentiment like that does not belong anywhere,” Karen—who is mother to an almost-teenage boy—added.
The disgust quickly spread through the avenues of social media: ”I’m angry not just with SM but with the group of idiots that envisioned and actually produced this. This messed up message is DELIBERATE. Sinong shirt manufacturer yan?!!”, exclaimed one Facebook user.
“SM needs to not only pull this shirt, they need to issue a very public apology to rape victims everywhere, and make a costly monetary donation to crisis centers that help rape victims. They cannot be allowed to hide behind their consignment agreements. SM Department Store, nakakahiya kayo,” was the cry of another.
Impassioned rants such as these formed the longish thread of comments, demanding for action on the part of the retail giant.
The giant speaks
In a matter of hours, the buzz created on social media grew loud enough to reach the giant’s ears. SM quickly pulled the shirts from their stores, and issued a statement via Twitter and Facebook. It seems that they, too, were dumbfounded; which is telling of a lack of system or a faulty cog or two within such huge operational machinery. But that’s another story.
The giant first spoke via Twitter:
A second, slightly more elaborate statement came via Facebook:
Many were unsatisfied. Tweets and comments once again poured in, questioning SM’s efficiency, quality control, and system in general. One Facebook user called the statement a “sorry excuse .. someone had to approve it for sale. give me a break.” On Twitter, people vented just as strongly:
Kari Cross✝ @ponponwei Sep 22 .@smsupermalls
“you dont even know the shirts you stock in your stores? Wow such management.”
maritel ledesma, md @merlmd Sep 22 @smsupermalls
“and the buck stops where? terrible, horrible, irresponsible”
JengVVJengVVallejo @JengVV Sep 22 @JojoMalig
“Ngek. Hugas-kamay. C’mon @smsupermalls, you’re in retail since gods know when.”
A simple apology for an offense of such magnitude—and, might I add, utter stupidity—simply did not suffice.
Why it’s NEVER okay
On the positive, the whole incident revealed one thing: that there are many of us who know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that rape jokes are NEVER ok. They simply are not. And as many as voiced their indignation gives me hope that we can tear down a culture of rape.
“My main concern was there were people who could not grasp the fact that the message on the shirt is so damaging across the board. People can argue about so many things—politics, religion, artistas, the traffic situation, but this issue is just so basic,” Karen said.
It IS basic—we might even say that it is common sense. Still, there are those who apparently lack common sense.
I remember, many months back, when Vice Ganda cracked a joke on gang rape, at the expense of a news anchor from a rival media network. This, too, stirred up quite a hornet’s nest on almost all avenues of media. Some things are just NOT funny.
To my amazement, however, there were those who came to the defense of rape jokes; with the justification that as long as they are “wittily or tastefully done” they are okay. There were those who used the “freedom of speech” defense, and yet others, who tried to use “art for art’s sake” as a way to justify rape jokes.
How silly. How ignorant. And how irresponsible.
Again, for those who may have missed it the first few times, RAPE JOKES ARE NEVER OKAY. A rape joke reveals a culture of rape. A rape joke perpetuates a culture of rape.
Quoting fiction writer Angi Becker Stevens : “Just as racist jokes can only be found funny within a culture of racism, rape jokes could not exist outside of a culture of rape.”
Additionally, in an article on Ten Ways to End Rape Culture, online publication The Nation says: “Don’t laugh at rape. Most people aren’t rapists. But most rapists believe that everyone does it. What’s more, you can’t tell if you’re in the presence of a rapist. They don’t look any different from the rest of us, and may be perfectly good company. So while it might seem harmless to you to laugh at a joke that makes light of rape, your laughter could be telling an unknown rapist in your midst that you think rape is hilarious. And what’s worse: letting go of a laugh once in a while, or accidentally enabling a rapist? Your call.”
Also, the thing about humour—and this is a well-studied fact—is that it has a desensitizing effect on the consciousness; on the soul. It is so powerful a tool in this area that it is a widely-employed technique in psycho-therapy.
We develop a numbness towards that at which we laugh. And sometimes, this can be a good thing. But in the case of rape, it is a terrible thing. People who laugh at rape trivialize the gravity of this crime. They justify a deplorable act as a “snuggle with a struggle.”
People who crack rape jokes make the victims of rape relive the crime, over and over and over again. In a nutshell, this laughter is at the expense of others; at the expense of women (most especially); at the expense of our shared humanity and our society in general.
Is this seriously the message we want to send the next generations? Is this the world order in which we want them to live?
In a recent GMA News special report on rape in the Philippines, some very disturbing developments came to light.
In 2013, the Philippine National Police’s annual report (based on their Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management data and the date from the Philippine National Police Women and Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC)) recorded 7,409 reported rape incidents; or one every 72 minutes. And these are just the instances of REPORTED rapes.
According to the GMA News report, the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) disclosed the actual count could be much higher, as data received by the PNO could very well be underreported.
“Batay sa aming experience, ang isang nabibiktima, lalo na ‘pag bata, ‘di kaagad siya nagkukuwento. Lalo na ‘pag tinatakot,” CWR Executive Director Jojo Guan told GMA News Research.
The study brought forth an even more disturbing trend. Data of reported rapes over the last fifteen years (since 1999) showed that three out of four rape incidents brought to the PNP-WCPC involved child victims.
In similar manner, data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) of reported rape cases in 2013 show that nearly half of the child rape cases they attended to last year involved children younger than 14 years old.
And someone saw it fit to design, produce, and then sell a rape shirt in the boy’s teen’s section? Deplorable.
Are you seeing the gravity yet? A culture of rape is being fostered and nurtured by things like rape jokes, rape shirts, sexual innuendos on mass media, etcetera. And our nation’s children are the victims.
Enough of the acceptance that it’s okay to degrade women, and it’s okay for men to be overtly sexual. Enough of the objectification of women.
Make a stand. Speak up. Use social media for good. Tear down a culture of rape; one rape shirt, one rape joke, one crass comment at a time.