The Best Defenses v Online Harassment

The Best Defenses v Online Harassment by Tricia Zafra. Written for

It was the most uncalled-for comment I encountered on a Facebook post I uploaded on Monday, March 21, 2016. Worse, when I saw it, it had been there for an hour already.

I cringed and felt so helpless and hurt knowing at the back of my mind that oftentimes when a woman gets disrespected and cries foul over an inappropriate remark directed to her, the buck still unreasonably stops with her for being “provocative” or for “asking for it.”

This is for all the girls out there who would surely be posting photos of themselves doing something fun, looking their best in their bathing suits whether these are newly-bought or resurrected from the depths of your closets for the summer season. Everytime we are disrespected, it is an obligation to stand our ground. When no one seems to be able to stand by our side, we can always rally the world behind us and in our freedom to responsibly express ourselves.

Flight and Fight Response

I work seven days a week, juggling field work and a studio job. To say that I was badly in need of a break is an understatement. A rare opportunity finally came when a friend invited me to Bicol. I booked a flight and almost maxed-out what’s left of my vacation leave credits. I was desperate for a break.

Subic beach in Matnog, Sorsogon was beyond my expectations. I was ecstatic when my girl friends and I reached the island. I made grotesque sand castles with its blush-pink sand, and of course swam in its pristine crystal-clear waters. In all these, I was in a one-piece swimsuit, the same one I wore when I filmed my Summer Break Iloilo segment in 2014.

The girls and I took photos of the place, ourselves and of each other that we intended to post on our social media accounts. I had a full body photo of myself taken by the beach, in my swimsuit, posing “a la miss Universe.” However, I was conscientious enough to decide that these “sexy” photos should be kept private. Unfortunately, this mindfulness apparently was not enough to prevent being victimized by the mindless, the tactless and the sexist among us on social media.

Just this Monday, I posted two photos (that are, to my judgment, wholesome) on my timeline captioned with this: “The only natural relief from allergy I know apart from grapes and power naps.”

My Facebook post.
My Facebook post.

My nose was decongested after swimming in Subic beach. When I came home to the city, my allergic cough and colds were triggered again. I merely wanted to share how the joyful activity of swimming in the ocean can be an allergy remedy, while showing off to amuse myself how graceful I can swim underwater and pose for an underwater camera at the same time (I’m a certified open water scuba diver, by the way).

It was all fun until I saw this comment:

The intrusive comment.
The intrusive comment.

I tried to flee from the situation by immediately deleting the comment and delisting the person who has made it from the list of my friends. But I realized as my mind was restored to clarity, that I somehow have to fight back. Besides, too much cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) have been triggered by the inappropriate remark and I’m diverting loads of them writing this article.

Tap Your Prefrontal Cortex for Approval Before You Click

“Anong ibig sabihin niya ng ‘free mammary exam’?” (What does he mean by free mamary exam?) This was one of the first questions my neuropsychologist, Dr. Danilo Tuazon asked me when I consulted him.

I told him I don’t know since I did not confront the person for the very reason that I do not want to be talking to someone who seems to be so accustomed to gender insensitive conversations.

Instead, I wrote to his certifying agency — the Professional Association of Diving Instructors or PADI — to report the rude behavior; he is a dive instructor. I underscored that as diving professionals, it is highly likely that they often encounter women clad in swimsuits after the prescribed wetsuits for diving are taken off. As a diver myself, I see many female divers unzip or remove their wetsuits during surface intervals, revealing their swimsuits underneath.

I have also told the organization that to me, the remark seemed to be referring to “ogling at my breasts,” which are not in any way shown in the photo. A PADI Asia Pacific Quality Management Coordinator has acknowledged my email and has given assurance that my complaint will be “reviewed” and “after which the appropriate action will be taken”.

Regardless of what the person meant by the remark, Dr. Tuazon, who is also a teaching professional, a father of two daughters, and who found nothing “obnoxious or obscene” in my post, said: “Kung instructor siya, he should be careful with his remarks.” (If he’s an instructor…)

Bim De La Paz, Public Information Desk Coordinator for women’s organization Gabriela, however, has warned me of a possible unfavorable scenario: “I do not know about PADI (if they are gender sensitive, though they should be because they deal with bathing suit-clad women all the time) but they may have a different appreciation of his comment. They may interpret it as merely a joke.”

To me, it will never be a joke. For a sport claiming to equally accommodate men and women for training and excellence, I guess it is high time that gender sensitivity or respect for that matter, is instilled among its professionals. Not because you felt something in your pants, it means you may take it out or express it through speech. Just where the capital H has your prefrontal cortex gone? Well, I guess it was lost in the cultural training of Filipino men.

Overriden Prefrontal Cortex

Blame it on the brain cruising on auto-pilot, interacting with a patriarchal Filipino society — this is the conclusion I arrived at after talking to Dr. Tuazon and Gabriela.

“Ang pambabastos ay mangyayari kahit na anupaman ang suot ng babae. Ang layon nito ay ma-harass, ma-embarrass, mapahiya ang biktima. Katulad na lang ng comment na “free mammary exam” kaugnay ng post ni Tricia na hindi naman masagwa. Ang gustong mambastos ay laging makakahanap ng oportunidad para gawin ang pambabastos,” Gabriela Vice Chair Gert Ranjo Libang said.

(Disrespect will happen whatever the attire of the woman. The objective is to harass, embarrass and humiliate the victim. Just like the comment “free mammary exam” in relation to the post of Tricia that was not even obscene. Anyone who wants to disrespect someone will always find an opportunity to do it.)

Dr. Tuazon explains: “Pinoys in general are gender insensitive, always making fun of women and ‘badings’. Pa-macho palagi kasi.” (…and homosexuals. It’s because they are always trying to act macho). He adds that this cultural traning has “wired their brains to make gender insensitive comments because they think it’s proper for their machismo.”

According to De La Paz, this is further reinforced by “the feudal and patriarchal character of our society” and is the one “responsible for the way men (and even some women) think.” She explained that this is “the same societal character that dichotomize women into ‘Maria Clara’ and ‘Magdalena’.”

While I believe that women must take utmost care in deciding what to wear in public and which photos to upload on social media, this is Gabriela’s more liberal stance on the matter, from De La Paz, which I also find valid: “No woman is ‘asking for it’ even if she dresses provocatively or maybe post nude photos. Women do not ask for violence just because they want to express themselves. I don’t think the women who posed for paintings and sculptures during the Age of Enlightenment would want to be violated. Were they “asking for it” when they did that? They were aware that the paintings or sculpture will be exhibited or viewed by a lot of people…”

“…It is not women’s fault that they are disrespected when they post their photos in swimsuits. But they should be prepared for those kinds of rude comments. If they encounter “off” comments or if they feel harassed, they should confront the person, whether a friend or an acquaintance, in such a way that the gender sensitivity or gender rights discourse is pointed out and not merely to fight.”

For Dr. Tuazon, neurological factors must be considered in responding to such behavior. His advice: ignore them.

“Huwag patulan. (Don’t engage.) Let it pass,” Dr. Tuazon said.

“How does that help, Sir?” I inquired.

“No social reward for them. No dopamine flow.”

“So these men express such gender insensitive remarks because they want attention?”

“Yes.. Attention-getting device for them to become meaningful.”

“Battle of dopamines po pala ito, Doc Dan 😂”

“Yes. Gustong makisawsaw… Sa dopamine flow ng iba” (They want to share in the dopamine flow of others).

While posting on social media is a modern human activity, our brain is wired to subscribe to it as it has become a dopamine trigger. Dopamine, by the way, as I’ve learned in taking up my Master’s degree in Psychology in UP Diliman, is the hormone or neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s reward and pleasure areas. It makes us excited and keeps us motivated to get going just like when our Facebook post about taking a break from urban life gets hundres of reactions or shares. Dopamine is one of the happy hormones we have along with endorphines and serotonin.

If posting excites the brain, so does commenting, especially when it gets a reply. So what could have prompted the guy to comment that way? I guess somebody wanted a share of dopamine. Well, I am giving him cortisol.

It's all in the mind.
It’s all in the mind.

For All the Girls Out There

As for Gabriela, here are defenses to keep in mind when caught in a situation similar or worse than what I found myself in. As I’ve said, this will be for the girls out there who would surely be posting photos of themselves doing something fun, looking their best in their bathing suits, for the summer season.

Gabriela Vice Chair Gert Ranjo Libang says, because it’s summer, sometimes women have to wear short, sleeveless or cleavage-showing attire to offset the heat. In social media, beach-related posts are usually trending and women are likely in their swim wear in these pictures. This provides many opportunities for some men to disrespect the women in these images.

But Libang says, don’t let the incident pass. Confront the person immediately in a civilized manner. For example, ask them what their problems are about your attire or what their words mean. If you know the person, you can directly tell him that what he said, wrote or did can be considered sexual harassment.

Also, inform the authorities. This can refer to the organization where the person is affiliated, the manager of the place or even in the barangay hall. If the authorities don’t respond to your issue, post your complain in social media. This can be an opportunity to raise the awareness of the authorities about sexual harassment and to force them to implement the necessary action. The MRT and the LRT had its own coach for women because many had the courage to complain.

“Don’t ignore the sexual harassment incident. Remember, the one at fault is the perpetrator and not the victim. It is the perpetrator who must feel embarrassment and humiliation and not the victim,” Libang says.

“Destroy the feudal-patriarchal perspective that women can be exploited, that women will eternally remain silent even when they are the victims.”

[Entry 128, The SubSelfie Blog]

Editor’s Note: PADI replied to Tricia’s complaint. Learn how it unfolded through this follow-up article: Online Harassment: Dawn of Justice

About the Author:

Tricia Zafra

Tricia Zafra is a correspondent and anchor working for GMA News. She graduated from UP Diliman with a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Communication, cum laude, and is currently taking up graduate studies in the Department of Psychology in the same university (on leave). She is a vegetarian, painter, and a certified open water scuba diver. Read more of her articles here.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. -cb says:

    Hi Tricia,

    Hope this message reaches you well. Im a good friend of the person you are referring to in this post so i really hope you’ll take the time to read this message. This is in no intention to judge, criticize, or blow up the issue but I believe it is very important and also our responsibility to get both sides of the story, especially if the other person’s career, reputation and most importantly source of bread and butter is at stake. Coming from the media industry, im sure you live by that mantra.

    Im also a woman and have been at the receiving end of some not only sexist but racist comments. I completely understand where you’re coming from and how you reacted. I understand why you did not and do not want to talk to him but if not from him, i hope you are open to hearing his side from someone who knows him as a person.

    The diving community is small and as soon as i heard about the issue, i immediately messaged him. It was a long exchange but to cut it short, he told me that the comment was not intended for the specific photo indicated in your blog post (swimming in swimsuit shot). Instead, he was commenting on a photo of a signage that might have been part of your album or maybe a previous post. He even illustrated it to me actually (see attached message on fb).

    He regrets that he did not check carefully if he’s commenting on the entire post, the album or just a specific picture, but most of us makes that mistake (or a similar one like mistakenly liking a photo or tagging the wrong person, etc) at least once in our facebook life.

    I respect how you are standing up for what you believe in. But it is unfair for the other person to be judged by the public and not be given a chance to clarify his position. In this situation, however, i believe it is a case of misunderstanding powered by technological glitch. If it happened to me, i would feel the same but i just want to share with you that it was not his intention and the comment was not for that photo. He told me he sent you an apology message but im sure he’s already blocked from your account.

    Anyway, thanks for reading this. I just wanted you to see his side and that it was never his intention to disrespect you, it was a comment intented for a different photo.

    From this experience im pretty confident that he will be more careful with his comments and to which photo he posts it. He is really a good person, diving is his passion, he’s been diving since he was 10 and he loves loves teaching. If his job and everything he’s worked for will be compromised over a misunderstanding like this, he at least deserves to be heard.

    Thanks Tricia.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.