Real men break down the dangerous ‘Pastor’ culture
The proliferation of so-called “Bible Study” and “Pastor” Facebook groups brought me back to instances in high school which shaped the way I viewed how boys thought of women.
There was not much of social media back then, but I would hear of boys from exclusive schools showing friends sex videos or nude pictures on their phones (we only had flip phones back then), and boys who would have sleepovers to masturbate to porn.
I recognized these Facebook groups as an extension of these acts that I initially thought was normal, but would later on discover as unhealthy behavior that attacked women’s dignity.
When I started reporting these groups, I saw in their membership men I knew from college, from a non-profit, and from my childhood. A friend even saw a high school teacher. It is incredibly disappointing and disheartening for women to see that people they thought would be better-educated, whom they trusted, view women as objects of sex.
This time, I wanted to understand the way men thought, by talking to the men themselves. Is violating women’s privacy for sexual pleasure a case of “boys will be boys”? A handful of men from various backgrounds share their thoughts.
“It’s normal to like porn”
“It’s normal behavior for guys to enjoy the occasional porn and even partake in some guy banter, but these groups are taking it too far,” says Jack*, 22, an account manager at an advertising agency.
“I think men are quite primal when it comes to their thought process,” shares banker Aldrin Dayauon, 24. “If not educated properly as well as guided by proper institutions of society, [they] will always revert back to their basic instincts.”
“I think it’s human instinct to think of sex and other dirty thoughts, but anything beyond that I’m not sure it’s basic instinct,” says Mark Canteras, 27, a marketing executive at a major hotel chain.
Posting photos without consent and disrespecting women “crosses the line”
When news broke that Facebook groups shared photos of women without consent, among the men surveyed, disgust and anger were the general reactions.
“A friend added me to one ‘hokage’ group as a joke and when I looked through it, there was child porn on it so I reported it,” says Anthony*, a law student. “It’s f*cked up.”
“It’s sick, but this is actually a representation of man’s subconscious. This is a window into the minds of men, of society-at-large,” shares Mick Banzon, 26, an editor at a tech company.
“I won’t even say ‘not all men’ because all men have these thoughts at one point or another. Most will suppress them, have some self control,” Banzon added. “These men just decided to materialize their wants, share it with others and build communities around them.”
“To create a whole group dedicated to sharing lewd content of women of all ages, making disparaging comments and actively celebrating it is crossing the line,” says Jack*.
“I hate [these groups],” says Michael, 25, who works in a tech company. “It makes me angry of how ‘normal’ and ‘accepted’ it has become to objectify and disrespect girls, who are somebody’s daughter, sister, or mom, not to mention a fellow human being.”
“It’s a brotherhood of perverts,” says Mark.
Educator Miggy Zaballero, 30, was alarmed to see his own students in the groups. “It’s dangerous because kids are involved and not only are they subject to sexual abuse by adult predators but they are also being exposed to a culture that should be stopped and not encouraged.”
“There’s no excuse for that kind of behavior,” he adds.
Men do it for ‘harmless fun,’ to ‘boost machismo’
So if some men know it’s wrong, why does degradation of women happen on a wide scale, with some Facebook groups reaching a million members?
Men may think it’s “harmless fun,” says Jack*. “It makes them feel ‘cool’ to be part of a community and gives them [a] sense of belonging.”
“It eventually becomes sort of like a power play,” says Stephen*, a manager at a ride-sharing company.
Since the content in these groups are “soft core”, it also seems less offensive than actual porn, explains Mick. “There’s also the belief that this hurts no one physically and so it’s alright.”
“I think it boosts the machismo of men when they were the ones who ‘spread the good news,’ hence naming themselves as pastors,” shares Lawrence Malasa, 22, an administrative officer at a government agency.
Filipino machismo culture pressures men to act ‘macho’ at the expense of women
But “having fun” and increasing their social status comes at the expense of women’s dignity, with women reporting that they have been harassed after their photos were shared.
“Guys do it because they need to feel power over these women,” explains Miggy. “Posting pictures without permission or as revenge shows dominance over them.”
“The principles behind this mentality are reflected and embedded in the very structures that make up our society,” he adds, citing that the Church, family unit and the government, including President Duterte—who is known to catcall women and have said that adultery is normal—propagate this culture.
In the Philippines, “it’s ‘cool’ and ‘macho’ to catcall a woman or make sexual advances even when it is inappropriate to do so,” relates Joms Robles, 25, an account manager at an ad agency.
“Movies, TV shows and even our own president endorse the maltreatment and disrespect of women,” says Michael.
This toxic culture starts from childhood. “Imagine a child who grows up surrounded by men who catcall women, beat women up, brag about their sexual conquests,” relates Miggy.
“Imagine them hearing teachers say that boys should do this and girls should do that, and going to church where women are called to ‘serve’ men and to never say no in marriage. Imagine how ingrained that mentality is for them and how incredibly hard it is to break that.”
This is exactly what John*, who works in an HR consulting firm, went through at a young age. “Every time we gathered [for family reunions], my uncles would often ask if I find female celebrities attractive whenever they pop up on screen. I was young, probably around seven and really had no sense of attraction and would honestly say ‘no.'”
“It’d be clear that they would be disappointed and ask: bakit? (Why?) As if every guy should find any kind of girl to be attractive. I, of course, craving for my family’s approval would then learn and say ‘yes’ the next time they asked,” he shared.
He eventually would come to terms to the realization that his lack of attraction was because he was gay. “There was a time that I still played along to their lewd jokes and expectations because I was even more afraid to not fit in.”
But he soon saw that this behavior wasn’t a laughing matter. “It was only when I started having female friends that I really stopped playing along.”
Repressed sexuality makes dehumanizing women acceptable
While boys are raised to assert their “masculinity” through sexual conquests, this conflicts with Catholic teachings that sex is immoral if done for pleasure.
“Because of the repressive nature of Philippine society, [men in the Facebook groups] find it refreshing and safe to be parts of these groups that cater to the male libido, even if initially they may not be interested in some of the posts on the group,” says Chris*, 23, a writer at an ad agency.
John* adds that viewing women only as objects of affection limits how men view women.
“They aren’t able to feel respect or see the impact of their actions because straight guys don’t usually hang out with girls,” he says, citing that men are raised to believe that spending time with women without romantic or sexual motives are viewed as less manly.
The Internet is the main source of sex education for boys and girls—usually for worse
Because sex is never discussed at home or in school, boys and girls turn to the Internet for their sex education.
“The concept of sex, of relationships with women, and the pursuit of these were so alien,” says Raph of his teenage years.
Like other boys, he learned about his sexuality through pornography. “I used to tell myself ‘I’m not hurting anybody, since I’m just looking.’”
“But then, I learned that often there’s no consent. There’s active dehumanization involved. And that dimension is something not all men are taught to be mindful of,” he explains.
Unfortunately, while pornography is easily accessible online, being taught to respect women is not.
“The missing piece in the puzzle is how guys learn to interact with people—how to have empathy, to understand not just that it’s wrong but why submitting naked pictures of women near you is wrong for public ‘use,’” relates Raph.
And while social media has allowed people to express themselves even more, it also poses dangers when users are not educated on ethical behavior.
“People can easily stalk and save pictures of other people na pinagnanasaan nila (whom they desire) or objects of sexual interest,” says Lawrence. “I’m not saying na kasalanan nung nag-upload ng picture kung bakit napagpipiyestahan siya ngayon (I’m not saying it’s the fault of the woman who uploaded the photo why she’s being feasted upon.). It’s just that we do not have enough safeguards to protect what we post.”
Internet anonymity holds no repercussions for deviant behavior
“Hidden under the cloak of anonymity, men are emboldened to do as they please without much fear of repercussions on their actions,” says Jack*.
“With the ease of anonymity online, it’s really easy to get into even in the most far-flung of provinces where machismo and a man’s sexual drive go unquestioned,” explains Mick.
While the toxic patriarchal culture has long been in the Philippines, it has now become more public, thanks to the Internet.
“It’s just a matter of time before what is deemed acceptable in the virtual space gradually becomes normalized in real life,” adds Jack*.
“There are no consequences at the moment for this kind of deviancy, which helps make it easy to get into,” says Mick.
Addressing the ‘pastor’ culture requires multi-pronged solutions
“To break the culture will be very hard. But it starts with reporting and not being afraid to call them out for such behavior,” says Miggy. It must be noted that these groups are now trying to hide through other names, including “Spotify” to seem inconspicuous.
The lack of legal repercussions also contributes to men’s fearlessness in creating more groups after they get shut down, and for continuing this behavior.
Miggy says, “[We need to] strengthen laws and systems and [have] tighter social media measures,” and cites the anti-harassment law in Quezon City and the anti-child pornography laws as starting points.
Mick suggests, “We need the NBI to make this a priority as well, dedicating resources to solving it like other sexual offenses rather than thinking it’s just a boy’s club.”
The NBI has also stated in news reports that victims should come forward for assistance, and that violators could be slapped with penalties for cybercrime, child pornography and voyeurism.
Men engaging in these groups may also be sex addicts, in which case it also becomes a mental health issue.
If they use sex only to satisfy “their own ends, these men may have some addiction problem,” says Max*.
In which case, “teens should be forced into rehabilitation to shake them awake,” says Mick.
Men also called for sex education, something that has been elusive to Filipinos because of conservatives and strong Catholic opposition despite the passage of the RH Law.
“It’s time to educate both boys and girls regarding these issues in school,” says Joms. “Teach them to respect all genders, uphold values to love and appreciate all people, and to show them that everyone has the right to be respected.“
Miggy declares education should come to “kids as early as possible. [To] adults, as often as possible.”
“In the long run, it would be better if our schools and the Filipino society would stop the need to censor discussions about sex as it represses the curiosity and inclination that people naturally have,” says Chris*.
Families also need to do their part in opening the discussions on topics that are considered taboo, including sex and appropriate attitudes and behavior with regard to it.
“Personally, I’d start with my younger brother and talk to him, educating him on why this is unacceptable behavior,” says Jack*.
Chris* says discussions with family members could be eye-opening to men. “The approach should not be public humiliation of these people, but rather direct conversations…with their mothers, wives or sisters. A familial connection is more likely to bring the point home with these guys.”
Mick believes feminism should start at home. “Family units should make sure to let their boys know that this is wrong, building them up with feminist principles.”
“We need to teach [children] how damaging our overly patriarchal society can be in a world that should be more equal and caring and positive,” says Joms. JB
[Editor’s note: Names marked (*) represent interviewees whose real identities are withheld upon their request.]
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