It was a sunny day and I was 16. I had just come from a university interview, drained emotionally from it and physically from the 2-hour commute back. I was wearing a dark polo, khaki slacks, the stink of an accumulated 4 hours of commuting, and didn’t care an iota about make-up.
A man was walking up our street. While I usually ignore strangers, he stopped directly in my path. I assumed he was going to ask for directions, so I stopped as well – after all, we were in broad daylight in a public place (4-way street intersection) and I was wearing “proper” clothing. He said something incomprehensible; when I asked “Ano po?”, he unzipped his fly and took his privates out. He started touching himself in front of me.
Stunned, I backed away and ran towards my house. When I was closing the gate behind me, I looked back, maybe hoping it wasn’t real. He was still there, doing that.
Until now, that image is burned in my brain.
It’s been 11 years and this is the first time I’m telling this story, to anyone. Back then, I know I would’ve been blamed if I talked about it – that it was my fault for stopping or that at least “nothing” happened.
Thinking about it now – a man I did not know started touching himself in front of me, in a public place during broad daylight, the very street that I grew up in, a place that I’d always viewed as ‘safe’ – is that really “nothing”?
Sometimes, my family still warns me about wearing skirts, dresses, or shorts (my wardrobe choices are now 99% skirts and dresses – they’re much more comfortable than pants); or going out with friends at night. A couple of years ago, my bag was slashed and my wallet taken inside a jeepney and when I recounted the story, it was, of course, my fault for letting that happen. I know it’s not, just like getting catcalled because I’m wearing something I find comfortable, or getting stared at because I have boobs is not my fault.
I know my family’s hearts are in the right place but I’ve long learned that getting harassed has nothing to do with what you wear, where you go, or what time of the day it is. I’ve come to terms with the fact that stopping 11 years ago in order to help someone I thought was lost was an action I made, but what that man did afterwards is not my fault and that I shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
Today, I sat in a jeepney wearing a 3/4 sleeve dress with a backpack across my lap and a Mumuso ecobag full of sanitary napkins across my legs. The man sitting in front of me on the jeep (incidentally, it’s the same jeep route where my bag got slashed years ago) suddenly jumped up then slid down, even if the jeep was moving at a regular pace. I spared him a glance because of it, which I ended up regretting.
He had his dick out and he was masturbating.
My mind blanked out because of shock. Again, in public, broad daylight, now in a semi-full jeepney. Barely 5 minutes ago, that man was sitting next to a mother and daughter, who looked no older than five. I couldn’t decide what to do–I couldn’t yell, couldn’t say anything, didnt even think of taking out my pepper spray (which really isn’t a smart thing to do). I considered stopping the jeep even if it wasn’t my stop, but what if he followed me? I barely had the presence of mind to snap this photo. I just kept thinking, ‘putangina’ and ‘I hope he doesn’t finish’. I made eye contact with the woman next to him and just when I mustered up the courage to say something (because no matter how loud my mind was screaming, telepathy doesn’t work), the jeep stopped. He left the jeep with his fly still open and his dick still out. Later, I’d wish I put his mug on Facebook Live. Later, I’d wish I managed even an, “ang liit” as he was going down. But I didnt, and I only have this photo.
But you should know–this happens.
I’m adding this here, hopefully to make a few understand WHY this post is about rape culture–even if and regardless of a possibility of a psychological disorder.
Hopefully, this will make men stop trying inform me that this is definitely a mental disorder by sending a link to Wikipedia (omg legit!) or telling me to Google it :)) ) I have, before I posted. This is also for those expecting or implying that I should also champion awareness for my harasser’s (unconfirmed) psychological disorder. To, in a way, DEFEND the person whose actions has caused me stress, anxiety, tears, and numbness this week and gave me trauma that I will carry for the rest of my life.
Some are quick to diagnose this man with a disorder based solely on this one photo and incident. Exhibitionism can be a general pattern of behavior or a disorder. To qualify as an actual disorder, it has to meet several criteria.
“If an affected individual does not meet all necessary criteria, he or she will not meet the standard for an exhibitionistic disorder diagnosis, even if he or she has clear exhibitionistic tendencies that meet the definition for a paraphilia.” (http://www.hypersexualdisorders.com/…/dsm-5-understanding-…/)
I’m truly amazed at all the men who were able to diagnose him based on that one photo. That you were all able to perform the necessary tests (http://www.minddisorders.com/Del-Fi/Exhibitionism.html).
This man MIGHT meet that criteria to qualify as a disorder. Or we might have just given him (and people who know him) an excuse. Or he can just be a pervert.
– This man was aware enough to wait until the full (kandungan-levels) jeepney was only semi-full before adjusting his modified pants to expose himself.
– He was aware enough to do it near his stop.
– He was aware enough to place his bag strategically so the other passengers would not see what he was doing outright.
– He was aware enough when he looked at me and made eye contact before touching himself.
Maybe he can’t help it. Because maybe he does meet the criteria.
Maybe he also has a job. He may also process enough mental stability to NOT masturbate in front of his employers and workmates in order to keep his job. Or in front of his family.
If I’ve learned anything these past few days, it’s that sexual harassment via public masturbation is NOT rare. A lot of women (and some men) have come forward with their stories, both in person and online [through blog and FB comments, shares with their stories attached to my post, direct messages] about men harassing them in this manner—and worse.
These people are strangers online. People I work with. Friends. People I’ve known for years. Family. And I didn’t even know it happened to SO many people, and so many people I knew personally, until I decided to share my story to raise awareness that things like this happen and to hopefully, help rid girls and women of the notion that it’s their fault.
Some of our harassers could likely suffer from a psychological disorder. But hey, are ALL those men who did this to us—do they ALL suffer from it?
Would they all pass the criteria and diagnostic tests for it to qualify as a disorder? Or do they all now just have an excuse to save face, claim those criteria apply to them? Is it better to be seen as ill as a reason for doing something “out of the norm” than actually in control of your actions? Is it that hard to believe that some men get off on doing this?
Supposing they all meet the criteria perfectly, after proper testing. Then does that mean we, the unwilling participants, should just sit back and “understand” them?
Does this possibility take away from the fact that we were actually harassed, that we felt violated? That we’ve come away from those incidents having to deal with trauma?
That victim blaming is so ingrained in our society that some of us struggled for years in shame and fear (and some continue to do so)? That the most common phrases I’ve read the past few days were, “I’ve never told anyone/Wala din akong pinagsabihan”, “Nahihiya ako/Natatakot ako”?
That we kept quiet because we’d be blamed? That these men get away scot-free because we’ll be accused as liars or just laughed at? That I needed a proof shot because when it comes to cases brought forward by women, the default thinking is “pics or it didn’t happen”?
That all these things are part and a product of rape culture?
Does it? It shouldn’t.
I’m allowed to react and feel the way I feel. I’d like to think I’m allowed to write about my actual experiences and work through my trauma without having to make excuses for my harasser or tiptoeing around his feelings or condition. Without having to also carry his issues and advocate for him. Regardless if he truly has a condition or not.
Because even if you know the existence of a disorder that can explain his actions—surprise! We do too! And that has nothing to do with how we still FEEL about it—how we will always remember how we felt so damn helpless, how we will carry those images with us until we die, how they will surface from our minds, unbidden, in times we thought we’re finally okay, how we will never feel 100% safe regardless of where we are—at school, in the mall, the route we take to work, and so on—because a lot of our harassers acted ‘normal’ until they whipped their dicks out.
Know that possibility or even actuality of a disorder does not make our struggle, burden, and trauma any less real. Some of you may mean well and understand this, and did not mean to imply that the two cancel each other out, or that mental awareness is more important than what rape culture can do to people. But asking those of us who have been targets to, even implicitly, either pity, understand, or advocate for our harassers too, is just… I’ve run out of words to express how to feel about that.
That is why this post is about rape culture.
If you’re a stranger and see this man, if you can, report him to the authorities. Even if you think he’s innocent because his actions are excused by a psychological disorder. Maybe they can actually get him checked for it and give him the help he needs.
If you know this man, let me know. If you are invested in him in some way and don’t want him getting in trouble, then at least make an excuse like… hmm, you’re already getting him checked for a disorder, and then show me that you’re actually doing it. Please.
I just want him out of the streets, far away from other women and children. Away from your sisters, mothers, girlfriends, wives, daughters, nieces… who I hope will never have to experience this. Or will never have to experience this AGAIN.
Before the week ends, I’m going to blur this man’s face on the photo. I need to heal. If we haven’t identified him online by now, then it isn’t likely we will. I’ll just trust that the authorities will do a good job with a photo.
Ultimately, this post is about what he and others like him did, letting people know that things like this happen, and mostly about my struggles to overcome rape culture.
That’s my bit. I’m emotionally exhausted. If you read ‘til the end, thank you for hearing me out. You may not understand me, and you may think me heartless for not advocating for a man who could possibly be sick, a man who harassed and caused me trauma and anxiety, and that’s okay.
And to everyone who supported me in this—you will never know how much your words, actions, and defense meant to me this awful week.