Bongbong and a meditation on context

I don’t make a habit of following the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. His dimples are cute and he looks a decade younger than his age (54, we share a birthday). But Imelda, with her black holes and cosmic rays, remains more interesting than the self-proclaimed “new leader for a new decade”.
So it was with curiosity that I clicked on a Facebook link sent by Katrina Stuart Santiago. It was a screen capture of Bongbong Marcos’ November 7 tweet. And it was met with plenty of grouching and griping. Most the comments focused on the senator’s alleged sexism, with a number of FB folk asking why people should even expect otherwise.
My first response: Is this genuine?
I searched Twitter.
There, indeed, is a Bongbong Marcos (@bongbongmarcos).
The offending tweet does appear on that account profile.
But there are all kinds of poseurs on Twitter (and Facebook).  There was a time people were getting heartburn from the posts of someone masquerading as the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Armando Doronilla.
Still wary, I asked if the Twitter account was genuine. A chorus of yesses.
A check with the senator’s staff brought me to his website, which also features his tweets.  There it was, the “makeup” post.
I then asked if the senator was serious or joking. Also, whether he’d forgotten having a mother and sister in politics.
As a discussion ensued on Twitter, RockEd’s Gang Badoy piped up: “I thought the diss was on politicians in general being 2-faced the makeup part was a mere demo of the point?”
Former ABS-CBN anchor Gel Santos Relos, respondent of Gang’s tweet, replied:
“Maybe @bongbongmarcos should clarify such tweet, reads woman-specific to me, Mr. Senator.”
It sure did. But because Gang had brought it up and because a quote doesn’t float in a vacuum, I tried Google. The problem with many quotation sites is, precisely the lack of  context.
The quote is attributed to Maureen Murphy. Together with a half dozen other quotes, the body of quips seemed to indicate Gang was right.
But there’s also precious little on Google about Murphy who, I deduced, had to be the Australian comic who’d appeared on late night shows. The other possibles were an Irish academic (I didn’t think so) or an American Republican politician (even more unlikely).
It drove me batty not to have more of a handle on Murphy and her quotes. Another google search finally brought up this gem of a feature from the LA Times’ Steve Lopez, a favorite of mine for his series (that eventually became a book) on  Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a homeless musician with schizophrenia who sleeps each night on the city’s Skid Row.
Lopez’s “Life as performance art for a family not bound by typical assumptions” almost made me forget about Bongbong Marcos and deciphering his tweet. It’s  a classic Lopez feature, simultaneously chatty and lyrical, a story of two seeming ordinary women who turn out to be pretty special. It also explains why Murphy became, as she puts it, a specialist in “male put-downs”.
So, yes, sisters, maybe the senator wasn’t heaping scorn on women politicians . Maybe he wasn’t being sexist. Maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite like certain men who think they can squirt their sperm into every nook and cranny but expect their daughters to behave like nuns, or men who think the absence of an offspring doesn’t quite make a woman HIS, or men who think it’s a sin to use contraceptives but OK to philander to their hearts’ content. Maybe he was being self-deprecating. Maybe.

But there’s little to tie the senator and Murphy together. Certainly, their life experiences are just so disparate it’s hard to visualize they’re coming from one place. That’s what makes his tweet pretty much a classic case of (maybe, unintended) irony.

From the tumblr blog of "Mr Madlangbayan"
Photo from the blog of “Mr Madlangbayan”

Murphy’s comedy stemmed from “the battle of the sexes”, a time when women were desperately struggling to narrow the economic-political and cultural gaps between the genders.

Murphy’s mom had to flee from cops when she took her children away from an abusive spouse.

Mr. Marcos grew up in Malacanang Palace, with a mother who was one half of what critics called a conjugal dictatorship.

Mr. Marcos has a mother who loves regaling the world about how she single-handedly ended the World Cold War and how her Ferdinand admired her ability to fathom the true, the good and the beautiful.  (Here are my FB notes on the Philippines Graphic 2009 interview series — Imelda’s Truth 1 and Imelda’s Truth 2.)

We have since had two women Presidents. The country is ranked 8th in the 2011 Global Gender Index — the top-ranked in Asia, with “perfect” scores in terms of closing the gender gaps in health and education.

Table from the Philippines country profile, Global Gender Index

Women in this country outlive men. Whether that translates to better quality of life isn’t quite clear; the Philippines still has to meet its Millenium Development Goals in women’s and children’s health.

More young women are graduating from high school and college than males. The gender gap in unemployment has also narrowed, though critics say that has more to do with so many women leaving hearth, village and country for hard, dangerous labor abroad.

There, too, seems to be a disconnect between that top rank in education and being 15th placer in overall economic participation. But an Inquirer editorial notes, this is changing for the better:

“In a research done by Grant Thornton International earlier this year, it was shown that Filipino women held 47 percent of senior management positions in the country, easily the best in the world and higher than the average by as much as 23 percentage points. The Department of Labor and Employment’s statistics show that women in executive positions outnumber their male counterparts. What this shows is that women have succeeded in boardrooms but not as much in workrooms.”
More women have also succeeded in politics, though many who do owe much to the power of political dynasties. Still, the numbers have changed enough to make Murphy’s fighting words now sound like something a hectoring, combative male might say. Which really is more of Raul Gonzales’ style rather than Mr. Marcos.
Even giving Mr. Marcos the benefit of the doubt, one feels a bit sad. Because if he, indeed, used the quote in the context Murphy first raised it, it does bring up some hard questions: Have women politicians changed our lives for the better? Have they reformed the political system? Or have they proven so good at multi-tasking that they are now beyond doble cara?
And really, we’d like to hear more about Imelda and political ideals from her beloved son.
(Thanks Anjo Bagaoisan for the sharp eye LOL)

4 thoughts on “Bongbong and a meditation on context

  1. The quote is interesting in the Philippine context, since we’ve already had 2 woman Presidents, and despite the machismo of the culture, women have a lot of say in the Philippines.

    Nice analysis Ma’am. But didn’t Imelda claim credit for ending the Cold War, not the World War? 🙂


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