This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.
This week saw two parallel narratives of womanhood competing for attention in the theater of public opinion: the whiner and the winner.
One played the estranged wife whose husband, a government appointee, had allegedly amassed a staggering amount of ill-gotten wealth and she went crying to the president and told him all about it, which of course spilled over to the press, creating the perfect storm of greed, marital infidelity, and traces of the occult.
The other was straight up cool, calm and confident against her attacker in court, who claimed that he had been falsely accused of groping her, leading to his dismissal from his job as a radio DJ.
One embraced the familiar, if worn, trope of wronged woman at her wits’ end, seeking to separate from her husband for four years now, alleging “emotional and economic sabotage” and saying she feared what he could do to her and her family, finally spilling the story of her married life in all its sordid glory with a very public disclosure whose timing seemed rather calculating and suspect because of its political implications. She was, it would appear, a victim capitalizing on her victimhood.
The other presented a rare, empowering and welcome trope of an independent, gutsy woman who stood her ground, who insisted that her experience, indeed her entire existence, was just as valid as any man’s, that she was not responsible for the consequences of a man’s decision to reach under her skirt and grab “a handful of my ass.” She was, in effect, a victim refusing to be victimized.
Neither of the women are particularly likeable, but then again, that’s another trope that’s long past its sell-by date. Women don’t need to win the Miss Congeniality title to matter. They may be uber-controlling b*tches who’ve directed their own careers and managed their own PR with steely determination, knowing exactly how to play to their fans and coldly cut and decimate the opposition as well as the competition. Or they may be clairvoyant wives with a lover or two of their own who want a share of their husband’s wealth, questionably accumulated or not.
Whether you like these women or not is immaterial; it has no bearing on the merits of their respective claims. And whether or not you like the music of one or the psychic abilities of the other is equally insignificant. Yet I must confess a grudging admiration for Taylor Swift, all of 27 years old who may, in many ways, embody white privilege at its most cynically saccharine. But you’ve got to hand it to her for refusing to be anything but confident about how she was violated, for refusing to be intimidated on the witness stand, for refusing to accept any blame for her groper losing his job a day after she reported the assault to his superiors at the radio station, for refusing to be cowed by the ordeal of having to repeat and replay, as Slate put it, “a distressing moment over and over again to dozens of observers, recounting in detail how her body was allegedly touched without her consent, while lawyers on the other side try their hardest to make her look unreliable, petty, and fake.”
Mind you, Taylor Swift was 23 in 2013, when David Mueller, then 51 and radio DJ at a country music station in Denver, groped her during a photo-op at the station. The photo shows Mueller smiling smugly while his hand is positioned behind Swift’s body. Swift, on the other hand, seems to have edged closer to the other woman in the picture, Mueller’s girlfriend. When Mueller’s lawyer pointed out, in an attempt to poke holes in Swift’s story, that her skirt didn’t look like it had been lifted, she replied, “Because my ass is located in the back of my body.”
Mueller, on the other hand, claimed that he had only brushed her ribcage, and if he had indeed touched her ass, it was merely accidental. Swift effectively brushed that argument aside. The judge said that Mueller showed “insufficient evidence Miss Taylor Swift acted improperly when she reported an assault she truly believed happened.”
In fact, Swift, to prove a point, had earlier countersued Mueller for $1, and would not back down or settle.
In refusing to stick to tired old tropes, Swift is blazing the trail for a new one. As she said in court to Mueller’s lawyer, “I’m not going to allow you or your client make me feel in any way that this is my fault. Here we are years later, and I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are the product of his decisions—not mine.”
As Quartz put it, “Swift’s response succinctly articulates a truth that shouldn’t need saying: When a man assaults a woman, any consequences he faces are a result of his own actions. Women don’t need to feel bad about that.”
Indeed, when a man is accused of rape or assault, the narrative tends to focus on how a man’s life would be ruined unnecessarily by this one alleged misdeed, instead of how a woman’s life is also unnecessarily yet indelibly and often irreparably affected and shattered by sexual assault. This mentality, prevalent in many societies, clearly and unfairly puts more value on a man’s life, not to mention his future, than a woman’s, creating a culture that “empathizes with men who hurt women.” This, Quartz notes, is a culture that tragically “continues to treat sexual assault as an act of little consequence,” when in actual fact, “if a man loses his job, or goes to jail, or otherwise experiences repercussions after harming a woman, it is no tragedy.”
The other valuable takeaway from the respective situations of Taylor Swift and Tish Bautista is the importance of financial independence for women. Granted, Swift is a famous and business-savvy pop star with millions to her name, and therefore the resources to patiently mount a strong case against her attacker; not all women have funds like that at their disposal. But she has also chosen to take charge of her own finances when she could just as easily have entrusted them to a manager or accountant who may be more concerned with self-enrichment than his client’s best interests.
Self-reliance and self-sufficiency, especially in financial matters, plays against yet another outdated trope, that of a woman completely financially dependent on a man, be it a husband or a father. But it’s critical for a woman to build her own financial stability and not rely on anyone else. Before she finds herself splashed all over the newspapers accused of demanding P620 million from her estranged husband.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Art by Lara Intong
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