Putting gender equality in the network-audience-advertisers equation

December 14, 2010, Manila – Some of the best and multi-awarded media practitioners of the country voiced out their views on ending violence against women (VAW) in the December 8 Forum on Media and Gender Equality in Malacañang. Participants from various media outfits, academic institutions, government agencies and non-government organizations filled the Social Hall of the Mabini Building.

Broadcast journalists Kara David and Karen Davila, TV host Boy Abunda, film directors Laurice Guillen and Bb. Joyce Bernal, and film distributor Selena Gecolea unanimously sent a clear message: viewers /listeners have the power to dictate media behavior.

“Can you actually create a balance in doing a show that is not perverse, a show that my children can watch? Yes, you can. But it is not a singular activity of a network… which is not a standalone business. A show has a public and if the public tells ‘I’m not gonna watch that show’ then that show will die,” Abunda said.

He added that the network cannot be dissociated from the audience and the advertisers. “But the audience can reshape the landscape of the news and entertainment industries,” Abunda said.

“As a film distributor, I have zero control of the final (film) product that is why I rely on the MTRCB to appropriately rate the films,” Gecolea said. She is the first woman General Manager of United International Pictures. “Don’t go to the movies, don’t watch TV shows, don’t buy products that are disrespectful to women,” Gecolea added.

Davila said even in TV and radio programs, women and men should be portrayed to have “equal rights, equal opportunities and equal constraints.”

Sexual Harassment and The Power of No

Guillen (“Tanging Yaman,” “American Adobo,” “Kung Mahawi Man ang Ulap”) admitted to receive an invitation from a powerful personality for a date but declined the offer out of sheer self-respect. “Women cannot just be pushed to the wall. We have the right to say no,” Guillen said.

“Nakita ko po lahat kung paano pagsamantalahan ng mga aktor ang mga aktres. At noong time na iyon, hindi pa ako aware (sa sexual harassment)” (I saw how the actors harassed the actresses. And I wasn’t aware that those were acts of sexual harassment), Bernal (“Kailangan Ko’y Ikaw,” “Til There Was You,” “Don’t Give Up On Us”) said. She added that she can only do so much to protect women during the bold and action films era of Philippine cinema by lessening the exposure time of male and female characters in a sensitive scene.

Breaking Glass Ceilings

“Binigyan ko ng puso at kaluluwa ang mga babaeng characters. Pinilit kong alisin ang stereotypes – hindi lang macho ang lalaki, hindi sinasaktan ang babae,” (I gave female characters a heart and soul. I tried to break stereotypes – men are not only portrayed as macho, women should not be abused) Guillen said.

Kara David, the forum moderator, agreed with Guillen’s efforts in breaking stereotypes. “It is not about demonizing the men but humanizing the women,” she said

Many Forms of Fighting VAW

David said there is a thin line between raising awareness and becoming exploitative. “You need certain scenes to prove a point. But if you go beyond this, you did not cut the scene, then the story becomes exploitative,” she said.

Guillen said if sex scandals and rape stories are more of the same and are shown for a week or a month then a “trial by publicity” happens.

To David, silence is victimizing. “Kapag pinatahimik natin ang babae, mali na ito,” she said.

“It may not be the popular choice… but keeping silent can also silence the enemy,” Abunda countered.

Though there were various opinions on fighting VAW, all the resource speakers agreed that efforts in ending derogatory and discriminatory portrayals of women in media and film “cannot be done by one person.”

Gecolea said parents are responsible to raise their children to become gender sensitive. “Drawing boundaries starts at home and we can raise our children to be respectful,” she added.

Empathy and sympathy are also keys to achieve balance. “Think like you’re another human being. Think like you’re not your own sex or gender. And ask yourself, ‘Am I gonna allow myself to be violated?’” Abunda said.

The Forum was held as part of the 18-Day Campaign to End Violence VAW with the theme “Magna Carta ni PiNay: Gawing Tunay. Karahasan sa Kababaihan, Wakasan!” The commemoration ran from November 25 to December 12, 2010.

The activity, a collaborative effort of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), and the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), is part of the 18-Day Campaign to End VAW.