Opinion

Liza Soberano Filed a Complaint About a Rape Joke and We Applaud Her For It

It’s time to let go of the antiquated belief that rape jokes are okay.
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We at Esquire Philippines are the first to champion free speech and will often criticize or ridicule attempts to curtail it, but when we heard that actress Liza Soberano marched off into court and filed a criminal complaint against someone who made a deeply unfunny remark concerning rape, we got off our behinds and applauded.

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You’re free to post whatever you damn well please on social media, but that freedom is not absolute, and when it involves unsettling words encouraging harassment and bodily harm against someone else, you'd better be prepared for the consequences.

The TL;DR is this: Soberano expressed exasperation at her internet service provider and made it known to her 4.2 million followers on Twitter. Too bad for the company; a famous celebrity complaining about your services is never good (despite that whole “bad publicity is still publicity” saying), but that was her right to speak up. 

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Apparently, some employees of said internet provider started trash talking Soberano. One in particular posted a comment on a Facebook thread saying, “wala tayong magagawa, wala ng trabaho, kaya di bale ng masira ang image, magkapera lang. Sarap ipa-rape sa mga…ewan! (We can't do anything, she has no work, so never mind if her image is ruined, as long as there's money. Wish we could have her raped by…Whatever!)” 

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Think about that statement for a moment. How you react may say more about who you are and what principles you stand on than a lengthy Facebook essay or all-day Twitter rant.

For so long, people have gotten away with careless comments like these because of the steadfast belief that there’s nothing wrong with it—that it’s a harmless statement posted on social media between friends or acquaintances. But it’s exactly this kind of thinking that we need to dismantle and eventually stop. 

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Before social media, the farthest your opinion could travel was to the person in front of you. If you were really stubborn and “gigil,” you could write to your newspaper’s “Letters to the Editor” and wait a few days to find out if they would use it. But the vast majority of people would be content to verbalize their opinions—about things like the government’s shenanigans, the latest pregnant starlet, and who really started that free-for-all at last night’s basketball game—to friends and family members, the neighbor, or, really, anybody willing to listen. 

In other words, back then, you only had to deal with the reaction of the person you were talking to. It'd be immediate, but when it was contentious or not exactly what you’d hoped for, the fallout was contained and the consequences limited, at least.

Social media turned that around. Today, one of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram’s greatest triumphs is the sense of satisfaction it gives people—that whatever they have to say is thrown into an infinitely larger space, where it will inevitably land before so many more pairs of eyes and ears.

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There are people who choose to use social media differently, of course, but for many of us with nonexistent filters between our heads and our mouths—or in this case, our fingertips—social media is a shot of dopamine. Getting likes and replies to our posts provides tingles of excitement, and just the idea that we’re being heard is, for some people, more important than getting our point across.

And this, ironically, is a point many people fail to realize: that a wider audience also means a bigger responsibility to be careful about what we put out to the world. 

We can make jokes about a lot of things, and as a race with a natural predilection for humor, Filipinos can (and do) make jokes about anything. But rape shouldn’t be one of them. It’s probably hard for people to understand this unless they themselves have been a victim of rape. And I understand there’s this pushback against policing certain content and just letting people decide for themselves what’s amusing and what isn’t. 

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But trust me on this one—when you’re doubtful about crossing any kind of line in the sands of propriety, rape is always across that line. Soberano expending energy to hire a lawyer and actually going to the courthouse in Quezon City in the middle of a pandemic makes a very strong point that this notion that it’s okay to casually throw rape jokes around is antiquated and needs to be retired.

Joking about rape is like setting yourself on fire and then filming it as some kind of stunt to post on Instagram: you could end up hurting yourself and others, it’s always unfunny, and only idiots do it.

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About The Author
Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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