*this essay was published in the “Ways of Seeing” column of the Mindanao Times, April 27, 3003.
by Jean Claire Dy
“BUNTIS NA SAD KAY IGAT MAN!” the sign hanging below a tricycle’s tail end assaulted me as I made my way in the tricycle terminal. It was blatantly written in large capitalized letters with emphasis on the words—“buntis” and “igat.” As I sat inside one of the tricycles, I was reminded of a similar sign I saw in a jeepney in Cebu. It read: “Guapa unta, pero lostred na.”
Tricycles come in different forms around the Philippines. In Luzon, for instance, tricycles have narrower bodies compared to the ones in the Visayas. Tricycles in Negros have wider frames and have enough space for a passenger to stretch his/her legs. In some places I’ve been to in Mindanao, tricycles seem to be leaning towards the road, and often are longer and narrower in form.
But one common feature I see in tricycles is that most of them carry signs. Some tricycles, like jeepneys, have stickers of naked women pasted on their windshields. These images often come with playful words that display “sexist wit.” An example would be an image of a voluptuous woman dressed in a skimpy bikini. And under this image are words that say “Basta driver, good lover.” On the other hand, in some places tricycles carry religious signs instead of the usual sexy images. Most of these signs are Bible quotations or other words of wisdom, e.g., “In God We Trust.”
When I transferred to Davao, I expected the same features from tricycles. In the subdivision where I live, somewhere in Catalunan Pequeño, tricycles scarcely have stickers on their windshields. Instead, they have signs hanging by their tail ends. As expected, the customary play with words was still present but with a few surprises of their own.
Words are symbols we use to perceive the world. And words represent what we already know of the world, as well as shape the world we already know. In this sense, language is not neutral. It is the vehicle by which we carry our ideas and shape our selves.
Whether they are written in stickers or written on boards hanging at the back of tricycles, words have a greater meaning and function other than the mere show of the Filipino’s skill in humorous wordplay. These signs coated in sexist language, in one way or another, reflect how our society perceives women and women’s relation to men in general.
The sign in Catalunan holds many layers of meaning. To an untrained and less critical eye, it will undoubtedly come across as a joke—a way of poking fun at the married women’s incapacity to control themselves from constantly getting pregnant. This “joke” comes in different forms to us everyday. Recall an all too familiar scene: a young pregnant mother passes by, two toddlers in tow and an infant in her arms. Upon seeing her, the bystanders smirk or look the other way or pity her condition. Some would even dare say: “Unsa mana? Baby factory?”
On another level, the sign can also be considered by some as a social commentary disguised in wit. A way of scolding women, telling them to stop having babies and start planning their families. Thus, insidiously putting a heavier burden on the married woman’s responsibility to her reproductive needs. It is her sole duty alone, and not her husband’s. Yet, even in this sense, the sign shouldn’t be taken too seriously and is still considered as a joke, lest women would be insulted.
But because language is not neutral, it can be used to perpetuate double standards, such as, women are lesser beings than men, and other subliminal messages. Sad to say, the sign in Catalunan Pequeno, apparently shows the existence of “sexist” language and “sexist” ideas even in this part of the country. The very idea that the sign pokes fun at pregnant women clearly shows that men in this particular community aren’t even gender sensitive at all.
What does the sign say, you might ask? When we begin to peel off the layers of humor attached to the sign, the words speak to us more vividly than ever.
“BUNTIS NA SAD, KAY IGAT MAN!” carries with it very common double standard ideas about women. The word “igat” in the Visayan lexicon means “flirt” or “slut” and to some degree “whore.” It is generally considered as derogatory and oftentimes associated with lascivious behavior among women. For example, it is very unlikely to hear people call a nun “igat” but it is commonplace to hear a prostituted woman called the same name.
Even at a young age, girls are taught the meaning and weight of the word. When mothers find their daughters wearing skimpy skirts and shorts, they often scold their daughters because “murag igat sila tanawun.” Wearing make-up and hanging out with boys are behaviors also often associated with “inigat” (flirting).
At a closer look, the sign “BUNTIS NA SAD, KAY IGAT MAN!” denotes that women become pregnant because of their “flirtatious” behavior. It is an “in your face” way of telling a woman that her pregnancy is her fault and no one else’s, not even her husband’s. She is blamed for everything—evil seductress that she is, she is seen as having insidiously seduced her husband to have sex with her. The “innocent” husband naturally couldn’t resist her charms and so when her stomach begins to bulge, her husband then predictably blames her for putting him under her spell. Like Pontius Pilate, the man washes his hands of the responsibility attached to the act of sex itself, and to the consequences of such act. Indeed, it is an all too familiar way of seeing the world.
In cases like this, the woman then bears the brunt of humiliation and judgement from her husband and her community. This scenario is no different from how society often stigmatizes victims of rape and domestic violence. Comments like “Kay ga inigat man gud. Tanawa, na rape!” or “Dakdak kasi nang dakdak, nabugbug tuloy!” are very common among communities, sometimes uttered even by women themselves. This perception also extends to how society looks at teenagers who get pregnant out of wedlock. These girls are generally perceived as “igat,” someone who deserves to suffer from committing the abominable act of premarital sex.
Calling a “buntis” or pregnant woman “igat” reduces her role in the community. It dehumanizes her by putting a negative connotation on her reproductive rights. This dehumanizing and objectifying effect are also present in the words and images I saw in Cebu, and other parts of the country. The sad thing is, most of these “sexist” signs are carried by vehicles (tricycles, jeepneys, cars, buses), where people read them everyday. Riding in these metaphorical homes, our reality is then shaped by the signs these vehicles carry. And because these signs make us giggle, we unconsciously take them to heart