Published in Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
I assert that we live in a country where the culture of violence is deeply ingrained.
Over this past week, more killings were reported but most tragic was the death of a good number of our young soldiers in the hands of Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters.
Naturally, we were (and are) angered. Loud calls for an all-out war ensued. I say that such calls show how people have accepted the culture of violence as normal. “An eye for an eye,” they say.
I have been to Mindanao, including areas of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao numerous times in the course of my work with and for women. Yes, I also work with our Muslim sisters.
Before, we were not “allowed” by our sisters to directly go to their communities because of rampant kidnappings then. We would first be met by them and our male colleagues in a “safe” city before proceeding to their area.
At about midnight during a visit (we stayed in the home of our area leader), I had to use the bathroom and was shocked to see a group of about five heavily armed men huddled in the living room. Three more were positioned near the windows.
Those men were friends and colleagues working for our community projects. For years we have eaten, joked, and argued with them but I have never before seen them carry guns. Sleep evaded me that night.
Before my companions were up the next morning, I discussed the incident with our Muslim sisters and they told me that it was for our protection. Apparently, they were always armed but took care to hide the guns so as not to unnecessarily worry us.
I learned that all of them had guns in their homes but the women admitted to not liking the thought of war always lurking at the back of their minds.
A friend who grew up in war-torn Mindanao told me her story. As a child, she used to see dead people, soldiers and rebels alike, almost daily. Funerals were a normal occurrence. Soldiers and tanks were permanent fixtures in their community. Gunfire sounds were not rare. Guns in homes were treated like food— a necessity.
Children there grew up believing that their community environment was normal. My friend believed it. When she came to Manila to study, she was surprised to find that an entirely different world existed. She realized that war toys and death from war need not be the norm.
Why these stories? Because these illustrate the point I want to make – the culture of violence is learned, and can be unlearned.
In feminist studies, we use the concept of “socialization process” to explain the root cause of existing differences and inequality in gender roles of men and women. This concept is quite relevant in explaining the culture of violence in our midst.
“Socialization process” is generally defined as “the process that starts from childhood through which males and females are taught and learn actions, behaviours, attributes, attitudes, roles, etc. that are expected of them and deemed acceptable in a given society.”
These expected behaviors, attributes, etc. are what we call “gender roles” and are dictated by the existing culture. Such gender roles (also called stereotypes) are learned through and perpetuated by our socializing institutions: the family, schools, media, religion and government.
Families are very crucial in our learning process. When we tell our sons not to cry because crying is a sign of weakness and instead teach them to fight back when bullied, what message are we sending?
When we gift our boys with toy guns and laughingly play dead when they pretend to shoot us, what do our sons learn?
Have you noticed how violent computer games are? Most are about wars and killings. Without proper parental guidance, what values and attitudes do kids get from these?
Years ago, women’s groups launched a “No to War Toys” campaign. We encouraged parents to quit giving their kids robots, guns, swords, etc. We did education sessions on the need to counter the existing culture of violence.
Go to any toy shop and you will see that toy guns look very similar to the real thing. How then will boys realize the difference between a toy and a real gun? There was even news that a hold-upper used a toy gun in committing his crime.
From the crimes I previously outlined, we can conclude that it is the men who are more prone to committing violence. Only two of the 39 crimes were done by women.
On the other hand, we also saw that women were raped and killed by men and most of those who died were killed by husbands and fathers. Why?
When kids are constantly exposed to violence and abuse in the family, when they grow up seeing their fathers beating up their mothers, what do they learn? Studies indicate that boys tend to be abusive and violent as adults. Girls, unfortunately internalize the role of the victim. They tend to accept that suffering from abuse is part of their lives as women.
Even without the physical violence, if we teach our children that women are weaker and inferior to men, that women are supposed to be ruled by men, then we should not be surprised why some men think that they can do everything to women, and to men manifesting feminine attributes, including taking their lives.
This is partly learned from school. When fairy tales are discussed, we learn that women should have a Prince Charming who will save them.
Schools usually reinforce the gender roles learned at home. An ideal woman is the long-suffering mother who serves her husband and children while the husband, who ought to be the family’s breadwinner, is the boss. Just look at the illustrations in most grade school books and this is what you will find.
Ah, media is not far behind. Leading men are supposed to be gun-toting, macho men always ready to fight. They should also be saviors of women. These roles made Erap and Jinggoy Estrada, Lito Lapid, and Ramon Revilla Sr. and Jr., famous. They are now influential politicians listened to by people or tasked to make important decisions for the people.
Some news organizations also reinforce the acceptability of violence. The sensationalization of news that sometimes result in making criminals some sort of heroes, the very graphic visuals of fighting and bloodied dead bodies, these contribute to desensitizing people about violence.
The bloodlust over the death of our soldiers, the rising criminality and spate of killing, the way we are in our families, the way we regard our women — these are all related with the culture of violence we learn through socialization. We need to unlearn this culture.
Government needs to do a lot. Many ideas have surfaced on how to address rebellion and criminality including better police training, equipment, and visibility as well as strict implementation of gun control laws.
My take is besides those, we need to go back to basics. DO NOT TEACH OUR CHILDREN VIOLENCE. We can all do this.