Etiquette for Politicians

Have you ever wondered why there are so many etiquette guides for women — telling them how to behave, what to think, and where their place in society is — but there are hardly any such nonsense for men?

Take for example the “Etiquette for Mistresses,” the best-selling book penned by Jullie Yap Daza and now made into a Chito Roño movie. The first rule is: “Know your place. You are not number one.”

It might as well be a rule for all women, not just mistresses. Because if we look at the behavior of and listen to some traditional politicians from the ruling Liberal Party (LP), women exist for the pleasure and entertainment of men. Yes, they can even be “gifted” to politicians on their birthdays and on their anniversaries celebrating many years of public service.

Women are treated as rewards or perks of power. Just like luxury cars, expensive watches, membership to exclusive clubs, prime real estate. You get the idea.

Men are people. Women are objects.

I am not making this up. There is an actual study about this published in 2012 by the European Journal of Social Psychology. Researchers led by Philippe Bernard presented participants pictures of men and women in sexualized poses wearing a swimsuit or underwear, one by one on a computer screen. The study noted that women are more likely to be seen by the brain as body parts rather than a whole while men are processed as a whole rather than the sum of their parts.

It is interesting to note that both men and women perceive women the same way — as sexual body parts.  Because both genders do it, social psychologists believe it is the media  that helped train people to perceive women that way.

Women’s bodies and their body parts are used to sell all sorts of products so now, even women tend to see themselves as sexual objects.

Sexual objectification occurs when a woman’s body or body parts are singled out and separated from her as a person and she is viewed primarily as a physical object of male desire. When you are treated as an object to be valued for how much you can please men, you begin to focus only on your physical appearance. This leads to a host of mental health problems such as eating disorders, depression, body shaming, and sexual dysfunction.

Promoting this perception of women as sex objects affect not just the Playgirls, but all women.

Another study has found that showing men pictures of sexualized women evokes less activity in areas of the brain responsible for mental state attribution — that is, the area of the brain that becomes active when we think we are looking at an entity capable of thought and planned action. When men see body shots of women as compared with face shots, they judge women to be less intelligent and less competent.

Studies in mind perception revealed two dimensions along which we tend to categorize others: (1) agency or the capacity to act and plan; and (2) experience or the capacity to feel emotions.  When we see flesh, we tend to see experience but not agency — an entity capable of pleasure and pain but not necessarily the sharpest mind. So objectification of women leads us to think of them as only capable of feeling but not thinking.

In short, the more we sexualize women, the less we see their agency or capacity to act and decide for themselves.

Another interesting revelation from another study showed that participants in the research are less willing to inflict pain on half-naked individuals as compared to clothed individuals. This means that when we see bodies we tend to also see potential victims. Think rape, human trafficking, incest, domestic violence.

The Playgirls may not see themselves as victims in this situation because they may have already internalized their objectification and started to believe that is their place in society — for the entertainment of men. But I believe if they would be given a chance to be elected as representatives in Congress, I think they would rather debate with congressmen as equals than be paid to dance for them half-naked.

So if I were to write an Etiquette for Politicians, I only have one rule: Women are people, too, and we must take them seriously.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, October 8, 2015