[OPINION] Pinoy rap celebrates and justifies the male gaze

Text by Wax Galang

The doors of female representation in music swing both ways: it’s either glorifying or objectifying them. These depictions strike too close to home as they are immediately heard in Filipino rap. 

Be it voyeurism, hypersexualization or narcissistic intentions of male artists, recent Filipino rap songs overflow with them. 

Blasting on jeepney radios, sung by children playing in the streets, and raved to by party goers in nightclubs along the Metro, Filipino rap is almost always present.

This type of Pinoy rap music has depended so much on active and passive voyeuristic mechanisms to such an extent that the humanity of a woman is completely ignored because of hypersexualized stereotypes. 

“Ang sarap mong titigan” 

It goes without saying that women are often displayed and seen as sexual objects. Interestingly, a lot of Pinoy Rap songs have words that relate to “looking,” “viewing,” and “watching” women in their lyrics. 

There’s “Neneng B” with “Ang sarap mong titigan,”; “Dalaga” with “Nang una kang makita, muntik na ‘kong mabulunan”; and “Sa Susunod Na Lang” with “Sipat nang sipat kung sisilip ka ba sa bintana.” 

Laura Mulvey, proponent of the Male Gaze and Visual Pleasure theory, argues that scopophilia or the pleasure of looking is activated when there is considerable distance between the one looking and the one looked at. 

It suggests that voyeurism can take place even without physical contact and the consciousness of the one being looked at. This is illustrated in the song “Venus” by Ron Henley, “Nasa isang gilid tahimik lang, / palihim lang kitang tinitignan. / ‘Di mo lang alam kung ga’no kaganda ang / tanawin mula sa aking kinatatayuan.

Women in these songs are viewed from the eyes of straight men and are represented only as passive objects of male desire. 

Take MC Einstein’s “Titig” for example, a song that centers its entire message on how the male artists’ desire cannot be consummated just by looking. 

“Ewan ko kung pa’no ko bibitbitin
‘yung pagtingin ko kasi kung hanggang tingin lang ay bitin… 
Matagal na kitang sinusundan, tinititigan at hindi maiwasan 
na ikaw ay ‘di tignan sa malayuan 
at pinag-iisipan ko kung anong paraan  para ikaw ay malapitan.” – Titig, MC Einstein

In this case, voyeurism transpires into perversion. Men want to inject themselves into the lives of women in a sexually domineering manner – a dangerous precedent to harassment.

“Sabik na mapalamanan”

Ginataan na mani mo na dala’y sakto sa turon ko na sa iyo inihahanda. Monay n’ya na malaman na nu’ng una, sabik na mapalamanan .” – Mau, Shanti Dope 

Behind figurative language are indicators of how women are portrayed as always wanting sexual pleasure. This was also featured in Nik Makino’s “Neneng B” which caused uproar in social media because of the song’s misogynistic remarks.

Sorbetes ka ba? Kasi gusto mong dinidilaan ka.
Palay ka ba? Kasi gusto mong binabayo kita.
Harina ka ba? Kasi gusto mo ‘yung nilalamas ka.” – Neneng B, Nik Makino

Sabik na mapalamanan,” “Gusto mong dinidilaan ka,” “Gusto mong binabayo kita” illustrate how even the sexual choices of women are dictated by men. 

The role of women in these songs has been reduced to a one-dimensional character that exists to satisfy the active male gaze. A woman’s agency and capability are often overlooked because of this. 

See how Matthaios, in his ode to Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, depicted the beauty queen using only facial and bodily features while not even the slightest hint of her intellect was mentioned. His view of Gray has also become erotic.

‘Yung mga mata niya ay bibihagin ka.
‘Pag tumingin ka sa kanya ay ‘matic na.” Catriona, Matthaios

In this case, “‘matic na” refers to being instantly infatuated with Gray after just gazing upon her. 

Although Matthaios stated that it’s his way of praising Gray, it sets a pattern for men to confine women into a specific beauty standard as prescribed by the patriarchy. 

“Hayaan mo sila na maghabol sa’yo”

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from history, it’s that there has always been inequality between genders. Needless to say, the patriarchal male is always favored. 

The clear division of power between men and women is often portrayed in these songs through the narcissistic mapping of the male persona. 

In the Pinoy rap music industry, the gender power asymmetry is a strong controlling force that caters more to the needs of its male consumers. This is manifested in the infamous “Hayaan Mo Sila” by Ex Batallion. 

Ang problema sa babae dapat ‘di iniinda.
Hayaan mo sila ang maghabol sa’yo ‘di ba? ” – Hayaan Mo Sila, Ex Batallion

Heterosexual male audiences are encouraged to never take no for an answer purely because they are supposed to be in power.

This vainglorious nature of Filipino rap songs identify women only as bearers of meaning and not makers of it. This, therefore, implies that the idea of a woman as a meaning-maker is nowhere near recognizable, let alone encouraged.

Mulvey argues that in cinema, women frequent the plot just to invite erotic contemplation and distract the narrative of the male protagonist. A staple scene in old films is the showcase of a fragmented part of a woman’s body to captivate the hero and take him out of his journey. 

Similarly, Pinoy rap strikes the same chord. 

Why does it pass easily through our ears?

Unfortunately, the misogynistic and sexist streak of Filipino rap music is neglected by listeners as they, too, are encouraged to identify with the sentiments of the artist. 

These messages – whether underlying or blatant – are hidden under the smooth and engaging rhythm of the song and the novelty of the artist. 

On Spotify, Shanti Dope’s “Nadarang,” “Mau,” Nik Makino’s “Neneng B” and MC Einstein’s “Titig” have a combined total of 160 million streams to date. Meanwhile, artists like Ron Henley, Ex Battalion, Flow G and Matthaios garner a combined three million monthly listeners on the streaming app alone. 

A Spotify-curated playlist that once housed a majority of the songs mentioned above currently has 568,221 followers. 

On top of that, platforms like Facebook, TikTok and YouTube offer a space where consumption of these songs is unadulterated so that they have greater potential to go viral.

With the number of streams and praise these songs receive, misogyny and sexism go unnoticed to a point it becomes normalized. 

Is this slut-shaming?

There is a fine line between distinguishing female subjugation from scorning a woman’s sexual choices. 

Another song, “Miss Flawless,” supposedly featured a ‘female’ perspective. 

Miss Flawless kung ako’y tawagin, 
Mga lalaki’y nanggigil sa akin.
Ayaw paawat, pa’no mo pipigilin
Ang damdamin nila para sa akin.” – Miss Flawless, Bosx1ne, Flow G, Sachzna

Having a female artist perform the chorus, while still being written by men, is a depiction of the instructed passivity on women and how they’re expected to comply with the idea that they are merely sexual objects. 

This idea only reinforces that men live out their obsession by imposing the image that women are bearers of meaning and not makers of it. 

More often than not, in the event that a woman produces the same type of music, their reasons for doing so are not as welcomed as when straight male rappers claim that their music is for sexual empowerment.

We are given an option to dive deeper into the genre and explore its many avenues. From social commentaries to patriotic attitudes, Filipino rap music shouldn’t stop with a woman as its subject, or should I say object. 

Unconventional it may be, the music industry must take upon themselves the responsibility of producing music that removes all notions of the male gaze and female objectification. 

In the Philippines where the national leadership continues to berate women and trivialize their roles in society, it pays to be sociopolitically sensitive and responsible. As artists, the profiteering potential of music must not absolve them of their social responsibility.

They need not weaponize political correctness but acknowledge it for the good it can contribute to Filipino music holistically: the erasure of prejudice, avoidance of microaggressions and promotion of accurate representation.

And as consumers, we must take it upon ourselves to be critical of what we choose to listen to. 

It’s high time that we recognize not only the works of female artists but their stories, sacrifices and struggles. We must end this gaze that reduces them into sexual objects and see their value and worth as human beings.

Women have always been meaning-makers.

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