Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has earned worldwide criticism for kissing a woman on the lips in front of thousands of people. The married woman was called on stage by Duterte at a meet-and-greet event with overseas Filipino workers in Seoul. He asked the woman if she could explain to her husband that the antic was just a joke, and when she said yes, the 73-year-old leaned in and kissed her much to the cheers of thousands gathered at the rally.

There are a lot of people who are defending Duterte’s actions by calling the kiss consensual. However, can we ignore the fact that this woman was standing in front of a country’s President? She might have conceded into giving a kiss out of sheer awe or fear of repercussions if she said no.

Perhaps we would never know why the woman agreed to kiss Duterte. But despite being a consensual act, something feels wrong about that kiss.

Branding it as entertainment

Duterte’s attitude seems to be the major problem here. His behaviour stems from entitlement which results both from his gender and popularity. Perhaps he forgot that his position comes with a call for grace and proper conduct. But if the audience’s cheers are anything to go by, Duterte knew what he was doing.

We have to understand that South Asian countries are deeply misogynist and treat women as objects. Even in this case the President reduced kissing a woman to entertainment for the audience. It was supposed to come across as funny. Or rather cool and laden with machismo to Duterte’s audience. He still has it in him at 73! He can get women to walk willingly to him and kiss him on lips.

What kind of message do these actions send to a culture already reeking of toxic masculinity? What does it teach young boys on verge of adulthood about sexual entitlement?

We would like to know if the crowd would have found it equally appealing had a 73-year-old woman with power called a married man with two children on stage and coaxed a kiss out of him. This is not about equality but our perspective. The woman would have been labelled a cougar but since it is a man, we are to shrug it off as a joke or applaud his male entitlement.

We understand that the woman agreed to kiss Duterte. We also acknowledge that for now, she has said that there was no malice in the kiss. But sometimes, it is the context or the situation which adds malice to a seemingly consensual encounter. In this case what seems wrong is the reduction of the act of kissing a woman to a gimmick, and the applause it received.

Photo Credit : NDTV

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own

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