In July this year, an online shop named ‘Toyo ni Misis’ opened via Facebook. Toyo is a Filipino word for soy sauce. In Filipino slang, it also means moody, emotional or indecisive (‘tinotoyo’) – a term commonly used to describe one’s ‘temperamental’ girlfriend and women in general. The local startup business, which sells chili garlic sauce, originally used a cartoon of an angry woman and captioned variants of its products in phrases that were perceived to be poking fun at domestic violence.
The mild variant was originally captioned “Kaya pa sa lambing” (roughly translating to “Can be swayed by endearment”). The spicy variant was captioned “Masarap tirisin” (“Satisfying to crush”) while the extra hot variant originally went by “Sarap sapakin” (“Satisfying to hit”).
The shop’s creative use of a uniquely Filipino banter as a marketing strategy instantly became viral. However, while some said it was a “great product branding” and commended their creativity, others demanded they change their messaging.
Users reiterated that to gag about hitting one’s wife or partner glosses over the gravity of domestic violence. While it may not be a visible occurrence, the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey confirms that spousal violence or intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence for women aged 15-49 years old. Several reactions online also explained how such attitudes toward women and women’s issues can have serious implications. When such notions about women being ‘temperamental’ are thrown around as a laughable occurrence, calls for help on matters that heavily impact women – such as domestic abuse – can fall to deaf ears and shrugged off as a mere inconvenience rather than an emergency.
Two years prior, a parody online shop was also called out when it advertised “tomboy (na mataba) items” (“fat lesbian items”). Photos of fashion items such as slippers, silver necklace, and graphic tees were compiled in an album with the caption that labeled the items as typically worn by a tomboy (lesbian). It was not long until online users raised their eyebrows over the ad. While some found it witty, many users barraged the Facebook page for seemingly mocking the lesbian community.
Another shop has been using memes for their publicity, in this case, with the use of sexually suggestive images particularly shots that resemble (if not are entirely from) pornography. Sexism, objectification and toxic masculinity have always been used as advertising and marketing strategies. Both men and women are sexualised in order to promote and sell products. The milk tea store is one of those who appear to be using the same strategy to grab people’s attention and increase product visibility through social media.
In a study of gender representation in Philippine advertising, researchers have observed that the lack of online regulation provides social media advertisers the liberty of experimenting with gender depictions, which can fall between progressive to heavily stereotyped. As highly accessible platforms for engagement, social media are the best option for small-time sellers who want exposure with little to no cost. However, its social nature and laidback regulation becomes the same mechanism that allows for the circulation of offensive content.
Add to this the personalization of algorithms that make advertising more targeted to specific people and it is not unlikely that there may be derogatory ads and images in circulation that still remain ‘relevant’ to some online users but don’t appear in feeds of the audience who can call those out.
The Department of Trade and Industry continues to eye the regulation of online sellers as they continue to grow. The intention is mainly to protect consumers from counterfeit and streamline the process for e-commerce complaints. Beyond business transactions however, state regulation of online spaces will require a more in-depth examination that will raise numerous concerns on digital rights issues, such as data privacy, and even gender.
The polarizing nature of ‘controversial’ topics is encouraging of conversations inasmuch as it attracts backlash. While some sellers may not be intentional, others however appear to deliberately bank on such virality to promote their business. Filipino sellers have been using online spaces to their advantage and “creative” attempts at marketing can mirror the culture that they go by offline – one that can perpetuate archaic and patriarchal biases that continue to subjugate women. Male-gaze-dominated memes, captions that trivialize women’s experiences, and jokes that poke fun at abuse are microaggressions that normalize the larger system of violence against women. Beyond laws, clearly there are still a number of Filipino online users who have been ingrained with patriarchal notions and find it difficult to take women’s experiences seriously, reducing their dignities to a milk tea worth of a meme.