Over microphone, in a stadium of sports fans and for the internet to later see, celebrity athlete Ricci Rivero asked actress Andrea Brillantes to be his girlfriend, marking a grand finale to a period of courtship that came as a surprise to many, including Brillantes herself who said "yes".
Rivero, a UP Fighting Maroon, had asked Brillantes the big question from the announcers area of the Mall of Asia Arena during a basketball match. "First time kong manood ng UAAP di ko inaasahang magkaka boyfriend pa ako. Grabe naman yun Lord!," a beaming Brillantes posted later on Facebook.
But while this spectacle of the two's otherwise private relationship appeared well-received by those close to them and each of their fanbases, it also triggered a maelstrom of criticisms on social media, including those by analysts who questionned how such grand ploys that are typically initiated by a man towards a woman are still relevant in a world that is trying its best to be gender-equal.
In the words of one analyst who's "waiting for that public proposal craze to go down," these acts, in the larger scheme of things, "have been avenues where consent is eroded due to the public pressure to say yes, where problematic heteronormative ideals are enforced, and where macho bravado is rewarded."
In a thread, sociologist Ash Presto said that while she didn't want to be a "party pooper", she feels that what went down warrants a discussion on what this supposedly gallant act reinforces at the end of the day, and how society should rethink what it has long-deemed ideal when it comes to romance.
"It’s not the first time that people are doing public proposals, it’s just that, social media made it more viewable, made it even more public than the public physical space of it all," Presto told reportr, explaining how the "public proposal phenomenon" hasn't gone away even with the decline of romantic-comedy movies that best normalized it.
"Mas nagiging public siya kasi it extends pa to a different medium, and the problem with that, the pressure on the subject of the proposal, almost always a woman, is amplified as well," she said.
So what if there's pressure?
Society is enamored by love and the many ways in which it can be expressed. The grander it is, the greater the appreciation it incites among spectators who likely grew up seeing it happen in the movies and in the media.
But what happens when a public proposal is rejected, a route its recipient is very much allowed to pick? "They are actually ostracized," says Presto, adding how because of the internet, unwarranted negative reactions can also now come from strangers.
"Basically, these are people who might never now the whole context of a woman’s decision," she said, noting for example, the "very much possible" speculation that a man may have had asked a woman prior to a public proposal and received a no but still went on with a public proposal in the hopes that it could generate a favorable response the second time around.
"Tapos, ang magiging sisi ngayon ay sa babae na, kasi 'pinahiya' niya yung lalake," Presto said, adding that may also be the case that the woman is simply just not yet ready to commit to anything.
"Of course, public proposals are also context-specific," she said, noting that celebrities like Rivero and Brillantes, for instance, "*may* find that public proposals work for them," given how the attention would serve each of their careers. It can also be the case that the man had asked the woman in private before and that she has given her consent to be proposed to in public.
But Presto said at the end of the day, it boils down to the three points she noted, the first being the erosion of consent due to the pressure to say 'yes'.
Presto explained that when somebody is being pressured to say yes to something, and that person is worried that if she says no, she would likely get ostracized her for it, making her supposedly consentual "yes" compromised in the first place.
Secondly, public proposals "enforce problematic, heteronormative ideals", in the sense that it's always a man trying to pursue a woman, rarely the other way around. "It renders women into vulnerable positions, pushing them into a corner wherein she has to agree because 'nag-effort naman ‘yung lalake', 'maawa ka na, 'wag ka nang pakipot', or something like that." Presto said.
Lastly, public proposals reward "macho bravado". "After nu'ng public proposal, what do boys usually get? 'Wow lakas natin ah. Wow, idol, idol.' So nakapagpaigting pa 'yun du'n sa pagkalalake nila diba, and this pagkalalake, this macho identity is actually the one being preserved by the public proposal," Presto said.
"Because then again, if the girls says no, the macho identity will take a hit, and in a heteronormative, very macho society like the Philippines, hitting the macho identity will not be seen very favorably by the public," she added.
It can be recalled that Facebook's resident gossipmonger, Xian Gaza, first came to popularity in 2017 as the businessman who asked actress Erich Gonzales out for coffee through a gigantic billboard. Explaining why she ended up turning it down despite massive public pressure, Gonzales said she felt "uncomfortable", especially when Gaza was being exposed for his "scams".
Gaza had enjoyed a moment of sympathy from the public for a time, as his stunt had somewhat reinforced his male bravado by showing that he can afford to pay a billboard to court a woman.
At the end of the day, Presto said the three factors are "mutually reinforcing" as each sustain one another to ultimately make the case of why public proposals are problematic.
"Hindi valid ‘yung sasabihin mong 'ganito lang talaga ako magmahal eh', because the way you love is an offshoot of your socialization process," said Presto, noting for instance, how Rivero was told "Tama na kaka-Wattpad", after his stunt, a reference to the online social reading platform that has been stereotyped as a home to "cheesy stories" that are popular among teens.
"These social norms, they provide you a template on how to love, and it's these very templates that we should be problematizing. That may be the way you were taught and socialized to express your love, but that doesn’t mean you cannot change it," she said.