30 minutes left on the ‘blogging to fight sexual harassment’ day deadline…
At the beginning of this month, I decided to finally pick up on the idea of looking into sexual harassment in Egypt through my work at almasryalyoum.com/en. I wanted to figure out what was going on with sexual harassment – what was the root, where did the disrespect come from and what was the anger and viciousness behind the vulgarity and aggression. And as the weeks continue, we explore it more – with articles like The Sexual Harassment File: Bringing up the obvious?and The Sexual Harassment File: Can’t you girls take a little flirting?, I tried to poke a little at what was going on behind the rampant disrespect.
Since then we’ve looked into some of the upbringing issues with Ali Abdel Mohsen’s Sexual harassment starts at home and have talked about the cultural background surrounding this kind of behavior in Steven Viney’s Can culture be blamed? We plan to continue this week with talking to some of the men about what they hope to gain from harassing women and the legal framework for bringing in a harasser.
And as soon as I started seeing the enthusiasm in the office about tackling the issue and the enthusiasm in the responses I was getting about the series, I thought I had started getting things under control. I thought that I would know exactly what to do when the next harasser reared his ugly head to spew venomous garbage at me in the middle of a Cairo street. I walked a walk that wasn’t angry but ready for discovery and confrontation. I looked potential harassers in the eye rather than looking markedly ahead of me and pretending to be a horse in traffic, protected merely by peripheral vision blinders. Days passed – on one I was out photographing in the streets of Cairo for an upcoming exhibition and I used the long sturdy lens of my camera as a weapon against the “welcome to egypt” that’s just dripping with “come do me, baby”, snapping shots of harassers and turning ego-maniacal and invasive stares into discomfort.
Most of the time I spent cooped up in my car, blasting music loud enough to distract me from any of the creepy stares from the younger generation and the disgusted “let me cleanse my eyes of your prostitute-like presence” from the older and more “religious” set.
You know, in all my writing, I know I’m being harassed on a daily basis but it all merges into one constant feeling of panic with only the very extreme cases standing out. I think women’s ability to withstand and forget the pain of childbirth applies with their ability to withstand and forget the pain of the daily psychological sanding they take from looks, comments, gestures in the streets of Cairo. Because men who deny the existence of harassment have to understand that the problem goes beyond an actual grab in the street… a man standing at a kiosk will size you up and smirk at what he can imagine himself doing with you and while that can neither be quantified nor sued for or tried against, it is can be the most heart wrenching and respect destroying moment of your day. Not that that one situation is enough to break a woman, that that one situation is yet another reminder of how women are regarded and treated on the street. ONE MORE REMINDER OF WHAT YOU ARE WORTH.
So, this afternoon, I’m driving to the gym. I’m in my car, I’m in Maadi, I’m in a bit of a rush. A motorcycle with three guys on it buzz around me like a bee and the guy on the back turns to me with a wolf like hunger in his eyes and puts his fingers together and kisses them and pulls them way. He bites his lower lip “seductively” as they buzz around for another look in the car. I resist the urge to hit the motorcycle with my car but I won’t. As they buzz away, he laughs. And once again I’ve lost. I’m furious and traumatized and angry and disgusted and fuming and miserable. I want them to get trampled by an army of stampeding women. I want them to get slapped by their mothers when they get home for such lewd behavior. I want to call for sentences of vasectomies for sexual harassers, some sort of guarantee that they won’t have some poor little toddler looking up to them for guidance and learning that women are stupid, useless pieces of trash that can just as easily be raped as they can be disregarded.
I want flyers plastered on every street in Cairo – a decree –
WOMEN WILL HENCEFORTH BE RESPECTED. WOMEN ARE HUMAN BEINGS. WOMEN WILL NOT BE GROPED, TOUCHED OR APPROACHED WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT. WOMEN WILL NOT BE LOOKED AT RUDELY AND WILL NOT BE TREATED WITH CONTEMPT FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN THEIR SEX.
And in the end, women should not thank you. Women should not feel lucky to be with a guy who doesn’t push them around or touch them without their consent. Women should not thank people for allowing them to run for parliament or president or anything because it’s not the ‘men’s’ decision. It is our right as human beings to be respected. If they will not give it to us, we will have to take it ourselves.