June 20, 2011

A man's view on sexual harassment

Sexual harassment of women in Egypt has become a horrible plague. The reports of cat calling, whistling, grabbing, groping to really getting violent and tearing at clothes in Cairo's streets is shocking to say the least. It seems all control of a male dominated society is lost if women are harassed to this extent while just walking through the streets of their city. In broad daylight mind you. It does not even have to be dark for harassers to do what they think is their right - the verbal or physical attack on a woman they see walking by.

While it would be interesting to know how much women are harassed in Assiut, Minya, in Beni Suef, Asswan or Hurghada, it is definite that in Cairo at least the sexual harassment of women escalates above all bounds. And men let it happen. That is the problem.

Because if men would not let it happen, harassers would not stand a chance and the attacks on women would stop. So why do men not interfere knowing this phenomena is prevalent all over town?

To find this out, one has to take a look at the men that are behind this ugly practice. There are three groups of men contributing to harassment in Egypt, each in its own special way.

Firstly there is the uneducated, primitive group that simply thinks women are there for their common pleasure, men that fail on empathy and understanding and just let themselves be guided by their very simply urges (how can a man be guided by brains when the guidance deep below is stronger!). Those men actively harass and in their private thinking find excuses for their behavior by stating women want it this way, women actually crave for it, women can't do without it (and without men) and women dress accordingly thus sending out signals of willingness (that no man can resist).

You don't have to be a psychologist to know these guys urgently need help.

Then there is the second group of men, fairly educated but strongly conservative and mostly religiously blinded that dare perhaps not to harass themselves, but if not encourage it excuse it for almost the same reasons as the first group. They suppress their women in their homes, declare themselves the masters of everything feminine in their family and condemn any woman that chooses to walk on her own - be it in society or on the street.

This group is dangerous because it gives the attackers of the first group a mental backing, a shielding behind which to attack. Through their suppressing, women-hating stance they create a social environment in which the attacker-group does not have to feel guilty. After all they are just carrying out what the others support too.

The third group of men is educated, calls itself liberal and says it is against harassment of women - mostly anyway - and accepts that women even take part in a revolution. As long as they don't steal the show and are willing to return to their places once the battle is successfully won and the gravy pots are being dished out and the booty is distributed. There of course they don't necessarily find women should partake. They don't all openly say it, but if you look close enough you will find their attitude is not as woman-friendly as they like you to believe.

This group allows harassment to happen because its men do not actively show solidarity with women when they are treated as minor, as inferior, as less important - to a revolution, to politics, to society. Under the shroud of liberalism basically hides a pretty paternal and chauvinistic attitude and when women really need help, these guys won't budge - later saying: I wasn't asked loud enough - I was busy running politics - I wasn't the center of the action (as a man!) - so how could I possibly know you wanted my support?!

Fail. One can only say.

It is these three strong groups in Egypt's society that make sexual harassment of women possible. It is the harassing man on the street - single or in a group - that gropes, it is the cab driver that looks away, the family father that laughs when his son misbehaves, the revolutionary that does not actively protect because his own interests are higher rated than those of a woman molested in his vicinity. If all these men would not partake, women in Egypt would be safe. They are not.

What possible ways could there be to cure the society of these evils coming in multiple forms of men?

Well, for the first group the remedy is clear: Working and living conditions that allow for a decent life combined with education, education, education. As long as poor living conditions are combined with illiteracy leaving young men stranded with a defunct ego and bulging sexual urges - the harassment of women will never stop. The foremost task of every government therefore must be to improve the living conditions of the poor, to better educational standards and ensure children get an education in the first place, to work together with NGOs and trusts to curb illiteracy as fast as possible. In a society where almost half of the population is illiterate it is almost impossible to get any sense into (male) heads.

The second group can only be reached if in society awareness is raised that the suppressing of women in homes must stop, that the belief is wrong that women are only half as much worth as a man - no matter what any old religious book might say about this - that women have to obey their male masters, that only males are allowed to decide on the future of female family members, that woman cannot be allowed to shape their own country for various most idiotic reasons that are best not even repeated here.

Again this can only be achieved by education, education, education. But this time not only in form of schooling to curb illiteracy. The teaching that is needed here must come from imams at the mosques, must come from the priests in their sermons just as much as from ministers, politicians, journalists, judges - society as a whole. Only if the atmosphere of suppression in the country is curbed and women are allowed to breath freely will there be a chance that the harassement-allowing male will vanish into oblivion.

More than half the Egyptian society is below the age of 25. Don't tell me there isn't a true chance to make this happen if the young only take things in their hands and demand the change in society they said they were initially demanding in Tahrir square.

All this will of course only work if the so called elite of a society plays along, joins in the same tune and is truly willing to change the society - from bottom to top - into a society fair and respectful to women. These elitists are not asked to get their hands dirty or their clothes torn while attempting to rescue women in dark alleys from attacking harasser. Forget it. Nobody asks you to be brave. You say you have brains? That is enough. Use it - and leave the rest to those who know how to work with their hands.

But use your brains you must. Just bathing in the glow of a revolution, in the memories of bullets flying that you stopped virtually with your determination and vicious glances will not be good enough. That is not helping women in this country at all. In fact it is rather shocking to see that some of the most disturbing comments failing on women's rights and solidarity come from literate, well off-to-do, young revolutionaries dreaming more of having sex as a reward for their heroic fighting than understanding the real issue at hand. While in those 18 days in Tahrir the sexual harassment commonly known on the streets of Cairo was not prevalent, now too in revolutionary circles of young men a respectful attitude towards women and their rightful demands is often lacking.

The last of the three groups has to do its job alone. No one can help. While the first needs to be supported by the government and institutions fighting illiteracy, low wages and poor housing conditions - the second needs support from those that shape societies awareness - the religious leaders, the role models, the media - the third has brains enough (or should have) to do the job on its own: Listen to women and their horror stories of what happens to them each and every day on the street; let it sink in just how bad this truly is, how degrading, how disgusting, how hurtful and bad for anyone's self-esteem; show empathy and mean it by using the helpful trick of imagining it could have happened to you (yes it could, there is even male-harassement, so why not on you?) - and stand by the women when they need your support most. In the street, in the office, in the media, in court, in parliament - and in a protest march when women shout out the pain this causes them - and even then have to fear to be attacked by men of the first group - because you of the third group let it happen.

Some men of this third group let it happen because they have witnessed that they themselves could get attacked and verbally harassed. When women demonstrated for their rights on March 8 in Tahrir square, a small number of men stood by them and tried to ward off the attacks from harassing males. Soon came the ultimate dreaded horror question, uttered with a low growling voice: "Why do you defend these women? Are you faggots?"

From what I know, those that were there stood their ground and were undeterred. Others however of the third group pretending to be so open minded, so liberal and understanding, crouched on hearing that word and decided to not get involved. For just imagine someone would say such a ghastly thing to them in public!

Welcome to the club boys! When you crouch on that idea - you finally have unknowingly begun to feel what it is like to be sexually harassed. It happens to women every day. And they still have to go on. And if you feel bad being the recipient of such a verbal attack - then you learn the hard way how a woman feels who crouches just like you, who is hurt just like you, and who has no one to help her in this situation - if you don't get it a grip on yourself!

Don't mess up the revolution and what it achieved by now ducking away in cowardice. Big liberal revolutionary words and postures help no one put an end to women's plight in the streets of Cairo or elsewhere. No story you tell how great you were in the fight for freedom will impress anyone if you don't prove that you understand what freedom really means. Because only if the sexual harassment of women stops can the society truly say of itself: We are proud to be Egyptian!

There's work to be done, men of Egypt, for all of you. Stop fantasizing, stop suppressing, stop dreaming - just go and do it! The women need you. Don't fail them. Half of society is the best half you have. Get that into your heads.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for being so comprehensible. your blog post says it all. Good Job :)