An open letter to a liberal sexist

If they say chivalry is not dead then I hope I am the one to murder it.

Something happened this January and as usual I put this incident, as I do many others, in the closet of my mind. I have returned to unpack it today.

In January concerned Egyptian citizens and their supporters formed anti-sexual harassment groups IMG_5089 (640x427)and bravely went out during the two year anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian uprising to put into action their belief that men and women should both attempt to make a reality their conviction that the iconic and symbolic Tahrir Square should be a public place of protest for all people, especially women who have been disproportionately targeted for public sexual violence.

More than just monitoring protests for sexual violence these groups created information and awareness campaigns to engage the community and encourage people to participate and volunteer.

This is why we were all so interested in your volunteer experiences with the group. I remember my companion and I listened intently as you said you did this for your country, as you told us about the training sessions and protests you attended.

Many men found it difficult to reach out to women in the Square. They often found it difficult to approach women under attack. They claimed we couldn’t discriminate between the assaulters and the rescuers, a confusion which further frustrated attempts to help women.

And perhaps it was this frustration that led you to say in between your allusions to nationalism and conviction to a lofty goal this exquisite line…

“But you gotta understand, some of those girls are just so dumb! You tell them and tell them but they just won’t listen… you know I just want to be like I hope you get raped! Just so you see! You know what I’ll probably join in!”

The delivery and the subsequent hearty laugh implied it was a joke… but a good friend once told me true wit relies on playing with premises that speak the truth.  On what premises does your wit lie?

I suppose you believe that because you put yourself in physical danger, a very knightly act, you have earned the right to speak about raping Egyptian women.

Yet here comes the problem, chivalry does not make for solidarity, nor does charity or sympathy bring about social equality or economic justice. In fact they are not just opposites, the former two actually work to impede solidarity and justice. They require people who are more concerned about joining the ranks of knighthood and sainthood than with dismantling social and economic systems of oppression.

And for this I don’t lament chivalry’s death, I plan for it.

Chivalry should die because it fails us. All of us. Because with it we still have not gotten to the point where we view rape as torture, rape is still punishment. We have yet to develop the consciousness that rape in of itself is unacceptable.  Chivalry should die because we still assume there are good women (those who listen to us)  and can always somehow escape rape and bad “dumb” women (those who don’t listen) that are deserving of rape and it’s justified. Chivalry fails us because it doesn’t allow us to come to terms that sexism and other forms of group oppression like racism or homophobia are not just violent actions that we do but represent a state of mind that supports or creates the means of causing physical and economic harm to one or more specific groups.

So yes, I see that you put your body at risk and you placed yourself in great physical uncertainty and I operantsehacommend this. But are you also willing to do venture into another place of insecurity, that place in the mind where doubts grow? Could you reach inside the depths of yourself and allow what needs to be attacked to be attacked? Could you attack it yourself? If we cannot do this, we find that we have not really left our comfort zone at all…

And this is what we want. We don’t want you to just protect us or defend us, we want you to attack! Attack the premises, attack the assumptions, attack the ideas in yourself and in other men (and women) that even slightly suggest human suffering is justified. We need people who care for our dignity in every street corner and in every situation. Our comrades are not just those who try to be “the hero” and physically protect us in the Square but are those who struggle to change the mentalities of their brethren and themselves before these warped views on women lead them to physically attack us in the first place. Any other solidarity is a farce.

Many men found it difficult to reach out to women in the Square. They often found it difficult to approach women under attack. They claimed we couldn’t discriminate between the assaulters and the rescuers, and this was frustrating for you, I know… but until you realize the sound of your own laugh is a lot like the laughs we heard from those men who cornered us in Tahrir, don’t be surprised if we look up from the crowd and in the midst of a sea of hands, false grins, and prying fingers, we can’t distinguish the sound of your voice as that of a friend or of a foe.

Notes:

  • 3la fikra, I wanted to extend this to all progressive sexists, this is not at all based on his “Egyptianness” and certainly not based on any level of economic hardship, as this i-got-a-villa-in-Maadi douchebag may have been Egyptian-born but he was certainly American-bred…
  • Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment is a great idea! The criticism is not one of organization or method but rather the tendency of profiteering off the image of volunteering done by some people… much like simple charity doesn’t strike economic injustice or having black friends (or even being black) shield you from racism… joining this organization doesn’t save you from being a sexist turd.

Related and Similar Posts:

Translating Fatima Ali: Diary of A Black Girl in Cairo

Sexual Violence in Egypt: Can Men Protect Us?

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