Archive

Sexual Harassment

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?

Every now and then I meet curious people who come up to me and ask… How does it feel to be black in Egypt? More interesting than my answer to the question, however, were their own ideas surrounding it.

 The speculations and suppositions range from overdramatic exaggerations of abuse, to happy feel-good pat-you-on-your-back flat-out denials of the existence of racism and its impact, to a suave and an educated watering down of existing racism from both Egyptians and white expats alike.

So when I ran across Fatima Ali’s piece a couple weeks ago I was happy to translate it.

Though it’s essential that this narrative be given to the Egyptian Arabic audience it was addressed to first (which is why I leave it in Arabic too), her situation is much larger than Egypt as girls painted darker shades everywhere from Brazil to Holland to the United States can relate to the hyper-sexualization, the denial of legitimately belonging to our faiths, and the constant ridicule we receive for having the audacity to walk into a room and be black at the same time.

So such a story should be added to the canon of the writings of the women of the African diaspora who can not only relate to this story but carry this story and stories like this with them every day wherever they go. Hers is one of the many voices which could easily go untranslated and often do here in Egypt…

* Note: I am by no means a professional translator, my Arabic is quite average, and the writer speaks in Egyptian slang quite liberally so until a real Arabic-speaker becomes so angered with this translation and he or she slams their mouse down and furiously edits this, you will have to settle for this unique creation of mine.

That said, I invite all suggestions, corrections, and contestations!*

يوميات بنت سمرا ( 2 )..بما أن: بنت حلوة وسودا ومش محجبة!!.. إذن: كده التحرش حلال

The Diary of a Black Girl (2) A girl is pretty and black and not veiled!!
License for Acceptable Harrassment

Image

Fatima Ali

ناس كتير قوي اتكلمت فى موضوع التحرش بالبنات فى الشارع.. أنا بقى جاية أحكيلكم عن اللفظى والجنسي، وزود عليهم كمان التحرش ” العرقي ” اللي بتعرض له فى الشارع المصري الجميل..

A lot of people have talked about the harassment problem girls face on the street… Today, I am going to tell you all about the verbal and the sexual harassment and also add to this the “ethnic” harassment that also appears on the beautiful Egyptian street.

يعني إيه مثلا أكون ماشية فى الشارع و مجموعة شباب يشتموني بمجموعة قازورات منتقاة من الألفاظ القبيحة.. لكن اللى خلانى اتنح وسط كل السخافات دي، لما كلب فيهم قال:” يلا يا تريزة يا مسيحية يا بنت الم****ة”.. مش عارفة هو قرر إزاى إنى ” تريزه”هل مثلا عشان أنا سودا فيبقى أنا مسيحية.. ولا علشان مش محجبة؟.. طيب فرضا إن أنا مسيحية.. ليه بقى اتشتم .. يعني لو واحدة مسيحية شكلها ” عادي ” و لابسة صليب كبير كانوا هايشتموها كل شوية في الشارع ؟!..الحقيقة إنه ما كانش هايحصل، وحتى لو بيحصل بيبقى مرة ف الشهر مثلا مش كل يوم..

What I mean, for example, is I am walking on the street and a group of guys insult me with the worst choice of obscenities possible and while I’m walking in the middle of all this stupidity, one dog from the group says to me “Come on Mother Theresa! You Christian! You daughter of a “f**ker!”

First, I don’t know how he decided that I am a “Mother Theresa.” Could it be, for example, because I am black so it must be that I am Christian?  Or is it because I am not veiled? Ok , let’s presume I am a Christian… Still why would he insult me? I mean if I was a Christian girl with a “normal” appearance and wearing a big cross would they still insult her on every little street corner? The truth is that it doesn’t happen to Christian girls all the time and even if it were to happen it would be one time in the month not every day.

يعني إيه برضو أكون في الشارع _و دي بقى بسمعها أكتر ما بسمع إسمي فى اليوم الواحد_ الاقي حد يقول وأنا ماشية ”السود دول بيكونوا جامدين قوي ع السرير وسخنين ما تيجي !!” .. الغريب إنهم بيكونوا واثقين بنسبة كبيرة إني ممكن فعلا أروح معاهم لأني ياعيني محتاجة ده جدا، لأني ” سخنة ” طول الوقت وهو كده بيخدمني بمجهوده.. يا عين أمه.. ده غير أصلا إنه متصور أن كل السوداوات عاهرات طبعا من غير كلام..

What I’m trying to tell you all, is that in just one day when I am on the street I hear these kind of insults more than I hear my own name. Once, I found someone saying as I was walking “Those blacks they are very good in bed and very hot.  Here one comes!”

The strange thing about all this is that when they see me, they are very confident to a large degree that maybe I really will go with them because I really need this because I am “hot for it” all the time and of course he would just be doing a favor for me… This goes without saying that he pictures that all black girls are naturally prostitutes…

سيبك من ده كله.. طب عمرك شفت بنت في الشارع الناس بتشد شعرها عشان يضحكوا عليها خلق ربنا.. ده برضو بيحصلي طول الوقت، إن كان ف الشارع أو في المترو أو أى احتكاك بيني وبين قطيع منطلق يرعى سخافة..لأن المفروض إن السود دول ما عندهمش شعر.. يبقى أنا أكيد لابسة باروكة.. طب هو عايز يتأكد والموضوع شغله يعمل إيه؟؟ أو تعمل إيه؟؟ طبعا يقوم شادد هو الباروكة، ولما هو يشد الباروكة و تقع ينبسط هو أو هي، و يبسط خلق ربنا اللي محتاجة تتبسط معاه، لما الباروكة تقع

But it’s not just this…. Have you ever seen a girl in the street and people are pulling her hair and laughing at her, this girl, who is our God’s creation… This also happens to me all the time, indeed it happens in the street or in the metro or any place that I find myself between a pack of idiots.

This is because it must be that these blacks don’t have hair so of course I am wearing a wig and the matter is after all their business. They want to be sure of this so what do they do?  Naturally, they must take it upon themselves to pull the wig! And when they pull the wig and it falls they enjoy it! And simply the black girl, our God’s creation, is left with no other choice but to enjoy it with them when the wig falls….

ساعات بقى أكون ماشية في الشارع مع حد من اصدقائي اللي شكلهم “عادي” ومش ملفت، و تسمع الناس بتقول بصوت عالي “وإنتوا اتلميتوا على بعض فين؟!”.. كأني من كوكب المريخ، و صديقتي من كوكب الزهرة و المواصلات مقطوعة بين الكوكبين.. ياجدعان ده أنا مرة كنت ماشية في الشارع أنا وخطيبي اللي هو برضو شكله ” عادي “، لقينا واحد بيوقنا و قال لخطيبي ” يا شيخ حرام حرام عليك.. ده أنت أبيض و هي سودا؟!”.. وماتسألنيش يعني إيه!..

Another time, I was walking in the street with one of my friends that look “normal” and not at all eye-catching or conspicuous-looking and she hears people say in a loud voice “How did you all even become friends?! ” as if I was from Mars and my friend from Venus and transportation between the two planets is prohibited.

Still another time, I was walking on the street with my fiancé who is also “normal- looking” and we found someone hollering at us. “Hey sheikh!” he said to my fiancé “This is great shame for you! It’s forbidden! You are white and she is black!?” And don’t even begin to ask me what that means!

طب جربت تبقى واقف ف المترو و الناس كلها بتتكلم عنك بصوت عالي؟.. اللي يقول يا عم السود دول ريحتهم بتكون وحشة قوي مش عارف بيعملوا إيه في نفسهم عشان تكون ريحتهم كده.. اللى أعرفه إن الناس بتعمل حاجات عشان تبقى ريحتهم حلوة، مش يعملوها عشان تبقى ريحتهم وحشة.. و اللي يقول يا عم السود كلهم مسيحين.. أي والله كلهم.. واللي يقولك سودا قوي ؟!!.. و إذ فجأتن يجيلك تليفون و تتكلم ” عادي ” زي ما البشر بتتكلم، و تلاقي الناس كلها اتخرست فجأة.. و مش طالعلهم حس، لأنهم طبعا كانوا متخيلين إني من بلاد الهنولولو و مش بتكلم عربي “عادي” يعني زيهم..

Have you tried standing in the metro before and all the people are talking about you loudly? One says “Hey man these blacks their smell is always very bad and I don’t know what they are doing to themselves for them to smell like that… I know that the people do things to improve their smell, but they don’t do things to make themselves smell bad…” Another one says “Hey man all blacks are Christians… I swear all of them!” Another one says to you “You are very black!” Then… suddenly the telephone rings, speaking “normal” and like a human, I speak.  I find that everybody is suddenly silent and not one of them continues to talk because, of course, they all imagined that I am from the country of Honolulu and I don’t speak “normal” Arabic like them…

هاقولكم الخاتومة بقى.. أنا مرة كنت راكبة المترو و قاعدة جنب الشباك.. اذ أفوجأ بتفة عظيمة نازلة على قورتي من ناحية اليمين فوق حواجبي.. هل ممكن أي مواطن ” عادي ” يتعرض للموقف ده من لا شئ؟.. يا سيدي صلي ع النبي كده ف سرك .. و لما تشوف حد إسود_ أو أحمر حتى_بيحصل له أي حاجة من دي.. ابقى اتفرج زي عادتك و إفتكرني.

I’ll end all this with the time that I was once riding the metro and sitting next to the window and a huge spit fell on my right side of my forehead above my eyebrows… Really, ask yourselves, is it possible for any “normal” citizen to find themselves in this situation from nothing? Everyone, pray to the Prophet quietly when you see a black or dark person when any of these things happen to him then watch your own behavior and remember me.

*Ali describes herself as a Nubian from Sudan and an Egyptian-Sudanese. Her original blog can be found here.