Saturday, April 17, 2010

Struggling with Sexual Harassment by Egyptian Men

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Ironically, before I went outside today, I was determined to write another 'Things I've Learned..." post about the dangers of all/none statements that can lead to prejudice. I wanted to reflect on 2 young, Egyptian men I'd met at AUC and their struggles with love in a Muslim country. One had spent his life in boarding schools and is now agnostic and the other is a Christian who had grown up in Bahrain. Both were well traveled, sweet, sensitive, and complete gentlemen with heartbreaking love stories. I wanted to highlight their stories as a breath of fresh air to contrast the negative way I've discussed my interactions with Egyptian men. I have been struggling with my own growing aversion to Egyptian men and trying not to assume they were all walking monuments to depravity. Therefore, the post was going to be a reminder to myself that one can never generalize all or none of any group. Then I went outside and met the average Egyptian men and now that other post AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN...


I threw on my usual Cairo uniform of wrinkled t-shirt and jeans to go grocery shopping today. As I walked back from the fruit stand 2 blocks from my apartment, I noticed two teenage boys following me. One kept walking behind me and trying to whisper perversion into my ear. When that failed, he walked a couple paces ahead of me and kept looking back while the other walked behind me. In no mood to be bothered, I tried my usual techniques for avoiding street harassers 1) I slowed down and 2) walked over to a cop. The guys walked off quickly so I took the oppurtunity to cross the street and continue home. Out of nowhere, the 2 crossed over to me and began making lewd gestures. Nearing my apartment, 3) I walked into a store and pretended to admire scarves s that they wouldn't know where I live. Usually, most men would get bored and walk off by then but these 2 lingered outside. 


I was running out of patience with them so I walked outside again , quickening my step. When one approached me and tried to reach for me, 4) I yelled loudly in English and flayed my arms for him to go away. He was momentarily surprised and confused so I hurried to my apartment building. To my dismay, he tried to follow me into the building! At this point, I flipped out, cursed him out, and shoved him back out the door. He had the nerve to raise his hand as if to slap me! Prepared to murder him in broad daylight if he dared, I stared him down until he lowered his arm and walked back outside.


Quite frankly, I find it hard not to completely despise Egyptian men right now. The constant sexual harassment, disrespect, and lack of regard for a woman's most basic right to walk from Point A to Point B in peace is disgusting. Unlike in other countries where a man will occasionally pull up in his car and flirt, someone will gawk at you or try to touch your hair, or a woman will have to endure a few amusing marriage proposals, harrasment in Egypt is ceaseless, viscous, and psychologically draining. In a report by Reuters, 2/3 of Egyptian men admited to sexually harassing men. The forms of harassment reported by Egyptian men include touching or ogling women, shouting sexually explicit remarks, and exposing their genitals to women. Contrary to popular belief, this BBC interview highlights that  it has nothing to do with what a woman is wearing. Even women in full burqas and niqabs are sexually harassed. In my observation, harassment seems to be a means of inflicting discomfort in order to assert some form of power over a woman. The many shiftless,unemployed and sexually repressed young men are bothered by seeing most women moving about in public with a purpose to their step and money in their pockets. Harrasment is a way to ensure that a woman "knows her proper place" in society.


Reuter also said that 83 percent of Egyptian women reported having been sexually harassed. Nearly half of women said the abuse occurred daily.  98 percent of foreign women saying they had experienced harassment in the country...The survey said most of the Egyptian women who told of being harassed said they were dressed conservatively, with the majority wearing the Islamic headscarf. The Egyptian government has half-heartedly tried to adress this widespread issue but nothing concrete has come out of their efforts.The harassment is to the degree that, the one time I went outside and no one was in the street to sexually harass me, I was genuinely taken aback! My roommates and I almost ran outside and played and skipped in the street with joy! None of us could figure out what was going on. It was right after Passover and Easter...Had God struck down all the first born sons again?! The next day, my instructor informed me that the day before was Sham El-Nisem and most Egyptians were at the park with their families.


While sexual harrasment seems harmless on the outside, it leads to a break down of the moral fabric of society. It's a bit hypocritical to impose a way of dress on women based on Islamic views of modesty when men whip out their penises to the first blonde that walks by. The objectification of women in public is also perpetuated by the next generation of young boys. I've seen boys as young as 10 make perverted grinding motions to women walking by (gee, I wonder where they learned that?!) and call them things that no little boy should ever repeat. Furthermore, what begins as lewd gestures can quickly turn into violence against women. Most importantly, it serves to further silence women in the Middle East and push them back into the shadows. Although, there are arbitrary penalties for harrasment, only 2.6 percent of women report it to the police. In actuality, sometimes it's the police doing the harassing, making it difficult to find someone to speak to. Once, a woman does report harassment, she must then endure a long legal process in the slight hopes that something is actually done. 


I've found myself completely avoiding lower-class Egyptian men. There is an internal debate going on inside me where one side continues to warn me against the dangers of blanket generalization and stereotyping groups and the other side bluntly points out that I get sexually harassed, have lewd and/or racist comments and gestures made towards me, or someone tries to touch me inappropriately everyday and if I'm not on guard, I may get seriously hurt one day. Thus, my survival instincts are winning out at this point and I view all Egyptian men in the street with suspicion and disgust.  I'm determined to be a part of that 2.6% that reports each and every pervert from now on even if nothing comes out of it. Sexual harrasment in Egypt goes beyond just an annoyance, it's a violation of your most basic rights, personal space and safety. 

21 comments:

mina said...

If sexual harassment was the only thing I had to deal with in Egypt, I may have had a slightly better time in Cairo. Because we were there for such a short amount of time and I was with Alex, it wasn't THAT bad (by Egyptian standards, but Western standards I would have called the police over what some of the men had done). However, what I find even more appalling is that many Egyptians we met were liars and thieves. I have no idea how that society functions.

nodebtworldtravel.com said...

I was with a tour group in 07 that went to Giza and was surprised that the guards with guns were making comments to a fellow tour member's wife. I thought it was an isolated incident but now see it is much more systemic than that.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you are going through this (great blog btw).

I've never been to Egypt, but Have experienced street harrassment in Morocco (which imho might just be second-runner up next to Masr) as well as in the geographical Middle East.

It's debilitating at times, but there are little things to do to curb it a bit. Have you tried walking outside with sunglasses and/or headphones?

I found that harassers are usually trying to get a raise out of you, and once they realize that you are completely oblivious they let up (sometimes).

at any rate, I hope it gets better

Frenchie said...

Thanks for the support guys, I do appreciate it. I actually have taken to walking down the street with shades and headphones blaring- something I've very unaccustomed to doing- in order to tune out the men and appear as unapproachable as possible. It's when the men follow me or try to get physical that I feel they cross the line and endanger my public safety. The police usually harass women alongside everyone else. There seems to be no respect for women! It's also a shame pepper spray is illegal here... Maybe the government had the foresight to realize most of the nation would be blind it it were allowed.

Anonymous said...

I am appalled by what you have to live with while in Cairo. I had read about sexism but this has totally taken Egypt off my wish list.

Defending yourself in an effective way that caused any harm to your attacker could heighten the problem making you a target for retaliation by all men in your neighbourhood. Being unapproachable as possible and having the glare down (like you do) seems like the best approach.

Matt said...

Well you have just settled it. Jen is never going to Egypt on her own, ever! Over my dead body. That blows France and I am sorry that you have to put up with it.

I was reading your comments and I was thinking about this David Sedaris story that he wrote about riding in a cap with a middle eastern driver. The driver, after determining that Sedaris was wealthy and educated, immediately asked him how often he had sex and started to brag about all of his sexual exploits. The guy was really graphic and started demeaning Sedaris for not having sex more. Sedaris ended up going off on the guy but then thinking about it more and came to the same realization that you did, that the driver was over compensating for the fact that he wasn't educated, or powerful, or wealthy. But even if he wasn't all those things, at least he still had women and that's where he got his meaning. Sounds like a lot of the people you are talking about are in the same boat as the cab driver. Doesn't excuse it, but I wonder if greater economic equality in the country would alleviate some of that need to assert oneself sexually like they currently seem to do?

Frenchie said...

Matt, World Vision Report did a segment discussing how Egyptian men were increasingly finding themselves too poor to marry http://www.worldvisionreport.org/Find-Stories/Week-of-February-13-2010/Too-Poor-to-Marry

Although economic inequality is a factor in why men here are prone to sexual harrasment, I don't think solely alleviating some of the economic inequalities would solve the problem. There are plenty of poorer countries where women do not face sexual harassment at such an alarming rate. Adversely, there are wealthier societies like Japan's where men are also sexually repressed and harassment is an issue, albeit not to this degree.

Without thorough research on Egyptian society and family structure, I couldn't even begin to speculate as to where this moral decay begins to occur and how one could fully address it beyond strictly enforced laws against harassment. One thing that is very clear is that as long as men are not taught to value women as equals and women do not assert themselves and fight for their most basic human rights, sexual harassment will continue to be a social problem of huge proportion.

ps-I wouldn't advise Jen or any woman to come to Cairo unless she had a security detail

Asian Keng said...

So while I realize there are a lot of political and sociological and whatnot views to be taken from this post, and yes it was horrifying (btw, are tasers illegal? cause if not I will totally mail you one), I just had to giggle at the "prepared to murder him in broad daylight" part because of all the girls I know, you are the one I would entrust the most to show those sleazy Egyptians who's boss; conversely you are also probably the one who would end up in international headlines for having murdered a slimy Egyptian man while studying abroad.

Still sucks though. :(

Frenchie said...

Pepper spray is illegal in Egypt (so I'd assume tasers are also) but sexual harassment is perfectly fine smh. I've heard of some foreign women bringing it and using it anyway but that can lead to more issues.

LOL, I really was about to create an international incident...

Fly Brother said...

Frenchie, what do the two Egyptian guys you've befriended have to say about the harassment?

Baher said...

Well!!! Sexual harassment is,indeed, prevailing in Cairo and other major cities; however, it is not as prevalent in small town such as the one I came from (Dakhla oasis)! both major cities and small ones,however, share the same feature of sexually frustrated men and women. the major different factors here are 1) Education 2)morals gained from upbringing! The majority of harasser (at least in cairo) are poor men with very bad education if at all! they have been brought up in poor families that stemmed from a long descent of poor families! Parents in such families already have very distorted morality and almost no education! so the basic foundation of morality, ethics, and disciplined behavior is not present in the very core of the family. In addition to the economic frustration there is sexual frustration. Those guys cannt marry since they cannot afford having a family. with time he starts seeing women as sexual objects and this is when harassment begins. so those guys have no idea wt women's rights are or even how women should be treated because most probably his father used to beat his mother and sisters and abuse them! One of them told me that they lived in an apartment that had only one room and a hall and he used to listen to his parents having sex!!!

Personally, I rarely witnessed well educated men harassing women, at leas in my home town! Most harassers do not have a purpose of a goal of harassing! when they do that they do not have an objective to achieve. The real danger is the normal evolution of harassment! in the past few years there have been many incidents of rape in Egypt!!!! harassment became unsatisfactory any more for them!!! the penalty for rape in Egypt is Death! that is why is it somewhat controlled! However, i dont think that passing laws is the solution for the problem, it can indeed decrease the rate of it, but it doesnt solve it! I believe the economic status and education are the two main players in this issue! I have no clue how they can improve the economy here! and kids should be sent to school for education at the first place; simultaneous women's rights should be a major part in the curriculum!!!

I hope my insights are useful!

P.S: very little percent of women report sexual harassment because the blame is always shifted on them! also, they get viewed badly in the society!!! i am sorry, it is as bad as this!!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry you have to go through this but it highlights the importance of educating men and of changing behavior

Daniela said...

I went to Egypt with an open mind. I had traveled alone around the world, so I thought that it could be prejudices, but I have to admit that after visiting over 60 countries, I have never been as harrased as I was in Egypt. Not matter how low profile you are, Egyptian men dont seem to care. All my Egyptian friends (also educated in the west) are such kind, and respectful (and men such gentlemen), I was in shock. I wouldnt recommend a woman to travel alone in Egypt, but if she does, I will recommend her to be ready to "attack", at this that's what I did. Every time a man followed me, I confronted him, and those who tried to touch me, I kicked them back. They were so shock at my reaction, they ran away ;)

Anonymous said...

While I was in Cairo, I got stares like crazy. There was a cop that scared me. The looks he gave me was unreal. I was dumb to wear a baseball hat. My Egyptian friend told me girls in Egypt don't wear baseball hats.

Shrilaraune said...

I know violence is wrong and all...but I would have whooped that little boy. Seriously. Is this the sort of thing I'll have to look forward to in Egypt? Joy.

Frenchie said...

Shrilaraune,

Avoid places like Downtown, Islamic cairo, Ain Shems unless you can drag some Egyptian male friends along with you. Best advice I've ever received here.

Anonymous said...

guys that is not fair u may object but surely deep inside of all of u, u had enjoyed sex with egyptian men, if not only thats what u came for. any way sexual harassment is universal and its a healthy sing of man kind and as long as there is men and women there will be sex and if u listen to the guys that talk freely about how much they enjoyed sex u would realize what i men. any way egyptian men r still healthy and fleshy hairy with out aids too, so all u can do is relax and enjoy it or stay out of the kitchen if u dont like to be hot

Shrilaraune said...

I am so offended I don't even know where to begin. I think I can speak for most women in saying that we did not come to Cairo to have sex with Egyptian men. I would also like to advise that you employ the services of a dictionary, because clearly you do not understand the nature of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is not the result of being a "healthy, viral" man as you seem to want to believe. Sexual harassment isn't even the well oiled attempt of a sleazy man to pick up a woman (though if often does come in this pacakge). It is the result of ignorance and the belief that women are not more than chattel to be used for breeding and other dubious pleasures. It is appalling and belittling. No one here is condemning sex, but excuse me if I will not deign to "get out of the kitchen" that is Egypt just because some uneducated boar of a man can't keep his trousers in order. If you furthermore believe that just because a man is "fleshy hairy without aids" he "deserves" some action, or even deserves to be allowed treat women in the way the men we have been complaining about have, then I suggest you reread every single one of these posts. Listen to us women who talk freely about how much we despise this treatment; then you will realize what I mean.

Swoon said...

I'd rather have sex with a Klansmen.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding politically incorrect to be euphemistic or offensive to be blunt, I am not sure education and economics will solve the problem although these two things would help. I think that religion-more to the point- a "certain brand of religion"- plays a factor here. Along with sexism. I do not say this to single out/bash Islam(since this applies to other faiths "both Abrahamic" and "non-Abrahamic") although I think that it being male-centered and tradition-oriented plays a factor in what you encounter!More to the point though,there seems to be a correlation between IDK "overt" theocentric/religious-centered "male-centric" entrenched class/caste-based societies with a conservative-fundamentalist slant, and serious sexual harrassment. I am sure this is a generalization but this is my observation.

Anonymous said...

أريد أن أتحدث عن اتهامات البعض، وعن التحرشات غير المقبولة..! ** فقدان الشهامة ** طرحت سؤالا ذات مرة على آخرين مدفوعا بإحساسي عن أحداث التحرشات الجنسية الأخيرة بوسط البلد، كان السؤال: هل يختلف رد فعلك إذا ما شاهدت فتاة يتم معاكستها يبدو عليها مظاهر الوقار عن مشاهدة أخرى يتم معاكستها وهي تعلوها مظاهر الابتذال..؟ جاء الرد منطقيا – نوعا ما – فقد قال لي البعض أنه ليس لديه استعداد أن يضرب بمطواة أو أن يدخل معركة خاسرة من أجل فتاة ستتركه (يتمرمط) وهي سعيدة بأزيائها المثيرة أو بمشيتها المبتذلة، وأن الوضع قد يختلف في حالة إذا ما شعر أن الفتاة لم يكن لها أي دور في الإيحاء للشاب بأنها Available . قد يكون الأمر غريبا … فكيف يتم تحديد حالة الفتاة إذا ما كانت مبتذلة أو حتى داعرة، أو إن كانت ابنة ناس عاديين…؟؟ السؤال الأخير يعبر عن أزمة ثقة حقيقية في العلاقة بين الشباب والفتيات، وهو ما يؤكده بعض أحاديث سمعتها من بعض الشباب عن قلقه مما يراه من ابتذال بعض الفتيات من حوله، وإحساسه بالقلق من أن تكون زوجة المستقبل حملا عليه، أو أن يكون ماضيه أفضل من ماضيها في الاستقامة . لدي صديق قديم انقطعت الصلات بيننا كان يقول أنه لن يقيم إي علاقة – مبتذلة – مع فتاة حتى يهيئ له الله زوجة على نفس القدر من استقامته . ما قد يراه البعض فقدان لشهامة الرجل تجاه الأنثى المعتدي عليها -بالنظر أو باليد- له جذوره في انعدام الثقة و فقدان المعايير التي تقييم حالة الضحية. ** تحرش غير مباشر ** هل الرجل فقط هو الذي يتحرش..؟ قرأت منذ أيام خبرا عن رجل في أمريكا نال تعويضا من عمله بسبب تحرشات مديرته به..(!) قد تبدو المسألة صعبة لدينا هنا في بلادنا، لكن ما أظنه– وهناك آخرين منهم فتيات يظنون مثلي – أن هناك فتيات يتحرشن بالشباب.. كيف..؟!! لو كتبت هنا عن تحرشات من فتيات لشباب، أو لو كتب أحد الشباب أن فتاة ابتذلت معه أو احتكت به، قد يتهم بأنه مريض بالبارانوايا، عموما.. تلك الأمور ليست في حاجة أن يتحدث عنها الشباب، لأن الشاب ليس لديه ما يخسره، بل قد يستجيب لتلك التحرشات أو الابتذال. ما أريد أن أتحدث عنه أن هناك تحرش مبدئي، قد يبدو في الملابس، فلا أعتقد أن فتاة اتخذت من السبل ما يوفر لها أن تبدو عامرة الصدر، أو مكتنزة الأرداف، أنها لا تتحرش بأعين الآخرين– حتى وإن لم تتحرش بأحدهم بالقول أو الفعل – فهي تتحرش بأعين الشباب الذي تمت برمجته عصبيا ونفسيا – عبر وسائل الإعلام- على أن صدر المرأة هو أهم ما فيها… (ملحوظة ومثال: هناك إعلان سخيف على ميلودي أفلام، يستعين فيه رجل ميلودي الأصفر محارب الملل بفتاة ميلودي، وعندما يقع في مأزق مع أحد الشباب الأقوياء، تقوم فتاة ميلودي مشكورة بهز صدرها مع حركتها كي تلفت نظر الشاب القوي الذي يضربه بعدها فتى ميلودي الأصفر بعد ذلك، الإعلان أصابني بالاشمئزاز، حتى وان كانت بطلته غير مصرية كما اقترح أحدهم) . عموما… احتقار فكرة التحرش غير مباشر بأعين الرجال، أمر يستحق إعادة التفكير، فأنا أؤمن به، حتى وإن بررت إحداهن ذلك بأنها ترتدي أزياء عادية . ** تحرش مرضي عنه (=ابتذال) ** أما التحرش المرضي عنه، فهو ما أشرت له عرضيا في السابق، خصوصا ما قد يتم بين أجواء الطلبة، وأحيانا ما يتم في أجواء أمنة، على أساس أن الشاب والشابة Couple ومن حق الفتاة أن تداعب صديقها أو صاحبها أو فتاها أو ……… أرى في هذا تحرش مباشر، ويحدث من شباب، وقد يحدث من فتيات. من لايصدق هذا فهو حر، لكني شاهدت مثل تلك الأجواء، فتاة تلعب مع شاب لعبة سخيفة، وتتم تحرشات بها غير معلنة، فيقوم آخر مستأذنا ليأخذ نصيبه من الفتاة …! قولوا لي الآن.. أليس هناك من يسيء إلى صورة الفتاة، وهن فتيات…؟ إننا نتحدث عن شكل علاقة بين شاب وفتاة في هذا المجتمع المسكين.. وبعض الفتيات المبتذلات أو المتحرشات سواء بصورة مباشرة أو غير مباشرة، يمثلن اهانة لشكل تلك العلاقة وإعادة برمجتها من جديد . سأقول ما يكرره غيري عن الفتاة المصرية أنها في الغالب فتاة محترمة وواضحة وشديدة الطيبة، وأنا أؤمن بهذا . لكن هناك ما يحدث بيننا ونسكت عنه، أو قد نشارك فيه حتى أصبح موجودا وتنتج عنه مآسي، تظلم فيها بريئات…. وللأسف أن البريئات هن أغلب من يقع في الكوارث. ** مشاهد من مدينتي (المسكينة القاهرة) ** (1) ** في الميكروباص.. سيدة على مايبدو غير متعلمة، تتأفف من الازدحام الذي تسببه الجامعة، وتذكر أن هذه الجامعة ليس لها فائدة، هما الطلبة دول بيعملوا إيه يعني..؟، حاجة مسخرة، جاءت كلماتها كطعنة في طموحي العلمي، لكن كان يوافقها الرأي نظرات بعض العاملين بجوار الجامعة وسائقي الميكروباصات إلى بعض فتيات الجامعة المبتذلات، على أنهن ملك يمين لبعض الشباب

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