Sexual Harassment

This should be addressed.  I don't actually have a lot of problems with harassment.  Thanks to my short hair and androgynous style of dress, most Egyptians on the street don't know what to do with me, so they just leave me alone.  I also tend to zone out, so it's very possible I've just missed a lot of whatever is being directed at me.  But this last week my good American gal friend left Egypt after a ten week stay.  We were out in Islamic Cairo doing the Khan, and on our walk back to the metro she had her butt grabbed TWICE by complete strangers walking by in the crowd.  We had discussed cat calls and such before, but never had either of us been groped.  The worst part about this is that my friend was just three days from leaving Cairo without a physical incident.  I was so angry.  I had wanted her to come here, her enjoy herself, leave, and exist as living proof that not everyone is assaulted in Cairo.  I feel like my emotional investment into her avoidance of groping shows a larger problem.  Before she left, my friend said she understood why so many Egyptian women just don't go out here and live "sheltered-lives;" it's self-defense.

When I lived in here in high school, I watched the behaviors of men on the street degrade on the American high school girls with which I studied.  Some became withdrawn, and like some Egyptian women, and didn't want to go out to public places without a protective group.  Some became flustered, frustrated, and jilted to the point of wanting to leave.  I saw what looked like the beginnings of some emotional and psychological damage to a few of the girls.  The stares, and shouts, and grabs wear you down, so do don't only feel less, but you are forced to be less.  It made me mad then, and I am still mad now.  There are so many fantastic things about the culture and the people here in Egypt.  This harassment just doesn't fit into the Egyptian values I've learned.  I am mad, a girl on facebook who wrote this note is mad, and everyone else Egyptians, foreigners, men, and women alike should be mad.

And though this article about coping mechanisms is helpful, it is so sad that it has to exist.

If I wear the wrong shirt or I am watching around gawking like a lost tourist, sometimes I'll be called at, but generally I am only an observer.  So, I want to make a point of speaking to the other observers during the rest of my time here: the other men on the street.  The majority of men on any particular street are not groping you or cat calling you.  It's just the one that ruins your day, the group of shabeb that hang out on the corner, or in the worst cases a guy every block.  But there are so many people not bothering you.  I would assume that the quiet people know that harassing is not the right thing to do.  I also assume they have friend who (even if they know its wrong) ARE cat calling and groping.  How can they watch this happening and not be disgusted?  If there is societal stigma from peers and equals of harassers, harassment will decrease.  The trick is convincing observer men to confront those actively harassing.

It's hard because when a girl brings up harassment to a guy, foreign or Egyptian, the initial response is a.) It can't really be that bad? or b.) so your asking me to defend you?  Yes, for many it can be that bad, and NO.  Women depending on defenders to function in the public sphere worsens the situation.  We need men to know just  how much of a problem harassment is, for all women in Egypt, and make it clear to their fellows that harassment isn't acceptable or cool.  Not just on behalf of the one female friend or sister they are defending, but for the sake of basic human decency.

So this is my task for myself, so convince my guy friends to actively disapprove of harassment.  But I have faced another barrier very often when trying to communicate these issues.  I encourage any comments that help me to deal with this response: "It's an upbringing issue."  In other words, those who harass were not brought up right, or in other words they come from bad areas, or in other words they are poor.  How do you deal with harassment when it is blamed on the socio-economic divide? 

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