Tag Archives: men

The Overgrown Tomboy

In retrospect, I think I’ve spent half my life defending being a woman, and the other half wishing I wasn’t. Egypt is a patriarchal society, where men call all the shots and have all the fun – well, except when it comes to traffic police. Meanwhile, us women either attempt to fight the status quo and get labeled whores or feminists, or we’re stuck in a Stepford Wives-like nightmare. Yes, I generalize. But Stepford Wives scared the shit out of me.

I’ve envied men ever since the age of six – until then, I was running, climbing trees and playing hide and seek with the boys in my neighbourhood.  Then one day, my mother informed me that it was time to put on the top half of my two-piece swimsuit instead of running around in shorts (I apparently spent the first 2.5 years of my life running around naked in people’s gardens , which makes for very awkward small talk 20 years later when I run into them).

I remember being absolutely indignant at my mother’s request.

‘Why should I?’ I hollered, ‘The other boys don’t wear tops.’

‘You’re not a boy, dear,’ my mother sighed. ‘You’re a girl.’

‘So what? I climb faster than them, and some of them cry like girls.’

It’s true. I remember a whiner called Sherif who would run blubbering to his nanny every time he got hurt while tree climbing. Yes, I was a tree climber and crying boys were sissies.

‘You’re not the same as boys, dear,’ my long-suffering mother tried again.

‘Why? What do they have that I don’t?’

An anatomy book landed on my bed the next day.

My mother tried to hammer into my stubborn head that my body was going to change and I would have to wear tops like all the other girls. I was horrified, and pursued a valiant two-year campaign of running, jumping and climbing things to outrun this garish nightmare. Eventually, the bastard known as puberty hit me, and I was suddenly expected to play with Barbie dolls, nail polish and wear pink frilly things and not climb trees anymore.

Fast-forward twenty something years later, and I still find myself often wishing I was a man, instead of being a gender that is physically, emotionally, and socially prevented from doing everything I want to.

It’s funny to realize that the possession of boobs holds you back more than it helps you. To my male counterparts and my community, my gender is a liability, one that attracts attention and trouble, both for me and for them.  And as a former tomboy, I’ve come up with a practical list of why it sucks to be a female:

–          Can’t pee standing up

–          Can’t pee standing up in groups by the road side

–          Burping is unladylike

–          The word dainty

–          Etiquette

–          Brazilian wax

–          Threading

–         Sexual harassment

–         People who justify sexual harassment

–         Society’s expectation of you producing kids like guinea pigs before you’re thirty

–          Disappointing your parents by not producing kids like guinea pigs before you’re thirty

–          Disappointing your parents by being female (‘I wish I’d had five boys instead of you. They’d have been much easier to handle.’)

–          Not being allowed to joyride a microbus

–           Or to hitchhike

–          As a journalist, not being able to crack into underground men-only worlds of prostitution and drug dealing

–          Underwire bras and high heels (motherfucker who invented them deserves to be eye-gorged)

–          Ladies’ clubs

–          Egyptian weddings

–          Being cajoled into the bouquet catching ceremony at Egyptian weddings

–          3o2balek

–          having periods

–          Nadia El Guindy

–          Women hanging out in the ladies’ room, or even worse, insisting on coming into the stall to keep talking while you pee

–          Self Help Books

–          Talking about Self Help books

–          Thinking Self Help books will actually explain men

–          Having a cat means you’re one step away from Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction

–          The existence of Female Genital Mutilation till today

–          Oprah Winfrey

–          ‘You’re so cute when you’re angry.’

–          Not being able to jog shirtless like Omar Sharif’s grandson

–          Chest bumping is awkward

I could go on but I kind of forgot the point of this list. I like making lists. They make me feel efficient. Sometimes I’ll write things that I’ve already done on the list so that I can cross them off and congratulate myself on being accomplished. [Day One: Get out of bed. Check.]

Honestly, life was so much easier when the measure of my worth was how high I could climb or far I could swim, and not how dignified I behave while politely eating a burger. Note: there is no demure way of eating burgers, watermelon, crabs, mussels, mangoes and spaghetti -my mother once told me: ‘Never eat spaghetti in front of the man you love, dear. The way you eat it, he’ll never love you again.’

And frankly, I do often prefer my male friends’ company to my girlfriends’. Conversations are so much simpler – and often monosyllabic – and do not involve detailed, blow-by-blow accounts of HelookedatmethenIlookedathimthenhesaidtomebutIsaidtohimsohewalkedawaydoeshelovemebutIhatehimletsfacebookstalkhim.

Instead:

Me: Blablablablablablablabla

Male: Uhuh.

Me: Blablablablablablablablablablablabla

Male: Cool.

Me: I’m so glad we talked.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate women nor do I hate being a woman, it’s just that this whole being feminine thing often perplexes me; especially when we spend hours of tweaking, sweating, squeezing and straightening our bodies, faces, clothes and minds to please our other halves who are meanwhile lounging in stained sweats in front of the TV with their feet on the table laughing at Beavis and Butthead.  I mean, I can wear a dress and everything, but I’ve been such a tomboy/klutz my whole life with arms and legs that always get in the way that if you looked at my knees you’d think I was a) a football player b) a mountain climber c) a man.

Let me make another list (yay!) to explain:

–          There’s a photo of me when I was two years old with a black eye. I apparently gave it to myself by punching spoon into face.

–          I have stopped ironing because every time I’d iron, I’d accidentally iron over a finger or into my arm. Hello burn marks.

–          I once dripped burning hot wax onto my leg. I stared at it for a good two minutes (still burning) then reached for a towel. And wiped the floor instead.

–          I can’t slice anything or open a can without cutting into my thumb and bleeding everywhere dramatically

–          I once stuck my hand into a hot toaster to see if it was hot enough, then burnt all the skin off my fingers.

–          I set my fringe on fire after lighting the oven and didn’t notice until the smell of burning hair filled the room minutes later

–          I am the only person I know who was injured by sand after reaching for a Frisbee and scraping all the skin off my leg on the beach. My friends died laughing.

–          My baby toes are permanently disfigured from running into table legs and sharp objects

–          I sat on a glass table. I fell into the glass table.

–          I once bumped into the fridge and apologized. To the fridge.

Once again, I can’t remember the point of this list, but I think what I was trying to write something profound about being a woman, etc. Err. Yeah. I think.

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Filed under Blame The Parents

I’m an Egyptian Woman and I Like Being Sexually Harrassed

I wake up every morning looking forward to getting sexually harassed in Cairo. Because a day gone by without being whistled at like cattle or groped like a melon at a vegetable store is a day unlived in this city. Right?

I even dress according to how often I’d like to get harassed that day. Tight white t-shirt? That’s the number one sign that I’m asking for it. Skinny jeans are obviously worn to highlight my butt so men know what to grab (some short-sighted idiots completely miss and grab my hip instead, which is just plain insulting).

And since I don’t cover my hair, then obviously I know what shit I’m getting myself into by walking on the streets of the city I call home as an equal citizen to the men that lurk on corners, outside shops, dangling from microbuses, waiting happily.

As an Egyptian woman, I completely understand that my purpose in this life is to serve the sexually frustrated imaginations of these poor men who can’t get it up. My father and mother spent years of sweat, tears and hard-earned cash on educating me into an emancipated woman so that one day I become a walking piece of meat on the street. Obviously.

Then I discovered that all the hours I put into my hair and makeup make no difference whatsoever to my sexual predators; I could walk around with my uncombed hair and a gallabeya; hell, I could wear a black tent from head to toe and still, they’d find something sexual about me. Ever heard Egyptian men talk about how erotic the Niqab is? Yeah, apparently there’s nothing you can do or wear to incite harassment.

Just the plain fact that you have boobs and they don’t means you’re up for grabs, literally.

I could spend what’s left of my pea-sized woman’s brain wondering what I did to deserve this friendly male reception, or analyzing why society has continuously objectified us little women into pigeon-holes of either innocent, doe-eyed girls or rampant whores; but I won’t.It takes too much brain power, and me being the weaker sex, I should stick to what I do best, which according to these men, is nothing.

Which is why I should never talk back, or look back, or yell or ask for help; this is my fate, I must accept it. And not even the veil can protect me from my Muslim brothers.

So I play a little game in my head. It’s like walking through a videogame scene, where every man is a potential predator, and I keep my radar finely tuned, my walk fast and dontmesswithme, my eyes scanning every corner for attackers. Over the years, I’ve acquired a Robocop face that occasionally scares the living shit out of small children and animals, and my middle finger is my videogame weapon that I choose to shoot when the moment comes.

But I only keep it for those who really deserve it; I ask myself ‘Is this the worst line I’ve heard all day? Has he managed to completely annihilate my self-esteem?’ If so, then he gets the finger. If not, I just walk on.

And I defy what my well-intentioned mother and many other kind Egyptians have taught me, and I answer back. Why should men  get all the fun?

Him: Bsssst! Bsssssst! Bssssssst!!

Me: Bsssst dee teb2a ommak.

Him: WELKOM TO EEJIPT!

Me: SANK YOU!

Him: Wat Zis? Wat Zis? Wat Zis? WAT ZIS?

Me: Zis is etnayel yala.

Him: Matgeeb Bosa?

Me: Ma3ak Dettol?

Him: Oh MAI GODD!

Me: Ommak Ar3a.

And as fun as it is to talk back, I’m sure I’m not getting the same kick out of it that they are. And I know that it could only make things worse for me, my predator could easily attack me  in broad daylight or get his friends together to follow me like a pack of rabid dogs, and of course it will be my fault because I talked back, when I should ignore it and accept that this is the price you pay for being a woman in Egypt. Right?

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For The Love of Paris

As with most major events or mishaps in my life, I like to blame my mother for my love for Paris. Thanks to her and her iron fist of TV censorship, I spent much of my childhood ogling happy musicals, many of which were about Paris.

There was Gene Kelly in American in Paris (whom I would also like to blame for ruining my taste in men- I will never find a suave tap-dancing painter who can pull off a red necktie while dangling off a lamppost) and Leslie Caron in Gigi, a film that I later on discovered was actually about a woman training her granddaughter to become a ho. A high-class ho, but a ho nonetheless. Why my mother allowed her seven- and five-year-olds to watch Gigi and yet banned Pretty Woman still baffles me to this day. The only difference between Julia and Gigi is, as far as I can see, the hot pants.

So why I never visited the city of lights in all of my twenty seven years remains a mystery to me. Life tends to get in the way of your plans, you find yourself swayed in unexpected directions. Every birthday, I’d promise myself that I’d see Paris that year (I have tens of journal entries to prove it), but then university/jobs/friends/relationships got in the way; and suddenly, twenty years had passed.

When you find yourself living a somewhat conventional life with a sickeningly responsible work ethic (I turned down free trips to Sharm El Sheikh, Beirut, Dubai and Cyprus for the sake of my work duties- did I mention free trips?), you look back on the opportunities you’ve missed out on with regret. And I hate regret. It’s up there on my list with Nabila Ebeid, snakes and fart jokes.

Maybe it’s the gay man inside of me (I love sequins. I improvise cheesy cabaret songs in the kitchen when I cook- I even have an ‘I Love Butter’ sequence- and I once re-enacted the entire Moulin Rouge duet between Ewan Macgregor and Nicole Kidman on a table- singing both roles), maybe it’s my unabated adoration of French gastronomy; but I’ve held onto my idyllic vision of Paris for years, no matter what people warned me about Parisians being rude, arrogant and smelly.

All I could think of was Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy walking the Rive Gauche in Before Sunset, and all I wanted is one photograph of me sipping my café au lait by the river banks, with a necktie elegantly wrapped around my neck (again, I blame Gene for this). And then I can honestly die happy.

By die happy, I mean that every time I get plane fever and think that the plane will crash (which is, um, every time), instead of screaming out ‘I’m too young to die!’ or think of the unborn children/unpublished books/unclimbed mountains/untasted ice cream flavours that I’ve yet to meet, all I can think of is ‘But I haven’t seen Paris yet!’

And then one day, I finally did. A string of mishaps, coincidences and a sudden bout of bravery led me to book my flight to Paris without a map, itinerary or accommodation (until the very last minute) and very, very little money. I didn’t care.  The trip was a beautiful experience, especially because I knew I deserved it.

Why, you ask me?

Let’s say I was part of a business partnership for a few years that I invested all my time, energy and money into. And let’s say that I woke up one day to find that my business partner had frozen my assets, sold my share of the company and left me penniless and stranded in a foreign country with not even a ticket home.

Fast-forward one year later, and I’d worked my shapely butt off to pay off my debts, and when I sold the only remaining asset I’d managed to hang on to, I did exactly what the logical, sensible me wouldn’t have done- and I bought myself a trip to Paris. After all, I earned it.

Every dream, every musical fantasy I’d had about Paris was true.  The city lights do shimmer, the cobblestone paths do wind, and there are buskers on street corners playing Aznavour classics at sunset. The people do roll their eyes and say ‘Ohlalaaa’ as if they’re having an eyegasm, or ‘Coocoo!’ affectionately instead of Hello when they enter a friend’s home. Charming, witty and extremely Mediterranean, they roll their words off their tongue in such an effortless, musical rhythm; that even ‘Pardon me, where’s the train station?’ sounds like the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard. Drool. Pick. Jaw. Off. Pavement.

And yes, the Parisians can be rude, but they’re rude in general about everything; so it’s nothing personal. They’re as grouchy and aggressive as the average Egyptian taxi driver. All you need is a bright smile, a little skin and a flutter of ze eyelids; and they move swiftly from C’est Quoi Ca? to Mais Oui, ma Cherie!

And the food. Don’t get me started on the food. Parisian portions are small but unbelievably tasty; so good that even a random brasserie in the middle of nowhere can serve up a Croque Madam or crepe or a macaroon that’s so delectable; you may lose the will to cook every again. I know I did.

And I don’t care how cheesy or touristy the Eiffel Tower is; seeing it at night made the seven-year-old in me finally happy, and all the mishaps and misdirections over the past few years seemed worth the journey. Maybe my love for Paris all these years has been more of an idyllic dream that kept me going; knowing that one day I’d have my baguette in one hand and my bike in the other as I rode alongside the quai de la rapée at night.

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Filed under Itchy Feet Cause Perpetual Travelling

Shake It, Goose!

Maybe I’m getting older, maybe I’m out of practice, but it seems like the dating scene has changed dramatically in the last four years since I last was out on the prowl.  I figured, hey,  flirting again is just like getting back onto a bike, right? Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, I find Egyptian men completely charming in their shy, Neanderthal flirting ways of picking on my hair/outfit/accent all night long before professing their undying love for me, or my personal favorite, ignoring me for years and then professing their undying love for me.  With all their shortcomings, they easily make up for it with their warm smiles, generous compliments and easy-to-talk-to-ness.

But lately, the flirting seems to have gone from clumsy/cute to downright lawnmower aggressive. Or as one friend referred to it, the Hurricane Katrina Approach: you won’t know what hit you till it’s over.

Exhibit A: Cute guy checks me out at the Jazz Club, although, in hindsight, the fact that he reminded me of one of those Prison Break thugs should have been a warning sign. Cute guy simply comes up and starts dancing with me [Note: This is ok as long as you have rhythm and you don’t  imitate Akon’s Smack That moves].

TWO SECONDS into introducing himself as Zizo (ahem) he asks me where I live. Then he asks if I live alone. Then he suggests he drives me home. Then he suggests he comes home with me.  Call me old-fashioned, but I was hoping to get past the small talk about work/childhood/aspirations in life before receiving the indecent proposal.

Zizo (whose last name was unfortunately not Natana) didn’t seem to take my nervous laughter and polite Nos  as a No, because some idiot somewhere started a rumour that women mean Yes when they say No.

Note to men, If I’m pushing your chest away and shouting “No!”, that pretty much means No. Not much room there for misinterpretation.

Eventually the unfortunately named Zizo backed off and went home alone, but it had me thinking: What exactly is it about me that inspires men to use such sleazy lines? Are they so desperate to pull that they’ll risk getting slapped/kicked/beaten up by someone’s thugly older brother?

No, I don’t have a thugly older brother but that’s besides the point.

Exhibit B: I’m dancing at a Lebanese Club in London, and as luck would have it, I’m surrounded by Egyptian men who are obviously homesick and miss Egyptian curves as much as their mama’s molokheya.  This motivates one guy to come up to me as I dance, clap feverishly and yell what is literally translated into ‘Shake it, Goose!’

Geese smell and have ugly feet. How on earth does that count as a compliment?

Goose boy then proceeds to eavesdrop on my conversation with a friend, and when he hears that I’m from Alexandria, he almost throws himself into my arms and shrieks ‘You’re from Alexandria? Say Ayoo, say Ayoo Please! Please! Say Ayooo!”

We don’t say Ayoo, motherfucker.

Exhibit C: Guy checks me out all night long. I know this because he’s standing right in front of me and staring without blinking. Eventually I have to move to the other side of the bar to avoid his glare. At the end of the night, as I’m pulling on my coat, Eyeballer walks up to me and says “Nice Hair!” and then runs the other way.

Seriously?

Exhibit D: Guy puts out his foot as I walk past, makes me trip in my heels, catches me and says: “Oh Look, I made you fall for me!”

Bleugh.

What Zizo the Unfortunate, Goose-boy, Eyeballer and Bigfoot all have in common are two things-

1. They went from zero to 180 in seconds, far too fast for someone as rusty and shy as me. Don’t laugh. I AM shy.

2. Their lines, while sometimes funny, were just too intimidating. If you make me (or pretty much any woman) feel uncomfortable, you’ve lost your chance. No chat up line should make a woman revise her self-defense routine in her head.

Maybe this is how kids flirt these days, maybe I’m too shy, or maybe our generation is so caught up with the fast pace of life that we’re cutting to the chase in everything we do: deliver instead of cook, BBM/poke instead of call, lols instead of tediously spelling out the frigging words, we’re always rushing. But the beauty of flirting is its lazy pace, which gives us time to check each other out and become physically, emotionally and mentally intrigued. You have to establish some electric connection before reaching for the, ahem, light switch.

The ones who’ve worked their magic on me are those who compliment casually, flirt but not agressively, dance but not rub up against me. And above all, they have to make me laugh.

Note to those of you who download chat-up lines off websites (Yes you, I know you do it), the most fool-proof line that works every single time with me is this:

“Hi, my name is [insert name here].” Smile. “How are you?”

That simple.

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Filed under Dating Jungle