Tag Archives: sexual harrassment

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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It’s Good to be an Otta

If you’re a male reading this, you’re probably going to hate me for making the following statement.

As a girl living in Egypt, I pretty much get away with murder. You know it, I know it, every policeman on the street knows it. It can’t be a coincidence that in all my years of driving, I’ve had my license revoked just once, despite driving like, as my father puts it, “a Microbus driver on crack.”

I also think it may be related to the fact that I have boobs, while policemen don’t (as far as I know), which gives me an unfair advantage in many situations.

Not that the boobs need to be shown off to get my way: it’s enough to smile, play with the hair, act shocked that the sign you’re parked under actually means No Parking, while showing  remorse and intent to never break a red light again. A fiver doesn’t hurt either.

And since most Egyptian men believe that women are terrible drivers, I’ve decided to exploit that stereotype: see, the fact that I’m a woman and my car license plate is Alexandrian means that I can pull the idiot woman driver/lost card, and policemen will just roll their eyes and let me go every single time.

Example 1:

I’m driving on the Moneeb Bridge towards Maadi at night while talking on the phone. I see the police check point coming up and a Zabet flagging me down. I stop, wind down my window, and smile sweetly while still clutching my phone to my ear.

“Ya madam,” he starts, “You do know that you can’t talk on the phone while driving? You saw me from far away, you knew I was going to stop you, couldn’t you at least have hidden your phone from me?”

Pause. Brainwave.

“I’m so sorry ya hadret el Zabet,” I squeaked while still, get this, holding onto my phone. “I’m lost and trying to get to Maadi,  so I was calling my friend for directions. I’m not from here; I’m from Alexandria, just look at my license plates, ah wallahi.

Pause.

“Where in Alexandria are you from?”

I tried not to roll my eyes (Cairenes think that Alexandria has districts like Imbaba and Heliopolis, when we’re pretty much the size of a sardine box with a total of three main streets), and I say, “From Mahatet El Raml, hadretak.

Zabet’s face changes completely.

“You’re from Mahetet El-Raml? I’m from Roushdy! What a coincidence! That practically makes us neighbors! Ahlan Wasahlan Ahlan! Ok, go ahead take first right then go straight-”

Example 2:

I once got stopped at the Maadi entrance checkpoint at 2AM.  Policeman made the mistake of letting the car in front of me pass and stopping me instead.

“Why did you stop me and not the car in the front of me?” I whined, “Is it because I’m a girl? It’s not correct of you to stop a young woman alone in her car at such a late hour, haram 3aleek, this is not kind; would you want this to happen to your sister or your mother? Would you?”

Policeman rolled eyes, let me through.

Example 3:

“I’m sorry, officer, I had no idea this was an illegal U-turn. Wait, there’s a sign saying so? I don’t know how to read signs! Is this Zamalek? It’s not? It’s Heliopolis? How do I get to Zamalek please?”

Smile.

Example 4:

Radar checkpoint on the Cairo-Alex Desert Road.

Ya madam, you were speeding.”

“Really? I was?”  Pout.

“Really.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, madam, I am the radar.”

“Oh dear, was it very bad?”

Policeman falters slightly.

“No it wasn’t that bad, it was 105. Speed limit is 100.”

“Oh dear, and I was so sure I was driving at 100.”

“Well you weren’t.”

Smile. “I’m so sorry; I won’t ever speed again. Ha’ak 3aleya.”

Policeman sighs and gives up.

“Fine, just be careful next time.”

And it’s not just policemen. I charmed my way through my driver’s license exam (even though I drove over my examining officer’s foot twice-but that’s another story), into two jobs that I was completely unqualified for (including one where I couldn’t even speak the language), and I have never had my luggage checked at the Cairo Airport Customs- well, except for one time where the bag was bursting with new clothes but I’d left a pile of dirty underwear on top, which freaked the officer out and he quickly rushed me through. Interestingly enough, my bags have never been checked since.)

Yet, while I enjoy exploiting my feminine wiles to escape the occasional parking ticket, I do it with a clear conscience because I know that I live in a country where my rights as a woman are not necessarily respected or protected.

Rising poverty and unemployment rates are leading to higher crime levels all around Egypt, and violence against women seems to be becoming more frequent and more brutal. Every day I read about women being kidnapped off public transportation, gang-raped in broad day light, thrown off balconies, beaten to death, burnt with gasoline, hanged, hacked into pieces.

In last July alone, 500 cases of sexual molestation, 8 cases of rape and 19 murders were reported.

Sexual harassment itself seems to be a rite of passage for every woman on the streets of Egypt: a recent study found that 83 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed or assaulted at some point in their lives.

It’s not much safer at home:  a separate study found that 61.3% of Egyptian men admit to beating their wives.

Justice rarely seems to be served in a judicial system that recognizes honor killings and gives minimal sentences to murderers and rapists:  a man and his son in Beheira were given one year in jail last September for murdering the man’s 16-year old daughter, who had allegedly disgraced her family with her bad reputation. The men got off easy because the judge agreed with their defense that the 16-year-old’s ‘bad reputation’ justified her murder.

So yeah, I may get away with a lot of things, but unfortunately all too often, men actually get away with murder here.

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