The drop in the ocean, or the drop that wears away the stone? Street Harassment

I have been very conflicted about this topic for a while. Mostly, because I wasn’t sure of how significant it was in comparison to other issues, and whether this significance merited  the amount of feminist responses, initiatives and organisations that have developed over the years (Hollaback, Stop Street Harassment, Pro Change, to name a few).

Obviously, this is a problem that concerns all women, whether cis or trans, femme or butch, coloured of colour or white, or androgynous looking (even “feminine” looking men)… The list goes on. So the many responses are justified by the amount of people involved and interested in them. Clearly, we have a problem here! I guess, my hesitancy can be explained  by a perception of normalcy of the problem, resulting in more or less callous acceptance. Come to think of it, what a terrible way to live!

I am 25 years old. One can rightfully assume that I have been subjected to street harassment for over ten to fifteen years. Needless to say, it has become a part of my every-day life, a constant variable in the way I behave in public. For more than ten years I have been exposed to comments, leering, catcalling and groping, and I have learned to deal with that. I had to. Now, at 25 years old, I have graduated with honours in the art of making myself invisible in public (if I want to), but there are no rewards. The bullying continues, only now I am better at looking away, leaving, pretending to ignore it, but it has never stopped to bother me and it seldomly fails to lead to its most devious effect: I want to make myself smaller, hide inside myself, run away.

Normally, I would consider myself a strong, independent woman. I am an outspoken feminist. I never hide my political convictions. If justified, I talk back to my employers at work. I often call out people for misbehaving or making stupid remarks. And no, I am also not afraid to yell back at catcallers, when I feel safe enough. It makes me feel better about the situation, but there is nothing empowering about it. I still feel angry and humiliated, uncomfortable and exposed, and sadly, my body language in public has incorporated these fears.

On the train, I am often crouched in the corner of the seat, my legs and arms crossed, looking away. I don’t like waiting on the street; if I am early I prefer to go for a walk or “look busy” by playing games on my mobile phone. Hanging around unattended on the street is a surefire way of being approached by someone uncalled-for. I avoid making eye contact with men in public, and I try not to touch them accidentally. When men offer me anything in the street (a product, help) or want to ask me something, my initial reaction is to refuse. Immediately, my heart starts beating faster. When I go outside wearing short dresses or skirts, I prepare myself for unwanted attention.  At night, I change the side of the street in order not to run into approaching groups of men, or I avoid certain areas altogether. In my day to day life, I don’t think about the reasons for this behaviour and I don’t analyze its impact. It’s my life, my naturalized means for navigating public spaces with the least risk potential. It has become what the German blog High on Clichés calls a “second skin”.

Naturally, we all guard ourselves in public. It is the space in which we’re most vulnerable. But do men prepare themselves in this way, at every hour, every single day? (That’s not a rhetorical question; I’d really like to know.) How can it be that mere words can have such a violent impact on large amounts of people, yet there is rarely any backing from the public when incidents of sexual harassment occur (at least that’s my experience)?

The worst thing anyone can say about this issue is: “Men simply can’t help it.” It makes me feel so much more unsafe, having to accept that men are completely volatile predators. Fortunately, I know that this is untrue. Most men actually don’t harass women in the street, the same way as I don’t harass men. It would never occur to them; just like it doesn’t occur to me to yell “nice ass” at a guy with a nice ass. That doesn’t mean men aren’t allowed to look, and can’t enjoy a nice cleavage every once in a while, but there is such a thing as subtlety and simple human decency. It is something we all learn eventually, being social beings and all, some perhaps more so than others. But I believe there is a difference in how men take up public space as a matter of course, whereas women are often in a constant state of tension. I could go into the wider implications of this, but I suppose you all agree that this is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

Nowadays, I feel like I can handle most forms of sexual harassment without being too shaken by it. But just because human beings are able to adapt themselves to most circumstances, it doesn’t mean they’re acceptable. Knowing that this behaviour is wrong and harmful is the first step to generate a culture that refuses to participate and citizens that will stand up to this injustice publicly. That this hasn’t happened yet is an outrage, but at least it’s better to be angry than scared.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, but not without checking out this awesome Street Harassment Bullshit Bingo, created by High on Clichés (translation mine):

original via high on clichés

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25 responses to “The drop in the ocean, or the drop that wears away the stone? Street Harassment

  1. Thanks for the translation! Now I’m totally going to use it on my Soup.^^

  2. (“of colour” ist übrigens meines Wissens nach “coloured” eindeutig vorzuziehen)

    • explain please.

      • Ich glaube, es hat nicht eine ebenso starke negative Konnotation wie “farbig” in deutsch, aber wird als rassistisch eingestuft.

      • Thanks, I’ll try to take it into consideration next time. To be honest, I find both terms a bit problematic (however useful), because they both emphasise a distinction between white and everything else, as though white wasn’t a colour and all non-white people were one big entity. However, I am aware that that’s very “post-racial” thinking.
        Btw, not to discourage you from commenting but I must insist on English because the majority of my readers don’t know German and I wouldn’t want to alienate them.

  3. Henrike and Marcus reached the door to the office simultaneously. Why? Why does life have to be so complicated?

    Marcus was torn by indecision. He wanted to do the right thing. Unfortunately, if he did the right thing he would also be doing the wrong thing, a bit like approaching the door in the first place.

    He steeled himself, reached forward, turned the door handle and pushed the door open. Then he gave Henrike space to proceed ahead of him. He knew that he should go first. But he also knew that he shouldn’t. Worse still, if he did (go first that is) he knew that he would have to self-harm later in the day.

    He needn’t have worried. With a stroke of pure genius, Henrike cut through his dilemma like the proverbial hot knife through butter. She walked past him to enter the room first but as she did so she barged him in the ribs with her right elbow, making a completely unambiguous non-verbal statement. Not only genius but classy.

    Inside, Grissle, one of the three people with whom they shared the office, was already busy. She was just dropping the last of seven paper cups into a grey metal waste paper basket.

    “This is sooooo annoying,” she said.

    “Why do people do this? Why do I have to clear up after them every single day?”

    “Sorry,” said Henrike.

    “Sorry,” said Marcus. “I’ll make sure that it’s on the agenda of the next office strategy meeting.”

    “Well, I would hope so!” said Grissle.

    Marcus took himself over to his desk and sat down. He had a new box of pencils with him. All standard HB. He unlocked the top drawer of his desk, retrieved a shiny steel pencil sharpener and began sharpening the first of the twelve pencils.

    This could be expected to take some time. All twelve pencils would need to be sharpened to perfection. Sharp enough to do real damage, should that ever be necessary, but by the time he was finished each pencil would need to be exactly the same length, from base to point.

    “That is sooooo annoying,” said Grissle.

    “What?” said Henrike.

    “That thing he does with the pencils.”

    “Oh, that,” said Henrike, as though she were indifferent.

    “Anyway, guys, I must love you and leave you,” said Grissle. There’s a new group in town called Femen and I said that I would cover their latest protest.”

    “Really? What’s it about?”

    “Not sure. Bound to be good, though.”

    “Bound to be.”

    “And listen, you two. When you leave the office, lock up after you. Yesterday when I came back from lunch the door was not only unlocked it was ajar.”

    “Ajar and unlocked?”

    “Exactly, and that is soooooo annoying.”

    With that, she grabbed her camouflage jacket and her Louis Vuitton and set off for her encounter with a group of bare breasted Ukrainians.

    Henrike looked across at Marcus. He was still busily sharpening his pencils.

    Then she took the key that was on a leather thong around her neck and unlocked the top drawer of her desk (she sincerely hoped that hot-desking would never become a reality in this office), and withdrew a leather bound notebook.

    She flipped through a few pages and then set about making new entries.

    241 Being allowed to go first through doors.

    242 Paper coffee cups left on desks

    She looked at the entry for a few seconds and then edited it up by adding the word overnight.

    243 Unlocked office door.

    Then she had a thought.

    “Marcus,” could I borrow one of your pencils for a moment?”

    “Why?” he said warily.

    “I need the eraser on the end. Won’t take a minute. Promise.” She did her approximation of a helpless girly smile. It was something that she had been practising in the mirror.

    He handed her a pencil (reluctantly, she thought). She actually had to give it a good hard tug to secure its release from his hand.

    She set about removing the offending full stop on entry 243. And yes, she took her time. And she also rubbed out some imaginary pencil marks.

    She gave Marcus his pencil back and then she added the phrase door left ajar and finished the line with a new (and it has to be said, very impressive) full stop.

    She pretended to be absorbed in thought about the notes that she was making, but out of the corner of her eye she watched Marcus furiously rubbing down the erasers of the other eleven pencils and lining them up to make sure that they were all the same length.

    244 Marcus’s bloody pencils.

    “What are you working on?” asked Marcus.

    “The new EU legislation which addresses unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

    That should shut him up.

    “It’s a bit yesterday, isn’t it?” said Marcus, securing his stack of pencils with a rubber band and then carefully laying them alongside the other bundles in the lower drawer of his desk. (Memo to self, thought Marcus: I must put in for a new desk soon. Something that is actually man enough for the job.)

    Henrike paused before responding.

    245 Being put on the back foot.

    246 Smart arses generally.

    “I don’t know. You can’t ever have enough comment, I always think.”

    She realised that the response lacked spirit but she wasn’t sure where this was going.

    “I’d have thought that you would have been on to climate change by now.”

    “What?”

    “Well, I was thinking about Nicole Kiil-Nielsen.”

    “The French feminist Green MEP?”

    “That’s the one.”

    “Why her?”

    “Well, she reckons that women are disproportionately affected by climate change.”

    “You don’t say.”

    “I do.”

    247 Climate change.

    • Nice story, Marcus. Are you a writer these days?
      I’ll give you a pass this time, but the same that applies to Aphrodite applies to you as well: If you want to write stories, why don’t you just link to your own blog, website etc.? Long texts like this one disrupt the flow of the comments. Other than that I’m not sure what your point is?

      • The phrase ‘these days’ may not be quite accurate. I’m afraid that I don’t have the IT skilsl to create a web site/blog – and anyway, I have a big enough electronic footprint without adding to it.

        Apparently, there are an estimated 7 billion people in the world, with 2 billion online. From what I can make out you’ve had 4 responses from people telling you that they like what you wrote (no text/no effort) and two more responses, including my own. I have to say that I found the other completely unintelligible (but obviously very positive).

        Not much flow to disrupt, I would have thought, and you might be under-estimating the innate editing skills of readers. The one thing that I can promise is that flow-interruption never crossed my mind.

        I have no idea what the Aphrodite Treatment is but something tells me that I wouldn’t like it.

        What was my point?

        Well, let’s start from somewhere else. I often find what you write interesting (especially the piece about Roma women – it got me thinking about some big, local issues).But it doesn’t necessarily lead to a comment. This time it did.

        I wondered whether it would be possible to construct a comment which was dependent on a readers interpretation for its effect (hence the story as a vehicle). It’s maybe too clever by half, but I thought that it was worth a shot. Obviously, it won’t help for me to ‘tell you the point’. That would defeat the object. The best advice I can give is that you sit down with Grissle and a nice bottle of red wine one night and treat it like a literature assignment.

        And now I do feel guilty because our exchange here has been a bit of a side issue. One thing I can promise, though, is that Henrike, Grissle and Marcus will never appear together in (my) print again.

      • Off-topic to Marcus: I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s great that you’re a writer. I had no idea and shouldn’t have assumed otherwise.
        I’m sorry you got confused with my hint at Aphrodite. I meant the other writer who once commented on this blog, Aphrodite Phoenix. You thought I was censoring her, when really I didn’t let one of her comments (stories) through because in internet terms it was 100 pages long. Of course, you’re right that so far there isn’t much flow to disrupt, but I’m just trying to establish the rules right away, so I don’t get accused of preferring some over others later on down the road.
        I’ve had a French commentator before (that’s what happens when you write about Euro topics, I guess) and had to tell him off as well, because I don’t think any real dialogue can happen when people communicate in several different languages. I have chosen to write this blog in English for a reason.
        I like that you comment here, and don’t want to discourage anyone from doing so, but there are some unwritten rules in the blogging world (well, at least in my blogging world) about what makes for a productive discussion.
        Your story was great and don’t assume I didn’t think about it after. But I don’t feel like interpreting other people’s literary creations under my own texts. As I said, this is a blog, not a literary assignment and I want to hear your thoughts unmediated by allegories, as you have done in the past.

        PS: blogging’s not that hard and you certainly don’t need any particular IT-skills. You should give it a try!

  4. hey,

    Thank you for the great post and a summary of everything a woman might think of when get harassed.

    Personally I was not objectified until I moved to Cairo. Here I experience a lot of sexual harassment on the streets. and when I decide to yell back at these men [sometimes I cannot even call them men, but monkeys] they star laughing. Once a group of young men were taking videos of me standing in the metro.

    Here they say it happens because men cannot have sex with women before marriage due to religious reasons and that they get married really late as it is very expensive. But it is not an excuse.

    One of my friends here used her teaser at a man once when he touched her. She beat the crap out of the guy and he did not respond back. But it is a rare example of bravery.

    Back in Budapest where I lived before Cairo I did not experience any sexual harassment, or did not notice.

    Right now I think three times before going out if I really wanna go there and be harassed.

    IT is purely awful I must say

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sure there are regional differences when it comes to street harassment, but I have to say that, sadly, I have experienced it all over the world.

    • Thanks for what is possibly one of the most important blog responses to exist on this topic. Seeing it in my in tray was about as exciting as stumbling across a pot of Anglo-Saxon gold in a newly ploughed field!

      This topic tends to polarise opinion pretty quickly. A reductionist approach might sum it up as follows. On the one hand there are people who say: I simply never see what you are describing. They get pigeon-holed along with holocaust deniers and 9/11 conspiracy theorists (or end up as an entry on a bingo card). On the other hand, there are those who evidence street harassment as a daily event in their lives. They are classified alongside people who believe that aliens abduct humans for medical research and that Barak Obama is a giant lizard cunningly disguised as a man. One group wants to legislate and the other fears that legislation will present women with an opportunity to criminalise men who look at them funny.

      Here we have a woman who has experienced significant harassment in one place and none in another. She hasn’t experienced a little harassment in Budapest, or occasional harassment, or once; it just doesn’t happen.

      Of course, neither she, nor I, nor anyone else (I hope) will automatically conclude that Hungary is a harassment-free zone. But it does illuminate the problem associated with blanket statements about male behaviour. Unfortunately, feminists tend to be selective. Thanks and thanks again, Masha, for telling it like it is in such a bold and unambiguous way.

      As for her take on the Egyptian male, I think she’s got it about right. However, in order to round out the story we might also add that these blokes are getting some mixed messages. A lot of women who visit Egypt are there to experience the pyramids, the temples and the donkey sanctuaries. Equally, a lot of European women are there as sex tourists. These guys are culturally backward when it comes to political correctness, but on top of that experience has literally taught them that a lot of European women are actually up for it. In making these observations, I’m not justifying or ‘making excuses’ or trying to apply a moral filter, I really am just rounding out the story.

      I have to thank Masha for something else while I’m here, although I’m obviously risking a serious water boarding.

      If someone had asked me a couple of days ago if I actually knew what it was like to be sexually harassed in the street I would have said no (of course not).

      However, as soon as I saw the word Cairo that changed.

      Until recently, I had a job which allowed me to work for a month, travel for a month, do nothing for a month and then return to work (nice work if you can get it). I decided to invest heavily in an Egyptian experience.

      Just as Egyptian males assume that women on their own or groups of women unaccompanied by males are potential sexual partners, they also assume that men on their own are looking for encounters with other men. The result of this was that I could reckon on being propositioned a dozen times a day easily. After a time it become seriously wearing (yup, water dripping on the rock stuff).

      It would make me angry.

      So what?

      Well, from what I can make out, the primary response of women in this situation is fear (even though statistics suggest that fear isn’t a rational response) – but facts are facts.

      What it did to me was make me angry. It made me angry that they wouldn’t take no for an answer. If I politely explained that I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend they responded as though I was simply being coy. Infuriating! That was doubly infuriating because they weren’t playing the game to my rules. I had been polite and they had trampled all over my politeness.

      Worse, however, was that they had made a false assumption about me as a person. And that made me really (really!) angry. I wish that I had thought of that taser stuff for myself!

      So what do we have so far? Woman harassed in Egypt and it’s at the forefront of her memory bank. Male harassed in Egypt and the memory of the experience is buried deep (as in too trivial to merit a place near the front). Equally, I never once considered campaigning for anti-harassment legislation to cover this particular stain on my life. Instead, I dealt with it.

      First, I knew when to expect it (to be forewarned is to be forearmed). Secondly, I found that the more Arabic that I learnt and then used to say no thanks, the quicker the guys tended to back off (you can assume that I am fluent when it comes to foul language and homophobic rhetoric in Arabic). I also learned to control the anger. Broadly speaking, I schooled myself to say that, actually, this isn’t worth getting angry about. Instead of seeing these guys as a nuisance, I started to see them as clowns with entertainment value.

      It seems to me, however, that there are a lot of people who want women to be afraid (and angry). And they fan the flames of (a number of) fires which achieve that. And this topic is just one of the fires.

      And no, Henrike, I’m not accusing you of fanning the flames. Promise.

      • Thanks for sharing your own experience. A few things:
        1. It’s not a black and white issue. There are people (like myself) who are anti street harassment without advocating any particular legislation for catcalls. I’m not too familiar with the law, but I’m pretty sure that unwanted touching of a sexual nature and indecent exposure is already illegal (at least in most of Western Europe). What’s really intolerable is the recent stunt in France to drop the law against sexual harassment without any replacement.
        2.I think your analysis of “the Egyptian male’s behaviour” is flawed. You can’t reduce it to a few European sex tourists flaunting their stuff and teasing them. Sexual harassment is a huge problem in Egypt, and it happens to niqab-clad local women all the same. The reason for that lies presumably in the fact that Egypt is still a highly patriarchal society.
        3. Your approach to dealing with street harassment is perhaps a very healthy one, but you can’t really assume that just because it worked for you, everyone else should be fine with it as well. I believe that’s what you’re trying to say. Your approach is to just deal with it. Guess what? That’s what “we” are doing, every single day, and not just once on holiday.
        4. Could you indicate some of those feminists you refer to that explicitly advocate for a particular anti-street harassment legislation (I mean beyond what is already illegal anyway)? Most feminists I know simply want the victims to be taken seriously when they report.

  5. Huh. This is wholly off-topic, but you have all of three people responding to your blog post, and you managed to tell two of them off for responding in the wrong way (in German, too long). Their type of comments, you admonished them, very politely, might alienate or break the flow of other (potentially forthcoming) comments.

    I don’t know, of course, but I would hazard a guess that policing the comments you get, however politely, for right and wrong formats in this way will probably do more to alienate (potential) commenters than any one comment that’s not the proper size or language would.

    The urge to regulate usually comes from nothing but the best, most protective and sensitive intentions, but something is to be said for benign neglect – in general, really.

    • See my last comment to Marcus.

      • Agreed, not a black and white issue. Never said that it was. Agreed about existing legislation. As for Egypt being a patriarchal society I think that we might go even further and suggest that it is the patriach of patriarchal societies. My analysis of Egyptian male behaviour isn’t flawed. And I wasn’t trying to reduce it to anything. I said (twice) that I was rounding out the picture. I suspect that there are readers who could contribute and round it further. As for ‘a few European sex tourists’, it’s actually a phenomenon of industrial proportions. I have to say that I was a bit put out by the fact that spending a third of my time in Egypt over the last few years was reduced to ‘once on holiday’ (but I guess I hadn’t made myself clear).

        As for what works for me (and I don’t recommend the use of expletives and homophobic rhetoric as a generic solution), it was an example. What I should have said was having anticipated the problem, think through how you will respond and be prepared to refine it. My interest is in finding solutions to problems not simply celebrating them. I also think that the starting place for determining solutions is gathering evidence, including facts and opinions and then analysing them, which makes Masha’s observations about experiences in Budapest very relevant and very important.

        I was surprised by your observation that “we” are “dealing with it every day”. That’s the whole point, you (and a lot of other women) are not actually dealing with it; you are being worried, annoyed and frightened by it.

        As for ‘give me some names’, you’ve got me with that one. A couple of months ago this issue received a good airing in the UK press, stimulated by missives from Brussels. Every female journalist who could pick up a pen or log on to a blog had a point of view. There was mix of opinion. But a lot were clearly desperate for legislation to be extended. Who? Sorry, I don’t spend my time writing down people’s names just in case someone wants a few references; life doesn’t work like that.

        What’s really intolerable is the recent stunt in France to drop the law against sexual harassment without any replacement. I didn’t know about that, but it’s a bit of a relief to finally get to the heart of the matter. The French are a funny lot, though, aren’t they? I understand that recently it became government policy to airbrush the word mademoiselle out of the French language because apparently French men are incapable of using the term without speculating on the status of the recipient’s virginity. Like I say, a funny lot.

      • I don’t think the amount of female sex tourists in Egypt merits the rampant sexual harassment almost all women seem to experience (I am paraphrasing from blog posts and news articles I’ve read about this topic; I’ve never been myself). Clearly, this is an issue best dealt with in the area where it happens. I wouldn’t want to speculate further.

        It’s too bad that we seem to keep misunderstanding each other, but I felt as though you were trying to say something like “Stop complaining about it. Suck it up. If I can do it, so can you.” Which, in my opinion, is completely uncalled-for when women are sucking it up all the time. Unfortunately, there often is no other choice. Being scared, or frustrated, or uncomfortable, doesn’t mean one is not dealing with it. If women started “not dealing with it”, I suppose there would be a lot more drama in the streets, meltdowns, violence, I dunno. I once yelled back at an old man who insulted me in a public place and everyone started staring at me as though I was the crazy one. That’s the kind of culture I am accusing.

        Btw, female journalists =/= feminists. One feminist =/= feminism.

        “What’s really intolerable is the recent stunt in France to drop the law against sexual harassment without any replacement. I didn’t know about that, but it’s a bit of a relief to finally get to the heart of the matter. The French are a funny lot.”
        It is not funny, it is destroying people’s lives. What do you mean by “the heart of the matter”?

        Being asked to declare your marital status in every single one of life’s situations is either completely unnecessary in a modern society, or just plain rude. To the use of the term “Mademoiselle” I say Good Riddance!

      • Little Miss Understanding does seem to be featuring quite a lot at the moment. It is, of course, entirely my fault, and I should have been prepared for it. If I had been a bit more thoughtful, I would have taken steps to head her off.

        The signals were there in one of your earlier postings. I recall you saying something like: Sometimes I’m a bit blue eyed. It was obvious that there was a blind spot in your extraordinary grasp of English (Americans would probably describe it as awesome). What you meant to say, I’m sure, was: Sometimes I’m a bit starry eyed. See what I mean?

        Anyway, my use of the word funny in relation to the French harassment legislation didn’t mean amusing, it meant peculiar – as in how peculiar (in this day and age) to completely dismantle such a fundamental piece of legislation. It seems that even when I don’t take issue with what you say, I am.

        The reference to the French triggered another (almost random) thought, the one about the removal of the word Mademoiselle from French official documents. Here the reference to funny meant both amusing and peculiar, but not for the reasons that you assumed (I applaud the change).

        It would be perfectly reasonable for the rationale for this change to be expressed as: Look, there really isn’t any point in making a distinction between married and unmarried women, on top of which some women are uncomfortable with it, so we will use one term from now on. No, that was too easy. Someone (and I suspect a feminist) had to argue that it was because the whole male population in France was suffering from a virginity fixation.

        Maybe I meant laughable rather than amusing.

        Definitely peculiar, though.

        As for assuming that women journalists who write about feminist issues are feminists, I didn’t have to. Many of those to whom I was referring wear their feminist credentials as a badge of honour. Because I knew this I didn’t feel the need to evidence it. Interestingly, they were split on the issue. Some were in favour of legislation which would criminalise (for example) wolf whistles (and if a few men became collateral damage it would be no bad thing), while others were inclined to say, pull yourself together.

        And as for rampant sexual harassment in Egypt (agreed), I wasn’t excusing it. I was saying that there were contributory factors. I was saying that problems are often multi-faceted. I can’t help thinking that it doesn’t help understanding of issues or problem solving to be selective about which bits of information one is prepared to acknowledge simply on ideological grounds. In fact, I think that it might even be dangerous.

  6. Excellent post, and the cartoon strip is fantastic at conveying the ugliness of something which I think a lot of men think of as benign.

    It is a very odd sense of entitlement that some guys have, that they have a desire to speak with a woman on the street, and if she doesn’t acquiesce they have the right to degrade her.

    I’m sure also that the men who shout sexual stupidity at women are exactly the same men who find it disgraceful when gay men ‘flaunt’ their sexuality in public.

    As to the question you posed in the blog: As a guy I don’t feel it necessary to prepare myself before stepping outside, another blessing for a man to count.

    Anyway, thanks for the read :)

  7. I can’t believe the amount of blatant racism passing unchallenged. The Egyptian Male, seriously? I know I’m supposed to act like this is a dinner party, so please know that I have smashed dinner parties over oppressive shit before [sorry, edited]

    • Of course, you’re totally right. That was a severe generalization that I should have edited or at least called out more obviously. I know you think reasoning is useless in this case, but that’s not how I approach it, especially not since Marcus and I have a history where he usually takes back his previously outrageous statements when questioned. Or, as we like to call it “misunderstandings”. I know that’s not how you do it and I respect that, but while I do encourage strong language when needed, simply cursing at someone doesn’t work for me, sorry.
      Since we seem to keep coming back to it, I just want to make sure this is understood: Sexual harassment is a huge problem in Egypt (as it is in many other countries), that severely limits women’s lives. However, I would never blame “the Egyptian male” for it, because what does that even mean? Apart from the fact that “the Egyptian male” doesn’t exist, I’m sure that we can all agree that harassing people is not something that’s inherent to anyone.
      Further generalizations of this kind will not be accepted, regardless who they’re from.

  8. Pingback: Neue Reihe: SMASH ALL THE DINNER PARTIES! » takeover.beta

  9. In England we have a number of expressions which might be appropriate here. They include: let sleeping dogs lie, leave well alone, and the least said soonest mended. On balance, I tend to favour the latter. However, claims of racism where non-exist are as uncomfortable as racism itself.

    I gave myself a cooling off period. Actually, maybe I never intended to respond, but today I was reading an interview with Marianne Nagui Hanna Ibrahim (Media Consultant at Al Sawt Al Hurr – Arab Network for Media Support where she is working as a capacity building for professional journalists. She is also Co-Founder, Executive Manager and Senior Consultant of the Al-Gisr Center for Development and Dialogue in Egypt) and it prompted me to at least think about what I might say.

    I guess that it amounts to is: If anyone can find evidence of racism in this blog, they are seriously overstretching their imagination.

    It has become the norm for critical comment which references culture, ethnicity or nationality to automatically be labelled (by some observers) as racist. Apart from being unhelpful, it’s a danger to free speech, free expression, analysis and the exchange of views. It also hinders attempts to counter racism itself.

    Racism is essentially a deep rooted and sustained hatred and attack on another culture or race; it isn’t the articulation of views and truths which some people would rather not hear, or even the loose use of language and/or generalisation.

    Let me summarise. One of the commentators on this blog observed that she had experienced sexual harassment in the street in Egypt but not in her own city. Henrike and I both accept that this is something experienced by large numbers of European women visiting Egypt. I contributed the fact that males travelling alone aren’t immune to this phenomenon. This is simply indisputable.

    Anyway, back to Marianne: “During the 18 days against Mubarak there were no women and men. It was just Egyptians in danger. I was in the square almost daily and I didn’t witness a single case of sexual harassment. But that changed after Mubarak stepped down. We were back to face the reality of where we are as Egyptian women.”

    One might say, enough said! And not a European female tourist in sight.

    To deny sexual harassment where it exists makes no sense. To cry racism to derail the argument is (at best) worrying.

    Marianne went on to observe (and here is where feminists around the world might profitably be focussing their attention): “Even activists don’t really consider women’s rights part of the larger concept of human rights. Some members of Egypt’s …. Parliament … are pressing to scrap laws that protect women …. …. cancel the ban on female mutilation …. reducing the age of marriage to 12 for girls ….. cancel the law which gives women the right to initiate divorce.”

    The Arab Spring was universally applauded in western democracies. The turn that gender related politics is taking in Egypt wasn’t one which was necessarily anticipated. The plans, intentions and aspirations of some members of the government fall neatly into the category labelled unacceptable and abhorrent. Should we conclude that these sentiments are racist?

    Let’s hope that those Egyptian voices which are a threat to Egyptian women remain small and ineffective.

    Bizarrely, my concern in all this was not with ‘the Egyptian male’ nor with ‘rampant sexual harassment’. My real concern was to persuade Henrike to acknowledge that female sex tourism occurs on a significant scale. Why? Because this is an inconvenient fact for feminists. And it would be good if inconvenient truth wasn’t airbrushed.

    And excuse me, Henrike, but wasn’t it you who introduced the phrases “the Egyptian male” and “rampant sexual harassment”? Do I agree that generalisations are sometimes made in discussion which can be challenged? Yes. Might that have been the case here? Yes. Would a reasonable response have been something like: that’s a bit of a generalisation, do you think it could be reworked? I’d like to think so.

  10. @Marcus: Your reaction is very common, but I’m afraid I cannot give you a pass on this one. Your definition of racism is, frankly, false. Making generalisations about a nation of people can be simplifying an argument in order to get a point across in a conversation, but it all depends on the context. Saying that Egyptian men (as though they were a homogenous group) are sexual harassers is simply not true, and it perpetuates existing harmful stereotypes of Arab men and is therefore racist, whether you like it or not. But many people, including myself, do and say things that are racist. That doesn’t mean that we all ARE racists, just that we need to continue to reflect on our behaviour and actions and be open for criticism. I have written about this before: https://disciplineandanarchy.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/admitting-privilege-admitting-assholery/
    That doesn’t mean that you cannot make the argument that yes, sexual harassment tends to be pretty severe in Egypt, but that is not the same as saying “the Egyptian male” is a sexual predator. The last statement is deeply offensive to every Egyptian male who actively fought against street harassment in Tahrir Square. Something didn’t sit well with me when you made that statement, and I should have pointed it out more clearly but I didn’t, and that was my mistake. In the future, I hope to be more observant.

    “Henrike and I both accept that this is something experienced by large numbers of European women visiting Egypt.” Just to be clear, that’s not what I said. I was emphasizing that it often happens to women in general, not just European ones. And none of the commenters here has denied that. We can all make this argument and still refrain from projecting it on an entire nationality.