Friday, September 26

Natural Born Feminist

Being an Egyptian feminist never fails to show you its ugly face.. or to be more frank, this is almost the only face you will meet ever since people decide to "honor" you with this "label". Once you get known as such, get ready to be bashed with all kinds of questions (a polite word for "accusations") like "Why do you hate men?.. Don't you think you are exaggerating?.. Do you want us to live like they do in the West?.. Are you married? " and (quoting the King of Siam) et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

The stereotype for a feminist assumes a certain scenario which goes as follows.. She was brought up in a miserable family, having to wash the dishes and cater drinks to her male brother.. Her father was probably a harsh man who used to beat her day and night, or deserted his family when she was young.. She probably was heartbroken in love, or met a man who cheated on her.. She's an envious spinister.. most probably her looks aren't good enough to attract men's attention... et certera, et cetera, et cetera.

Well, I'm always sorry to disappoint those who carry this sort of pathetic stereotype and trust so much. But, first of all, I'd like to say that I don't like to be called a feminist.. not because I became ashamed of the fabricated qualities associated with this term, or that it has grown notorious in our society.. but because it fails to express my aims and what I really seek to do. You cannot sum-up Fantasia in mere "feminist." That will not be an accurate description. I'd rather be called a "myth-slayer or a "folklore-deconstructor".. for that is what I actually do. If you would like to add the term"feminist" before either of them, though, it is absolutely fine by me.

Growing up with all those familiar accusations from people who try so hard to prove that I fit into their stereotype of that thing called "Feminist," has, nevertheless, caused me to reflect more on why I was different.. and to rephrase it according to pop culture, it would be "what was wrong with me?" Again, I apologize for disappointing them all, for I have discovered that nothing was wrong with me. And check this out.. I found out to be one of the rare cases of those who don't fight against nature. I am in complete harmony with who I naturally am and what my primary instincts dictate! People like me may be considered to be rare species in our world, but I believe I am just one among many, whom you might well call "Natural Born Feminists." Please allow me to elaborate, using my diary.

1. The Day I Broke My Doll:

I grew up in a loving, traditional Egyptian family. My parents, like all others, loved me so dearly, and thought that showing this love would be through grooming me into what society would expect a girl to be. As a kid, I didn't understand it, and I thought the role of parents was to prevent their children from doing what they wanted. For instance, when the Legos I had received as a gift for my birthday suddenly disappeared, I thought the purpose was to deprive me of my favorite toy. However, I later discovered that my mom was hiding them away because she didn't like to see me playing a "boys' game", besides the mess that the scattered pieces of Legos cause. Instead, she got me a Barbie doll, only to find it broken into pieces the next day. She thought I hated this particular doll, so she brought me a new one; and when its fate showed to be no better than the first, my mom didn't give up.. She kept showering me with loads of dolls, never having pity on them, even when she sees them, one by one, ending up as plastic spare parts. I told her that that was my way of playing with dolls, but she insisted that I should use them to play another game.. pretending that they were real people, combing their hair and dressing them and stuff. When nothing seemed to work, she complained to my father that I spoiled my dolls, and thus was unworthy of any more toys. What my mom couldn't understand was that not all girls love to play with dolls. Kids differ.. not according to their gender, but according to their characters, abilities and preferences. And what I didn't understand was her presistence that I play with a "dummy" (in the full sense of the word).

2- The Screwdriver:

As a kid, I hadn't known that exhibiting your talents was scary. I thought that parents would be proud of what their young ones could do, and should encourage them to be more curious and learn more about the world. I thought that being independent was a bless, not a curse.. and that showing everyone that you were able to do things on your own was worthy of applause. Oh how green I was! [sigh].. Anyway, I used to show off my skills in front of adults, especially my parents, with best of intentions.

One day I brought a screwdriver and started to unscrew our cassette-recorder to explore what lies inside. Yet, my dad made me feel as if this recorder was a bomb that would explode if I touched it! Needless to say, this didn't prevent me from seeking after what I wanted. A kid's mind is designed to be curious, constantly seeking after knowledge.. you can't stop this automatic mechanism just because you fear that a stupid machine will get out of order! So, I waited for the time when I was home alone, and I would get my dad's tools and open all of the electric machines at home, one by one, and I would take out the pieces inside, carefully remembering where each piece belonged, then see if I could assemble them all again in the same order. I applauded myself when I succeeded, since there was nobody present to witness this achievement. And when my parents came home, and turned on that same device, I would keep saying to myself "If only you saw it one hour ago!" and experience a sort of evil kind of joy :)

Years later, when our VCR went out of order, I couldn't keep myself from helping my dad who seemed so frustrated. I begged him to allow me to take my shot at repairing it. Of course, he was totally against it, but when I told him there was nothing to lose and that the technician was going to repair it anyway, he seemed to have been too tired already that he let me do it. He couldn't believe it when I actually fixed it! But I never confessed to him my long hidden secret. Up till today, my family depends on me when it comes to installing or fixing electric devices. They are satisfied to think it is a miracle, and I no longer seek to disturb their peace of mind.

3- A Lesson Well-Learned:

Being a female, you can not be proud that you're talented or that you're smart. People won't admire you for it.. but will treat you as an abnormality instead.. a lamb that has lost its way and should be guided back to her flock, or forced to do so against her will if necessary. In a society like ours, you learn that a woman and a smart brain do not meet.. that it is OK for women to be dependent, because that's what men are made for. Only a man is allowed and encouraged to be independent, while a woman is brought up to be weak and vulnerable. Shall any girl show any sign of being smart or having ambition, she must be knocked down, for fear that she might disturb the balance of the universe! Hence, a smart man impresses you, while a smart woman freaks you out. A strong man wins your admiration and respect, while a strong woman makes you reach for your gun. That's what an artificially-fabricated social order does to us. We invent molds, we shape our young to fit into those molds, pushing and squeezing them throughout their lives to enter their boxes of what we decided to be "masculine" or "feminine," feeding them all about the "division of roles" and other myths of our invention.

By now, you should have figured out what I meant by saying that I am more in harmony with who I naturally am than the majority who consider themselves to be the norm. We are all born equal, but outside forces stand against our natural evolution, preferring to turn us into puppets, playing roles according to a pre-written scenario.. even if it is against our humanity, and even if it defies mere logic. Yet, what's worse than all that is the brainwash process that we are subjected to throughout our lives.. the brainwash that leads generation after generation to accept such ideas and in turn implant them into their offspring. Thus, the vicious cycle continues to produce people who basically spend their lifetime fighting against their nature. And unfortunately, there is a huge machinery backing-up this false system.. it's everywhere (TV, magazines, commericals, schools, universities, laws, etc.) .. and patriarchs have always been careful to keep all its keys under their control.

Societies, in any time or place, would have never moved a single step forward if it were not for the few who refuse to give in to such mutilation. All of us were born feminists.. yes, all of us.. boys and girls.. we were all born equal and we wanted to remain as such. Feminists are believers in equality and justice. And if anyone considers that to be wrong, or strange, or bad, then s/he would better look and see where they stand. As for me, I shall forever remain happy and proud to be guilty of feminism.

Tuesday, September 16

It's Time to Say: "Back Off!"

Hi again.. I'm saying 'HI' as I have recently come back from vacation. My absence was due to many reasons, none of which can be discussed here. Yet, from now on I can promise everyone that they would find a huge change with this blog. Let's make it a surprise..

Today I talk about sexual harassment.. Wait.. I know what you're thinking now. Please be patient.. No, it's not a "going-with- the-flow" kind of business. And no, it's not because I suddenly discovered (like many people pretend to do) that women are being harassed in Egypt! And no, I won't waste your precious time on the usual talk which is being reproduced here and there. Nonetheless, I can't hide how happy I am that Egyptians have (at last!) decided to speak up and publicly condemn this shameful practice, which had in fact turned into a massive plague during the past few years.

I'm glad that nowadays we openly admit that women are not safe in Egypt. And I salute the idea of the campaign launched by the Ministry of Tourism. One of their TV ads show a truck driver harassing a female tourist, who angrily complains that "this has never happened to her anywhere else." The ad ends by telling the harasser, "You're not the only one to lose. We all lose." They might have as well added the label "ONLY IN EGYPT", although I don't believe it's true. Still, we should admit that sexual harassment is not as widely practiced anywhere else as it is in Egypt. In fact, it has become part of an Egyptian female's daily routine! You wake up, get dressed, head to school or university or work, get harassed on the way, and then get harassed again on your way back home.

I really wish to see an ad asking men to stop harassing Egyptian women. Don't get me wrong. I encourage protecting tourists with all my heart. Their safety is the least we can guarantee them while they're visiting our land. But don't you think that we lose more by turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the daily suffering of our own women! Money is not the only thing to lose. And allow me to say that it is the last thing we should care about losing if we lose everything that makes us human.. I'm talking about honor and dignity.

This BCC report, titled "Egypt voices: Sexual harassment", is not only worth reading, but it is also worth writing about. In this report, several Egyptian girls talk about their personal experiences with sexual harassment. Up till here, there's nothing new. What's new is that those girls did so while showing their faces, stating their true names and professions! Now, many will consider this an act of outstanding courage. But I wanna tell you that one becomes that brave (or daring if you might say) when one loses hope. In other words, when you are fed up, and you realize that you're all alone and that things will never get better unless you scream out loud in the desperate hope that someone may overhear you. This does not decrease our respect for their courage, for it takes a very strong person to face a society like ours with such facts. There is no more "I heard that". There is no more "one of my friends got harassed". There is finally a confession in first person pronoun.. "I was harassed". And it didn't stop there, for they moved to describing real incidents.. what the harassers did to them and how they felt during and after this ordeal.

I don't remember how many times I have been verbally harassed. According to the latest survey, 4 out of every 5 females in Egypt get harassed on daily basis! This doesn't mean that the other 1 out of 5 were never subject to sexual harassment.. It simply means that they don't experience it on daily basis. And I believe that this is the first true figure to be announced about sexual harassment in Egypt.. or 'the cancer', as the The Egyptian Center for Women Rights calls it in its latest survey. However, I don't like this metaphor, as it makes harassment sound like it has no cure, while on the contrary, this disease can and must be cured. Its cure lies in the hands of many who have for long chosen to be passive and to simply live in denial. Finally, I'm glad to announce that we're waiting for a law that would punish sexual harassers. However, I don't trust how laws function in our dear third world countries. My own problem, I know.. but it may as well be yours if this law (in case it sees the light) didn't improve anything.

In my previous post I wrote about the ridiculous lollipop ad and warned that it will only serve to provide more support to harassers. I also said that females in this country have got the choice between allowing themselves to be reduced into inanimate objects, or fighting for their humanity and their basic civil rights in a safe street and safe means of transportation. I think it's time to be more specific about what is expected of a girl who values her humanity.

One of the girls interviewed in the report mentioned above said that her mother told her not to answer back to those who harass her. How many times have we heard this, huh? With all respect to our mothers who lived in a different Egypt and who safely wore mini skirts to university without ever meeting an indecent look or gesture.. this dusty advice can go straight to hell. Being raised in shame, swallowing all kinds of insult and abuse in silence so as not to disturb our patriarchal society in its sleep has caused us to reach this dead end we're facing today. Now, what should we wait for? For society to protect us?? Hahaha. Bogus!

I say we keep screaming. It's healthy. Better than increasing the repression and hiding the agony. It is time for this society to wake up and see what it has done to its women.. don't you think so? But meanwhile, you should also seek to defend yourself. Unless you care to stand up for yourself, nobody will care for you. You won't earn anyone's respect if you just keep enduring being slapped. You will turn from being the victim into being guilty. You will be the cross onto which society shall hang all its failures and rottenness. If you have respect for yourself.. and if you think that you deserve to be treated with respect.. raise your head up high and shake off all the shame and guilt that they laid on you. Defend your right and take back your street. Yes, it is yours! It's not Men's Street. It is your street as well. You are not an excess. You are not a lollipop or any goody they want to reduce you into. Put the shame on the one who deserves it. Make the insect who dares touch you or talk to you in an improper way see your disgust, and expose him in front of everyone.

Here are some final tips which are personally tested and proven to reduce harassment. Preventing it, though, would need a collaborative effort. Remember that by being passive you are not only harming yourself, but you are putting hundreds at risk. Think about it.

1. Have a serious look on your face whenever you're walking down the street. This would give any harasser an indication that you're not the quiet, shy kind of girl. He would be reluctant to approach you for fear that his assault might provoke you enough to scream and scandalize him.

2. When you ride a bus or metro, or if you are in a crowded place, don't look around you as if you are expecting to be harassed at any moment. Harassers smell weak girls who are already scared. They know that fear will paralyze you for a few seconds, and that is all they need. Instead, stand up straight. Act confident. Look people in the eye. And if you meet the eye of someone you suspect of being a harasser, don't ever look away. Give him a slight grim mixed with the "Don't-even-think-about-it" kind of look directly in the eye.

3. If you have to walk down a quiet inner alley, don't walk close to the buildings. This will encourage any harasser, because he knows that chances of you being noticed by passers by or inhabitants who might be present in their balconies is minimal. Instead, walk towards the middle of the street. You might think that hiding makes you safe, but in fact you are trapping yourself, being blocked from view. It is also recommended, in case you pass by this alley on daily basis, to save the number of the nearest police station on your mobile.. preferably saving it as "1police", for example. This will make it on top of your phone book list for a fast dial.

4. If you think you're being harassed, do not deceive yourself into mistaking it for a joke. Many girls endure inappropriate comments or gestures made by their colleagues, bosses, teachers…etc, trying to convince themselves that it is just their way of joking, or that those persons have a crude sense of humor! They think that rejecting these acts or being firm would cause embarrassment and unneeded tension! Baby, if you feel bad, awkward, offended, uneasy, or that something is wrong, then it has to be as such. Sugar-coating harassment won't make it sound any better. If you don't stop this early enough, the person who is harassing you (whoever he is.. and yes, he can be as old as your grandfather) will take it as a green light to proceed to more daring stuff. Don't be a willing victim. Denial always makes things worse.

5. If you get harassed, make a scene. This does not only teach your harasser a lesson, but it also makes you stronger as you discover how cowardly those harassers turn to be. You will be more able to defend yourself. Once you lose the fear.. fear of the harasser and fear of speaking out.. you will be amazed as you encounter less and less harassments. By then, you'd think that those insects that roam the streets have suddenly disappeared. But no.. The harassers didn't disappear.. it is the new you that they fear.
"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde