Tuesday, June 1, 2010


...is still busy!  And very hot!

I survived finals again, and this was actually one of the easier rounds of them, all things considered. Not that the material wasn't as hard, but the process was just somehow a lot less complicated than last semester.  Most of my stuff was papers that were due the last day, so I wrapped all that up and then had one sit in before being done done done!  I popped over to AUC to take lots of pictures for you all, but the weather was all gross and sandstormy so they look a bit nasty, but that's definitely not normally how it is.  Will post separately a bit later!

Now I'm working full time doing costuming, which is including a bit of book-keeping, a bit of design, a bit of web design, and sales kind of.  Hallah and I will be at the Nile Group festival in June vending, and yours truly will finally set foot on a stage for the first time in ages and ages.  Now that I'm done with the semester I'm sliding back into a lovely "dance-all-the-time-more-more-more" schedule that I like to do.  Last summer I was in Egypt being a lazy butt, but the summer before that I spent the whole thing tango dancing all night, all the time and dancing away the days which was awesome.  Right now I'm trying to train hard and get back on the horse after the semester so I can be on stage later this month and not look like crap!

A trip to the beach is certainly in order soon, but probably not until after the festival, so for about three weeks.  After that, I intend to take a nice long weekend and go out to Dahab.


This week has been full of drama on various scales, and so today I was pretty annoyed when walking from my house to Gaby Shiba's nearby dance studio to book him for a private lesson.  One poor young fellow picked the wrong day to follow a cute, little, unassuming foreign girl when I whipped around in response to his, "let me get to know you!" and let loose with a bilingual tounge-lashing of epic proportions.

I think he nearly peed himself while backing away, and I stormed off still cursing amid his "no, you don't get me!" half-hearted calls.

This is a saddenly common experience for pretty much every female in Cairo, although I think us foreigners get it a bit more because we seem more vulnerable or exotic or something.  Every woman at the very least gets stared at, whether she is veiled or not.  Most of us get comments that are in passing and easily ignored or responded to with a cold, no-nonsense glare. A lot of foreign women have said they've been followed, but nothing more aggressive.  Some people have actually been touched, grabbed, pinched, or just generally abused.  While the presidents wife may claim there is no problem of sexual harassment in Egypt, everyone knows that's a lie.  On the one hand, it seems unlikely people will follow through violently on the harassment, but it still happens and makes simply walking down the street hard for a lot of women here.

The only good part about it is that the harassers tend to be pretty cowardly, so usually a strong, confident-looking woman is not targeted as much, and when women do get harassed, verbal confrontation usually scares the guy off.  At least if it's a one on one interaction, but what worries every girl here is if they happen to get caught by a group of guys that won't back down.  The problem is at a larger level of societal accepting and teaching of this kind of thing, to the extent that even little boys who don't understand sexuality know there is something funny or naughty about running after a grown woman and trying to grab her butt.  The issue is being addressed by some women and men in Egypt and some organizations, but its hardly an extinct phenonminon.  I heard recently about a girl from AUC who got a big group of women together and took to the street to harass the men, which sounded simply hilarious.  Apparently some guys got totally confused, some were angry, some ignored them, and some even tried to talk them out of doing it.

I've read a couple interesting things on the subject from how to react verbally or physically, to how to dress, and the reasons behind why harassment happens.  There's a few theories on the latter subject, such as the rising percentage of young people in the population (youth bulge), leading to less jobs, more economic frustration, and more young men unemployed and hanging around looking to prove their power over something.  A related theory is that because marriage is so expensive, and people here must be married to be granted by society permission to be sexual beings, there is a waithood that happens before young people can be married and thus out of frustration men prey on women on the streets because it is the only way they can express themselves sexually.  There's lots of ideas out there, which could help to unravel the problem, but most people are concerned with the day-to-day of getting around without being bothered.

It's simple to tell foreigners we should simply dress more conservatively, but what's the point when even women wearing hijab are not off-limits to this kind of thing?  People told me to wear a scarf on my head when I came, that I would get treated with more respect, but there is nothing that screams, "I'm desperately trying to fit in but I'm so foreign!" as much as a head scarf that doesn't fit the fashion and style of everyone else's. That tactic only works in really touristy areas where you are then simply showing you are more respectful than other tourists.  It's either wear hijab and wear it properly, or don't in most of Cairo. I remember in the AUC newspaper this semester a very small story of harassment of various girls from the community, veiled or not, in one area of town or another.  I also remember in New Cairo driving back and forth on the AUC bus and closing the curtains of the bus when we passed a truck with 20 or so construction workers piled in the back, because they would scream and blow kisses and yell when they caught sight of a female face going by.

I don't know what to make of it for you readers, besides trying to get by on a harassment-free level on a day to day basis.  The easiest way is to simply avoid the street--don't walk around more than necessary, take taxis, take the women's car in the Metro, but that seems like an unfair fix, doesn't it?  On a last note I did read an article recently though that the women's car on the Metro is both a good and bad thing, in that it provides women a safe space from harassment, but also that it reinforces the need for them to be separated from men to ensure men's behavior.  It reinforces the behavior, by making a women on the mixed car seem "out of place" and asking for attention, which in turn leads to strange power and gender relations.

Before I foray off into gender theory I had better stop, but if there is more anyone wants to know about harassment here don't hesitate to comment and ask.  Stay tuned for AUC photos!

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to seeing pictures of AUC and its architecture. Enjoy the remainder of your stay! Dad