End Sexual Harassment

On “End Sexual Harassment” blogging day, I am sure there will be lots of posts that will address the following: perverts; religion; experiences of harassment; women’s rights, lack of marital opportunity and pornography and so all these are outside the scope of my own post. I would, instead, like to look at sexual harassment from a few other angles; for in my eyes, it is a given that perhaps the rise of pornography coupled with the lack of sexual/marital opportunity and outlet encourages acts of perversion and harassment which are against religious teachings and result in violations of women’s rights – it seems these explanations have become somewhat redundant.

I think it would be naive not to discuss sexual harassment within an etiological perspective. Harassment of any kind is rarely the problem. In more instances than not, it is the symptom – perhaps the most inconvenient and overt – of far graver problems that society needs to address and deal with before we can be rid of it and sexual harassment is no exception to this analysis.

I want to go deeper than this. I want to talk about upbringing, I want to discuss culture, jokes, expectations and innocence. How often in Egypt do we hear aunties, uncles, parents joking with little boys about making passes on pretty girls and labelling him a little don Juan from an early age, every one laughs, the boy feels extremely proud and knows that this behaviour is what will get those he seeks approval from to give him just that. On the contrary, how often compared to this scenario do you find the same aunts/uncles and parents praising a little good looking boy for, say, the opposite? Children are far more intelligent than the majority of Egyptian adults give them credit for. The adults think it’s all in good spirits, a lightening of the general mood and actually often want their son to be the boy who knows how to woo the girls, who is the envy of his other guy friends and all this perhaps in the desperate hope that if he indeed does grow up into this boy, then they have successfully discouraged him as far as they possibly can from their ultimate nightmare of homosexuality. This is all my own interpretation of course, I hear these comments as jokes every so often, but there is a ringing truth beneath it that we need to be far more aware of if we are to get to the bottom of what it is that turns an increasing number our men into perverts.

One of the positions I fail to understand is “girls bring it upon themselves by the way they dress”. Look, don’t get me wrong; I understand the core of this argument, people who take this line are possibly arguing that provocative attire, chewing gum (or whatever other random thing they chose to focus on) attracts attention at best and harassment at worst. Despite the fact that some (and I mean JUST some) girls do dress, walk, act, laugh in ways that beg attention, these are cases that also need looking at in an etiological and a non judgmental way. But these girls are not the point of discussion here; 1. because there are lots of girls who dress up wanting to feel sexy because it makes them feel nice and 2. because what ever a girl does or does not wear does not strip the man of responsibility for his reactions and 3. guys who sexually harass women also do so to those wearing the nikab, those who are not provocative etc. and so for today’s post, at least MY post, I am talking about the guys who harass women who do NOT want to be harassed.

What’s important about my point above is that attitudes like this add to the disastrously increasing enacted inferiority of women. By thinking it’s HER fault we are raising the offender above his responsibility and so, in fact, also making HIM inferior that he is not capable of choosing a reaction to what he sees or what he feels about what he sees. You cannot make a women inferior without unwittingly placing the men in society side by side the level you have bought her down to. One of my recent examples of this is Egyptian advertising. Some butter gee advert (or washing up liquid, I chose to forget) claims that EVERY woman in Egypt’s dream has now come true because this brand is so amazing. How degrading is that? Not just for women who stand in the sun 7 hours in solidarity with another woman being questioned by the military prosecutor for ground breaking articles on corruption, or the women who devote their lives juggling between a 9-5 job, bringing up 2 or 3 kids, running a home, being a friend and wife, or the women who gather crops and suffer under the scorching Middle Eastern sun; but it’s also offensive to all the men who the ad is assuming marry women whose ultimate dream has been realised because the bubbles in this washing up liquid are far greater than the previous one. This is unacceptable.

Another thing I’d like to talk about, albeit very briefly, is the undeniable fact that multiple sexual/marital partners and a general fear of discussing this just in case we step on religious ground, is another one of those grass root factors that contribute to women’s inferiority in this society and also men’s eligibility to act in ways that do not honor monogamy not only in marriage, but in extra marital sexual and romantic relationships. A man is allowed to marry again, right? So he is justified, naturally, in “seeking” and “testing” the next partner that he “could not help but fall in love with”. I’m not sure what the way forward is in this particular instance but I just wanted to put it out there for discussion.

There is something else that is rarely discussed when we talk about sexual harassment and that is sex education; or indeed the lack of it. I went to school in London where we had compulsory PSHE (Personal, Social and Health  Education) Lessons and unlike people think, this is not all about how to have sex, protection and disease. It was also about feelings, emotions, aggression, results of unloving relationships, effects of perversion and harassment, accepting that both sexes know of desire and deserve sexual pleasure; without this meaning either was not honorable. The lack of sexual education here encourages the secrecy around sexual pleasure and the effects of harassment, both part of the circle we go round in, if indirectly – but I want to keep this for another post, you know, a special post about sex and Egyptian wedding nights, how all girls are expected to know nothing about desire, their own body or the body parts of the opposite sex (and, God forbid, what to do with it)… but, like I said, that’s for another time. For now, I just wish people took children seriously, the jokes they make with them seriously, their fears of what they could grow up to be seriously (and not so seriously) and then I’m sure in 20, 30 years time we’ll be writing different sorts of posts on the 20th June.

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