Recently, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women published a report stating that 99.3% of women in Egypt had experienced harassment. This included all forms of sexual harassment: verbal, physical, and via electronic devices and telephones. Women commented that the remaining 0.7% probably never ventured outside their homes. If you are a woman, some said, and you go out in the street, you will get harassed.
We often joke about sexual harassment (a subject on which many articles have been written in this paper, but bear with me), saying that men here harass anything that looks female, including cats and dogs. We women often wondered what would happen if a man dressed as a woman and walked in the streets of Egypt. Would he be harassed?
ONTV carried out this experiment, and the answer is yes. The TV show Awal Al Kheit (the beginning of the rope) by Lina El-Ghadban hired an actor named Waleed, dressed him in women’s clothing, and set him free in Cairo’s streets. The actor went out dressed as a woman twice, once veiled, and once unveiled. He was sexually harassed both times and when he was veiled, he received a strange proposition to spend three days with a man in a hotel room for a handsome fee.
In a video uploaded on ONTV’s YouTube channel the actor described his experience. “Many men in very nice cars, who seemed respectable and were dressed in suits, wanted me to ride in the car with them. They would signal me to get in,” said the actor. “I felt that all women worry when they walk in the street. As a girl, I felt you have to take care over your movements, your clothes, your looks, the way you walk and so many things.”
He then comments on how, as a man, he never has to worry about these things. “I walk in the street without a care in the world,” said Waleed. “However, when I became a woman, walking in the street alone demanded tremendous effort, mentally and physically… as if women are always surrounded. There are eyes everywhere, in the front and back, right and left, and you have to pay attention to a lot of things. No one is capable of paying attention to all these things when they are just going for a walk.”
Yes, just to walk. Women have to be constantly aware and sometimes paranoid to navigate through the streets of Egypt.
Waleed’s situation, nevertheless, is quite funny. A man dressed as a woman gets harassed and maybe if men in the street found out, the situation could have become violent. I wouldn’t put it past those men to rape Waleed just to teach him a lesson. They would describe it as an act of revenge, and they would think that this description would support their twisted ideas regarding their own masculinity.
As I watched the video, Aerosmith’s “Dude (looks like a lady)” ran through my head as a warning or a background song:
Dude looks like a lady
So never judge a book by its cover
Or who you gonna love by your lover
Love put me wise to her love in disguise
She had the body of Venus
Lord imagine my surprise