Alarming accounts of sexual harassment riddle blogs
CAIRO: As Egyptians began their Eid Al-Fitr holidays last week, rumors of a wave of alleged sexual harassment tainted the joy of what is usually a family-oriented festive occasion.
The wave of harassment, manifested by public groping and touching of women accompanied by pushing and shoving and even pulling at headscarves and shirts, has stirred dismay among outspoken young women and men across some popular blogs.
Across these web spaces, which provide a free forum of expression for many, bloggers posted and shared pictures of incidents in which crowds of men harassed women.
In one picture, taken in the downtown area and posted on Misr Digital blog, a sea of men surround a single girl, the caption reading that they were groping her as she tried to squeeze herself free but the picture is inconclusive.
Another picture shows a shop owner blocking the entrance to his store, as dozens of men huddle around, with a caption explaining that the aforementioned girl had to hide in the store to escape harassment.
In another blog, called Stories, a girl named Mona related what she termed an eyewitness account of a similar incident in Alexandria, describing hordes of men encircling girls and groping their bodies with only the constant screaming finally scaring them off.
“These young men do not recognize right from wrong. They do not even distinguish between a respectful woman and one who is not, comments the female blogger, who reportedly witnessed the incident right at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. “I do not think that these men were waiting for Ramadan to end to do all this. Whoever would do what they did would not be bothered by Ramadan in the first place.
The blogger, who said she panicked when she saw other girls being groped while people stood by helplessly, gave general advice to girls: “Do not leave your homes during the holidays to go to central areas. The [sexual] craze has infected everyone there.
The relating of this and other such incidents encouraged other female bloggers to boldly expose their own personal experiences. In one blog entitled Qatr Al-Nada, a female blogger encourages other girls to come out with their stories of harassment.
The outspoken blogger on Qatr Al-Nada describes the extent to which incidents of harassment, even if they were verbal and fleeting, can affect her day and her emotional state. When she is bothered by men on the street, the blogger says she “curses them sometimes, or screams or even slaps them. Sometimes I just ignore the whole thing in order not to spoil my day. But other times, I’m taken off guard [by the harassment] and I end up crying.
Although the reactions are limited to private talks and online discussions, these numerous voices could arguably be deemed representative of many women who are bombarded by comments, name-calling, and sexual remarks (at the least) as they walk the streets of Cairo and use its ever-crowded and sometimes male-dominated public transportation.
And this phenomenon is not limited to Egyptian or Muslim women; it extends across society to include foreign non-Muslim women and girls who are often times shocked when faced with such humiliating experiences.
“Psychologically, harassment puts you in a situation when you’re constantly feeling persecuted, which means that women end up having moments of self-doubt, which could be transient, lasting for a fleeting second, or could last for a few days, psychology professor and psychotherapist Abier El-Barbary told The Daily Star Egypt.
The victim, according to the psychologist, usually scrutinizes the reasons why the man picked her and what she could have done to avoid it. “It ends up changing the norm of how women look and dress like out there, said El-Barbary.
A lecturer at the American University in Cairo, El-Barbary works with both local and foreign girls who have experienced on-the-street harassment, both verbal and physical. Although in most, if not all, cases the harassment does not go beyond touching and groping, the reactions to the act are different and harassment can induce trauma.
The reaction of female non-Muslims is usually more intense. “They are the ones who are in the most state of persecution, said El-Barbary. “It doesn’t just give them a bad day but a traumatic experience.
According to El-Barbary, some of these girls end up scared to go out on the street and their negative impression of their attackers gets generalized to apply to all Egyptian and Muslim men.
El-Barbary who gives advice to her students on how to avoid being victims of harassment said that the harassment “begins to get women to question their femininity.
“Psychologically, they question how much femininity they are putting out in public, said El-Barbary. Over time, negative thoughts kick in and women feel that the more femininity they manifest, the more they present an image of submission and of being a victim, according to her.
El-Barbary advises young women to carry a whistle when they walk the streets, walk straight, without smiling and without looking down – powerful body language that speaks surrender, says the psychologist. “Use the whistle. Instead of cursing, blow on it. This way you bring the public eye onto these men. Once they feel the shame of being under the spotlight, they will stop.