Monday, October 8, 2007

Al-Ahram on the Haram

Gender segregation is NOT a long-term solution to harassment, stares, or rape. It’s a tidy short-term solution, but it will not solve the reasons that men harass women; in fact, segregation may make harassment worse. Men of any race, religion, or nationality will harass a woman because they view women as acceptable targets—if men are taught from an early age to take into account women’s feelings, experiences, and humanity, and they are taught and shown that harassment is not acceptable (I.e., if someone harasses a woman, everyone pounces on him)—then they will not harass women. But since men are allowed to get away with harassing women (on all levels: governmental, legal, and social), they continue to do so, in every nation in the world.

However, women in Egypt are jumping on the women-only bandwagon as a solution to this harassment. Al-Ahram reports on this phenomenon, but perhaps the editor should rethink the selection of these reporters: their bias melts from between the lines of the article. Reporters Salonaz Sami and Injy El-Naggar show no mercy to women who don’t want to mingle with men—and who don’t fit their idea of upper-class, Westernized Egyptian womanhood.

The authors’ snarky side comments don’t give their sisters any mercy. They hint at these women-only clubs being lesbian dens of iniquity and imply that a woman who they interview is so anti-man that no man would want to touch her—making it a wonder “how she ever managed to have children”. The worst of these comments is downright insensitive: when a woman they interview states that she doesn’t like to go out because she is harassed, the authors pounce on her (warranted) paranoia: “How many rape incidents did Rasha and her friends suffer?” As any woman knows, you don’t need to suffer rape to be terrified of it, especially in a social setting where harassment is bad enough to make women stop leaving their homes.

And then the authors blame feminism for all of these women wanting to be left alone. Well, feminism and Islam. They assume that all of these women “[have] not transcended the incredibly narrow confines of the predominant, Wahhabi-based, middle-class understand of Islam.” Oh, and now it’s a class thing, too. And I’m sure the authors, who are so above societal interpretations of Islam, aren’t “obsessed with their bodies as objects of desire…and [aren’t] keen on such things as dieting, body toning, even make-up.”

But wait! Men get the shaft, too! On the unwanted and unasked for male attention these women receive, the authors sigh that “in the absence of both money with which to marry and legitimate privacy in which to consummate desire, such attentions will remain inevitable.” That’s right! Men are total beasts (they do actually refer to them this way in the article, even though it’s done sarcastically) who cannot control their wandering eyes and hands! Really?

The authors seem to think that men have no self-control and that women should just put up with it. Last time I checked, only animals had no self-control. And don’t all people deserve safety and freedom from harassment when they leave their homes? I guess Egyptian women don’t fall under these authors’ definition of people.