Stop Fighting on our Bodies

I spent New Year’s Eve 2015 in Egypt, one of my favorite places on the planet, a source of great inspiration and self-fulfillment; at the same time, a place of pandemic sexual harassment, a country that often has me cringing with frustration over the way women are treated inside the family or out in the public, a country that was also the inspiration for my Bachelor thesis about sexual violence against women in the political realm.

Now, on that same New Year’s Eve, Cologne in Germany became a staging ground for mass harassment and even rape of women by allegedly North African men, possibly refugees, possibly living in Germany for a couple of years already—the details remain unclear as news of false accusations surface while others are proven to be true. What is very clear, however, is the public debate that arose from this incident and the instigative way that it was portrayed in the media. Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of the most read and respected German newspapers posted an image of a black arm reaching between white women’s legs (they later apologized for the racist way this could be interpreted); FOCUS, a .. well, let’s say not the most unprofessional, and equally popular German news magazine showed a similar image on their cover of a white woman’s naked body with black handprints on it.

focustitelSo returning to Germany after my holiday, I had no desire whatsoever to engage in any debates on the topic, because I knew that I was going to face a front of hysterical white people. And by white I don’t mean skin colour, being quite pale myself. By white I am talking about people who grew up in Germany and understandably have little or no experience with Arabic or Muslim societies. And whether they are ignorant racists that protest against refugees using public swimming pools, or fairly open-minded students of political sciences, most of them will easily fall for the rhetoric of the barbaric Arab man who just does not fit into our civilized, progressive culture, where women are supposedly empowered and free and respected… Continue reading

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How to react to sexual harassment..?

Recently I watched the movie Cairo 678. It is a great study of sexual harassment in Egypt and its psychological effects. At the beginning of this movie a car passes by a girl, the driver grabs her by her blouse and pulls her with him, then pushes her to the ground. I cannot imagine what I would have done if that had happened to me. But I am afraid that I would have been too surprised to react. The girl in the movie, however, – and it is based on a true story – jumps up, runs after the driver, stops him, starts beating him and eventually takes him to the police station. She was prepared. She was prepared by years of sucked-up anger, ignored insults and bruised honour.

SONY DSCIn the book ‘Shantaram’ Gregory David Roberts writes that most of the time when we do not talk back, do not help someone else or defend ourselves it is not because we are cowards. It is because we just aren’t prepared. I remember the first (and fortunately only time) that young boys in the street did not just bother but actually touched me… I was so angry afterwards. Not mainly at them, but at myself, because I had had no clue about how to react. They were young boys of maybe 12 or 13 years. I had no reason to be scared of telling them off. And so – as Roberts says it: “What we call cowardice is often just another name for being taken by surprise, and courage is seldom any better than simply being well prepared.” Continue reading