Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

In 2006 I wrote a rant titled Why I Hate Ramadan. I posted it in 2007 and you can see the whole post here.  The post was concerned with the hypocrisies and inconsistencies in the way that Egyptians, and particularly Cairenes, practiced this month. The bulk of the post, not surprisingly, had to do with sexuality and sexual harassment. The article was intended to be argued within the Islamic frame of reference. Despite being written in a much different context than post-revolutionary Egypt and by a 5-years less intellectually mature me, the main points stand. I am copying the relevant portion here.

Temptations of the Flesh

I first came up against this several years ago when my much older (around 50 now) cousin was working downtown. It was Ramadan, and he complained about how, on his way home, he had to be very careful where he looked while passing by AUC because the girls there broke his fast. This immediately struck me as odd. First of all, broke his fast? Personally, I didnt exactly get a hard-on every time i saw a girl’s hair or arms. Second, how is it her fault?

Obviously, this has been a recurring theme. Every Ramadan I have to hear from my female friends about how much shit they get for walking around in what is usually as modest as you can get without wearing a tent. And every Ramadan I have to hear misogynistic Egyptian men, bitch about how unveiled girls break their fast. I think this is absolutely absurd.

It seems to stem from a widely accepted, by even the most liberal and secular of people, Egyptian belief that God created man with hormones and that he has no control over this and that is the duty of women to make sure that they don’t get men’s thoughts going (on a side note, this is, unfortunately, so institutionalized that until recently rapists could get off of charges by proposing to the girl and if a couple is caught having extramarital sex, guess who goes to jail? Yep! the woman for prostitution!). Absurd!

God created man (and woman) with a multitude of fleshly, earthly desires and urges. These include the need for food and drink, the urge for sexual satisfaction (both sexes, believe it or not), tendencies towards anger, greed, glutton, sloth and a weakness for temptations of alcohol and drugs. And on top of all this, he made it all available to man (and woman, of course) to test their mettle.

Some of this is obviously unacceptable (ie, a sin) regardless of context. Others, are a matter of regulation. God expects you to eat and drink, but not to be a glutton; to have sex, but not out of marriage, etc…

And in order for Muslims to learn to control their urges, we, thankfully, have Ramadan. A time of piety when one is expected to control all urges from food and drink to sex and anger. You’re supposed to develop self-discipline and patience. What does this have to do with sex? If you cant stop yourself from thinking sexual thoughts, it’s YOUR FAULT. No one else can take the blame for you. Seeing flesh is not what breaks your fast, it’s the unbridled lust that does.

Now, whether or not you think that women should be veiled is completely and utterly besides the point. Why? I’m not even going to bother with the argument about foreign or christian women, who aren’t bound by Islamic tradition. It’s a moot point when you consider this: Let’s say you’re standing around and Morkos (your coptic friend) is eating a sandwich or Sara (yes, she’s veiled. don’t worry) is smoking today because shhh-you-know-what. It’s so ingrained in our understanding of Ramadan that even a third grader can tell you that you will be further rewarded for your perseverance. So the next time you see a half-naked (and by that i mean that her forearms, face and hair are showing), stop thinking about jumping her. Think about god, lower your gaze and keep on moving. If you don’t stare at her long enough to cuss her out, you could just stand a chance of keeping those thoughts out of your mind.

In short, there is absolutely no excuse for sexual harassment. It is a disease. It reflects a lack of tolerance and acceptance. It is in part a symptom of decades-long entrenchment of power imbalance, the systemic institutionalization of a lack of personal dignity, and arguably culturally relative inconsistencies in the valuing of individually and community rights.

But most importantly it reflects a lack of personal responsibility. It entails the underlying fatalistic assumption that man cannot take ownership of his actions and destiny. While this may have been understandable before, there is no longer any excuse. If we want to build a new Egypt then we have to each take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. We have to also take on the responsibility of fighting the good fight in our daily lives and not just in Tahrir. People talk about partisan demands (mataleb fe2aweyya), but what they dont understand is that while we may have ridden Egypt of Mubarak, his legacy still stands in every institution and aspect of our society and we must all work within out circles of influence to rout out the pervasive corruption of our society. This is a fight on all fronts simultaneously. And what more important and worthy front than one that includes half of our society and that can be fought at every level, whether personal or societal?

Stop treating women like second-class citizens in their own land. Give them the dignity we have fought so long and hard to achieve for everyone. Take responsibility. Stand up to Sexual Harassment when you see it.

End Sexual Harassment.


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Of Veils and Segregation

I posted this ages ago when a monaqqaba won a case against AUC because they were barring entry with a face veil. To the comments there i would like to add that the reason i am sorry AUC lost the battle is because AUC is a private institution. It’s not a public park, street or mall. And therefore, the so called moral issue aside, i think they have the right to ban whomever they like. It just so happens that this discrimination is on my side. Just like i was ecstatic the first time i called up mojitos for a reservation when they pointed out that veils and children werent allowed.

The reason i bring this up is the obvious recent revival of the women-only cafes issue thanks, primarily, to forsoothsayer recently receiving an email advertising the place. It should be noted that this email looks to me like some fan of the place emailing her friends. It is most certainly not the kind of message that is likely to have originated from the owners or managers and so everything on their should be taken with a grain of salt.

Kudos to Sandmonkey and co for the phone calls they made. The weird thing, however, is that i actually know a bunch of unveiled women that have been in there. If that’s the case, i would imagine that unless the girl was wearing some large-ass-in-your-friggin-face-CROSS as Copts in Egypt tend to do, she would probably have little trouble getting in.

Personally, I dont see why she would want to. I can understand a person wanting to get into AUC to use facillities such as the library, but not just another probably run of the mill salon/lounge for women. So fucking what if you cant get in?!

I write this post to differentiate between several issues. First and foremost, i continue to maintain that they, like AUC, are a private establishment which is entitled to decide who is and isnt allowed inside. It’s not a public good.

Second, i recognize that this may seem a little racist/religionist to Western (esp American) folk who had to deal with “no blacks no dogs” just a few decades ago. But not every nation has a nazi-like, racist, slave-driving past on its conscience. I have argued countlessly about this issue. While it is technically discrimination, in the sense of differentiation, i find it very lame to fight this as a religious issue. Everyone feels more comfortable with people that are more like them. Just like i want to be able to see people’s faces, these women want to be able to let their hair down.

Third: With that said, i do think that it is indeed a frightening phenomenon from where i stand. I dont like the idea of people (whether official policy or not) thinking in terms of Muslim vs Copt. It’s a sad truth of every day life in Egypt. This is but one more manifestation of the trend in Egypt over the last 50 years. To my grandfather, the fact that copts are disdained by Muslims is so inconceivable that he yelled at me and ended the conversation. My father recalls playing in the streets with a a copt and a jew in the 40s and early 50s. It wasnt until years later that he apparently registered their different identities. Now, people are always asking your name. And if you have a neutral name, you can be sure they’ll ask for more names in an attempt to discretely identify your allegiance. We live in scary times.

Shit, i’m late for an appointment.

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Amnesty and Abortion

I’ve always found abortion to be one of those areas where i am unable to make a judgment, or support one side over another. For one thing, i dont know what it’s like to conceive and bear a child. While fascinating, perhaps even magical, it seems like altogether way too much trouble. More importantly, i dont think i (or anyone, if you ask me) knows enough about life (and the soul) to decide when a few post-zygotic cells become a human. In any case, it’s one of those areas (like choosing between the life of the laboring mother or the almost-born child) where even if you were to assign values to one side or the other, it would have to be on a case-by-case basis.

Well, Amnesty Int’l has just taken a rather controversial position in its recent International Council Meeting in Mexico [press release].

With the prevention of violence against women as its major campaigning focus, Amnesty International’s leaders committed themselves anew to work for universal respect for sexual and reproductive rights. Amnesty International committed itself to strengthening the organization’s work on the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and other factors contributing to women’s recourse to abortion and affirmed the organization’s policy on selected aspects on abortion (to support the decriminalisation of abortion, to ensure women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion and to defend women’s access to abortion, within reasonable gestational limits, when their health or human rights are in danger), emphasizing that women and men must exercise their sexual and reproductive rights free from coercion, discrimination and violence. [emphasis added]

Naturally, they have been denounced by pro-life mostly Christian groups including, obviously, the catholic church. According to this Independent article which seems to take particular glee in pitting Amnesty against the Vatican, prior to the meeting, threats were thrown out that the Vatican would call on catholics to boycott the organization. Religious Extremists!

As i see it, Amnesty’s position retains their organization’s commitment to neutrality, human right and humane-ness. Their position is not unqualified. It is based on their experiences in conflict-torn regions where rape is used as a mass war weapon. Sure the victors have always killed men, raped women and indoctrinated children, but that doesnt make it ok for women who have just suffered the most painful and humiliating experiences of their lives to have no other choice but to bear the pain and shame for the rest of their and their rapechild’s lives. All Amnesty is supporting, ultimately, is the right of each woman to chose how to deal with her pain. And i think that’s fair enough. Maybe someone should rape a few of clerics.

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Women’s Rights in Egypt

Forsoothsayer covers some of the legally-sanctioned gender-based discrimination in Egypt.

UPDATE: and here‘s the continuation.

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