Experience Egypt: Get Grabbed

In an earlier entry, I mentioned a story about my flatmates and how, while walking down a main street one sunny afternoon, Susannah got her bum grabbed not once, but twice by the same leery dude. For weeks after, she was constantly alert, scanning the premises for potential offenders. On the day that it happened, she was, understandably, angry. Luckily, Shannon had been with her and had delivered a swift kick to the man’s knee on his second attempt at a grab. When they told me the story, I wondered what I would’ve done in the same situation. I confidently believed that had it been me, I would’ve taken him out.

Instead, I seethed along with her and called Simon, whose advice came as follows: “Don’t worry. Your day will come.”

And it has.

A few nights ago, Quentin and I were walking up my street. For the record, I was completely concealed in a pair of jeans and a long shirt with a scarf wrapped around my arms. But that doesn’t make a difference. We were at the steps of my apartment building. My security man was taking a snooze at his desk, but it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d been awake.

I felt it happen suddenly. It wasn’t a passing graze or a sloppily delivered smack; it was as if this particular man had taken a course on grabbing women’s backsides while on a motorbike with two other men. (To lighten the mood, I envision thousands of Egyptian men riding motorbikes around cones – oh who am I kidding, they wouldn’t have cones, maybe upturned carburetors – in the desert, grabbing life size cloth dolls, occasionally falling off the bikes.) In a way, it was almost impressive. He had quite the grip. Now, I know I have a wonderfully curvy bum and it’s hard to exercise self-control, but really.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Part of the reason for this is that when it happened, I immediately turned to Quentin, thinking he was being cheeky. But he was already shouting after them, which woke my security man, who observed the aftermath with a bleary indifference. And that was that. All my dreams of shoving the men and watching the bike topple over, partially crushing them but not killing or horribly maiming them, were crushed.

As a woman, I find it increasingly difficult to get along peacefully here in Egypt. Despite the fact that I live in a predominantly expat area, there are still occurrences like this one that happen fairly frequently. They enrage me. I question how I will survive in a culture that treats women as lesser beings for one more year. When I am outraged – which has been pretty often lately -, I tend to immediately question the paradox of living in a society where it’s 7aram for a woman to make eye contact with a man of no relation to her, where work is halted for prayer, and where the idea of not engaging in sex prior to marriage is revered, feared, and widely upheld; all of this, and an allowance for bum grabbing, gawking, staring, hissing, and exposing male genitalia in public without any sort of consequence. Everyone who comments on it says that it hasn’t been like this here, that under Mubarak, you never would’ve seen this type of behavior. Well, but here it is.

I have to work to be openminded, to remind myself that it’s unfair to judge an entire culture based on the actions of hundreds of men. (I’m not exaggerating here. I get harassed in some form or another at least once a day. Do the math.) But it can be very hard. I am angry.

Of course, Simon was the first person I called the very next day. To all the rage, frustration, irritation, and general incredulity I have toward this, he offered the same, unchanging words of wisdom.

Told ya so.

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