Friday, December 25, 2009

Dress Codes

Do you think there is ever a legitimate reason for a man to harass a woman? Here in Cairo where women often get sexually harassed, the first question they are asked afterwards is usually "what were you wearing?" I can't tell you how much this annoys me. Why does it matter what she was wearing? Why isn't the first question "what has happened to our men for them to harass women like that?" or "did you report him" or even "are you okay"?

In my opinion, even a woman wearing a bikini or walking naked should not be blamed for getting harassed. We all have to wear long, shapeless clothing now apparently, and if we don't then we are "asking for it".  I remember a cab driver in Cairo once saying that any girl who is not veiled deserves to get raped. When we have opinions like that, we're in trouble.

Why is it always the woman who gets blamed? It's always about what she was wearing or how she was walking. It's never about how so many Muslim men now think it's okay to harass women. I should think THAT would be a bigger issue.  I completely agree with Asma Barlas when she writes,

"By defining women's morality and safety in terms of their own dress codes, conservatives are legitimizing the kind of pathologies that are leading men to murder unveiled women in the name of Islam. How can Muslim men, if they are living by the Qur'an's injunctions, feel free to kill or assault women; and how can we reconcile religious vigilantism with the irreducibly voluntary nature of faith and of moral responsibility in Islam?"

This is such an important question: how do Muslim men legitimize sexual harassment? By blaming the woman. But still, does that really convince them? It seems like an absurd argument to me. Also, does that give women the right to harass men who don't cover? I mean, the Qur'an enjoins modesty on BOTH genders. But I'm pretty sure if woman started killing men who didn't dress modestly we would hear a huge outcry.

A few years ago this poster came out:

It translates as "you can't stop them, but you can protect yourself." I don't even know where to start with this ridiculous message. It reminds me of that Australian sheikh who said that unveiled women are like raw meat that will inevitably attract flies.

As Muslims we should focus less on what the woman is wearing and more on the lack of morals and decency found among a growing number of Muslim men.


bahlool said...

I only partly agree. I saw a documentary by Al Jazeera, where vailed women were harrassed, and the reporter stated that as many as 90% had been harrassed, so even the veil isnt any protection.
What i think is that both men and women should think about their dress and their behaviour..the holy Quran states, oh you believing men and women lower your gaze. It doesnt say touch those or harrass those who have no veil.
As for a bikini or not, if you dont want wrong attention, dont dress wrongly.
I dont go through a bad neighborhood with cash showing or gold shown on my body, the same way i dont go around with a bag that shows that i got plenty of money at 2 in the women have to be cautious.
If you live in a muslim country, show respect to those who want to avoid to see you half naked. But even if you are halfnaked, a muslim shouldnt touch or even think of touching you..i cant find the logic in this behaviour..

coolred38 said...

Its just an easy out for men to shed personal responsibility for their own behavior. Put the onus of morality on women...then have a ready made excuse when you "stray"...its her fault...she tempted me...I cant help myself...Im just a man with a high sex drive...its up to her to control my sex drive for me cause I sure as shit cant.

Bunch of crap and all religions do this to women...nice.

Wrestling With Religion said...

Great post! This part of the quote was particularly interesting:

"By defining women's morality and safety in terms of their own dress codes, conservatives are legitimizing the kind of pathologies that are leading men to murder unveiled women in the name of Islam."

In other words, the conservative veiling practice has probably contributed to the harrassment epidemic. It certainly seems that it's grown in parallel with veiling. Quite counter-intuitive.

Anonymous said...

No, there is never a legitimate reason to harass a woman, not ever. That lollipop picture makes me want to laugh out loud, but the fact that people agree with it makes me take it much more serious, because there are those who think it sums up why women should be wearing hijab.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I don't get it. So many women are veiled in Egypt, yet they are sexually harassed. Here in the US I've never been sexually harassed, or flirted with, or anything ... guys know here if they harass a women, the women will report them. The men need to be held accountable.

marzuki said...

yup. The fault lies more with men than women. Men should lower their gazes definitely. Perhaps it's hard but that's not an excuse.

Could harrassment in egypt be higher than the US because men in Egypt feel protected hence invicible? If they are, veil or no veil wouldnt make a diff.

Candice said...

It's so disgusting to put the blame on the vcstim woman. I agree that she could have been wearing nothing and she would not deserve rape or assault or anything like that. The blame is on the person who does the action.

A woman dressed provocatively is not "asking" to be raped. I think we could say she's asking for some attention, and shouldn't be surprised if men come up to her and try to start up conversation and stuff, but she should never be harassed.

There's a huge problem in Egypt for sure. Even my husband feels it's the woman's fault in a way for dressing the way she does. At the same time, he would defend even a woman he didn't find modest if he saw injustice (and has before), but for him to even think she is "asking for it" shows a huge problem in the Egyptian mentality.

Jasmine said...

Its a crazy notion to hold anyone responsible for anothers actions. In fact, isnt that what Sura Yusuf is all about?

News and fiction have joined forces to create an image of man as a subordinate to his penis: thus being vulnerable of everything from zina to adultery at the flash of a strand of hair, or an ankle. I believe that many males welcome this collective imaginary as it absolves them of responsiblity over their lusts.
Apparently, the deen is not as strong as the penis - penis overrides deen every single time according to films, books, media and even "science" - which strives all day long to reinforce this bo**ocks.

Similarly, as women, as people who know that there are these dangers around us:we should exersize caution and not dress like porn stars and walk around like that late at night. To do so is like swimming in deep waters with a steak on your leg - its just not a good idea.

But we should not need to fear the God fearing. Ever. They are supposed to be as brothers to us.

Teaching men that they are weak to their bits will ultimately make them that way (as per labellist theory)

I think males in these cultures hate women - as there is not a shred of evidence that they respect them, hold them as valuable, love them or appreciate them. Because how on earth can you ever ever say a women deserves rape or this or that inhumane treatment without detesting her?

I couldnt say that about a dog without feeling bad.

Sarah Alaoui said...

definitely agree with this but i also agree that you dress how you want to be addressed

more thoughts later but great subject

Sara said...

I'd love to meet you!!
As soon as I saw the top picture all I could think "how could they be classified as veiled" but then again to each their freedom to do what they wish!

I hate being blamed for everything simple because I am a female!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Bahlool: I agree. Egypt is the perfect example of a veil not protecting a woman from harassment. A survey done recently showed that 80% of veiled women get harassed. Besides that, there is simply no excuse to harass a woman, full stop.

I do agree with your point about attracting attention. I would never wear something revealing in a Muslim country out of respect. The problem with harassment here in Cairo is that it happens to you no matter what you wear. Some niqabi women get harassed as well!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Coolred: so true! It also really annoys me when they make the argument that women have a lower sex drive than men, that's why men NEED sex more than women. This somehow extends to sexual harassment: it's not their fault since their high sex drive forces them to harass women. Ridiculous, but I've heard people say this!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Wrestling: you're right, they have grown together. Everyone says that Cairo in the 50s and 60s was harassment-free. Women walked around in skirts and sleeveless tops and did not get harassed!

It's interesting that as conservatism and the veil spread, so did the harassment.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah Elizabeth: I had the same reaction. I saw the pic and wanted to laugh but then I realized that people actually believe it!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aynur: Accountability is def a big part of it. Men here know they will get away with it, mostly cause when a woman goes to the police to report harassment, the police begin harassing her. Sooo yeah.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Marzuki: yes, men here definitely know they can get away with it. In fact they are usually shocked when a woman asks them why they are harassing her. One woman once complained to a guy that was harassing her and he slapped her!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Candice: I like the distinction you make between getting attention and getting harassed. A woman dressed provocatively probably will get men coming up to her and flirting but that is different from getting rude comments and getting felt up. Also, Egypt is weird since ALL women get harassed.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine: "But we should not need to fear the God fearing. Ever. They are supposed to be as brothers to us." Exactly, and that's what bothers me! I remember getting harassed during Umrah, INSIDE the Masjid al-Haram. I mean seriously!

Like you said, I see little evidence that Arab men in general respect women, and this seems to be the root of the harassment problem. How can you harass/rape a person you respect or care about?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah: I totally agree. What annoys me is that I don't go around wearing miniskirts, and neither do most women in Egypt, yet we still constantly get harassed.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sara: let's meet :D
I'm in Cairo for another 2 weeks. Email me :)

Anonymous said...

To Jasmine:

You said "I think males in these cultures hate women - as there is not a shred of evidence that they respect them, hold them as valuable, love them or appreciate them. Because how on earth can you ever ever say a women deserves rape or this or that inhumane treatment without detesting her?

I couldnt say that about a dog without feeling bad."

God, that is how I feel too! It is actually beginning to affect me in the sense that I am beginning to feel a bit of animosity/resentment towards Arab culture. Not religion, but Arab culture. I can safely say that I disagree with Arab culture, generally, because of the way it's men view someone like me (a woman).

Cairo, Lusaka, Amsterdam,

I think the harassment and the talk by men about not being able to control their lusts is all control and power. They have a power structure in place and harassment keeps that structure in place, keeps "the women in line" simply because one does have to be more careful and cautious around men. Doesn't that mean that in public women are basically walking on egg shells to avoid harassment, yet they can dress the most modest and it still happens?

Talk about abuse on a wide scale level. It is domestic violence towards women on a national level, therefore making it part of the culture or cultural thought backed up by religion in order to make it more powerful and "believed". Slave owners in America used the Bible to enforce that Black people were 3/4's a human being and that slavery was needed! How is the situation with women in Arab culture any different?

The only way it will change is when the men decide women deserve to be treated fairly and as human beings. Just as Black people in America were segregated and treated like shit on a policy level until the 1960's, and socially up until recently; so too will women struggle with the fact that many men are not our brothers, they are slave owners; and we are slaves. Domestically and mentally. So, when will WE wake up? And what will WE do collectively?

Malcolm X said perfectly: "No one can give you freedom, or justice, or civil rights. You must take it."

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah Elizabeth: "Slave owners in America used the Bible to enforce that Black people were 3/4's a human being and that slavery was needed! How is the situation with women in Arab culture any different? "

Good point.

A friend once pointed out to me that the thing about the Qur'an is you can get completely different messages from it - if you are good, you will see good in it and use it for good; if you are bad, you'll do the opposite.

Reza Aslan said the same thing - if you read the Qur'an expecting gender inequality, that's what you'll find; and vice versa.

G said...

Part 1:

Hey Sara!

Sorry I've been missing in action lately, been busy getting master's applications ready and stuff (STRESS!) Anyhow, first I miss you! Second I love the post. I think about this topic a lot. It really deeply horrifies me by the way. Living in Egypt I was EXTREMELY shocked when I started seeing this as a common occurrence. In Bahrain, which is much more conservative, men are actually VERY respectful toward women especially strangers. In Cairo it was so normal for me to say hello to a girl by shaking hands, if we know each other well, with two kisses on the cheek. This is much more liberal than in Bahrain. Because sometimes you don't even shake a woman's hand. You just say "salam 3alaikom" nod and then avoid looking directly at them. (Of course it's different with very close friends). I can't say I respect this extreme either. It also bothers me, because it assumes that if I smile shake hands and look a woman in the eye that means I will be tempted to have sex with her. Um, hell no. I think I have more resolve than that.

My point is, the concept of the more conservative Egypt becomes, the more sexual harassment spreads is interesting. Although I can't say I necessarily totally agree. There is something more to it. This is due to my experience in Bahrain which is more conservative, but I have only seen men publicly flirt with a strange woman (not even harass) twice in 22 years.

In Egypt however its insane. It's like every single man on the street desperately needs to get laid at every moment. You can see them mentally salivating when they see women. It is utterly revolting. I hate it, and it truly is one of the reasons I don't want to move back to Egypt because it makes me feel very uncomfortable. On some level I feel very powerless, what am I going to do to stop this? As you know, I'm very non-confrontational and the average Egyptian doesn't really pay me much attention because I'm a foreigner so they assume I don't know what I'm talking about. I even talked to my driver about it and he denied it completely, except that he ALSO DOES IT, sometimes when he sees a girl he thinks is attractive on the street he would yell something out of his window. Of course we had so many arguments about this, but the man is in his 40s and it is so deeply ingrained into his brain that this is harmless and okay. Now, He just laughs when I talk to him about it again.

G said...

Part 2:

On another level, when I'm with my female friends in Cairo I am constantly on an instinctive "protective mode". Of course we all have residues of our cultures in us. And I was raised to be the "protector of women" but at the same time I hate that. Because as I explained in the comment on your feminism post. I really believe that both genders should be equal. I hate assuming that a woman cannot protect herself or fight back. But just being in this environment I revert to a Neanderthal mindset where I just want to protect protect protect!! Sometimes I even think "shit, she shouldn't be wearing that" or "uh-oh, let's leave this place" or "if anything happens, I let them lock themselves in the car and I'll go down and deal with it"....and I HATE that. Because it automatically puts my female friends in a weaker and inferior position. Cairo really does give me this mental struggle and makes me feel so contradictory. I think it should be mandatory by law that Egyptian female should get 'self-defense' lessons in school and kick the asses of those idiot harass-ers.

I have no idea what the cause of this is. But it definitely relates to lack of respect or liking to women as some comments already mentioned. I think its more than conservatism. It's about the culture, which I hate so f'ing much at this point!
The country does not feel safe, I have heard horror stories. And it breaks my heart, yet I feel so helpless. I can't even imagine what it would be like to be a woman living in Cairo. I think every single one has been harassed. This shit needs to stop, but HOW!? It's a mindset of at least 80% of the Egyptian male population! THAT'S MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF MEN!

Can this really ever change?
Sigh, writing this comment is depressing me, so I'm going to stop now.

Still miss you by the way!! And happy new year :)

Umm Omar said...

In a productive, functional society, I think everyone has a responsibility. While that lollipop ad is unfair and inaccurate since it implies men have no control over their behavior, women have a responsiblity, too. Hijab has a spiritual purpose to it as well as a functional purpose.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

G: your comment was very insightful. I've never looked at it from that perspective: men probably instinctively feel the need to protect women when they get harassed, thus putting women in weaker position where they need to be protected. Interesting!

The harassment is also one of my reasons for not wanting to live in Egypt.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Umm Omar: unfortunately many women now wear hijab because they think it will make them get harassed less. Thus this harassment is making the hijab become a form of protection instead of a spiritual or religious practice. Also, veiled women get harassed as much as non-veiled ones, so it really doesn't make a difference in the end.

Aneesah said...

First of all I have to point out that harrasment is more of a hot topic issue in Egypt then in other predominantly muslim countries I have been to. I believe that the swing towards conservatism and fanaticism has more to do with socio/economics and politics then religion. I have been to Tunis and other countries in North Africa and they have less of an issue with this then Egypt.

Cait said...

Sexual harassment in any culture or religion is degrading, disgusting, and inexcusable on an individual level and undermining to a healthy and functioning community on a societal level.
These issues definitely need to be talked about more often.
It's interesting that men are supposedly so much "stronger" and "clear-headed" than we are, and yet they are not expected to conduct themselves with decency when it comes to women and sex.

Anonymous said...

Terrible and interesting!
I have found very similar statistics on sexual harassment in Mexico where women complain of being groped, kneaded (one woman even got a hand stuck between her inner thighs on a Cancun bus)and harassed in every way. Which makes the Egypt issue even more confusing. One Egyptian woman attributed the phenomena to pre-marital sex being taboo and marriage being difficult due to high maher demanands therefore a lot of frustration. This seemed plausible but then there are no mahers in Mexico, pre-marital sex is allowed and rife. The Gulf and Levant (ie Syria)do not have the same problem. Even In Morocco you'll get an occasional wolf whistle or stare but that's it. A French guy thought the veil is the driving force due to the lack of visual stimulus and apparently men are more visual while we are more tactile (true I think) but then Mexico is world mini skirt capital as well as Miss World capital. Hmmmm
Since 2005 Mexico has many women only buses, now they are extending to train and metro lines, in 2007 some women groups were even asking for women driver taxis. Of course, a USA journalist managed to report the news by a super neutral title (sarcasm) 'Mexico goes Islamic'(super stupid since all Hindu Indian provinces have separate trains, so do Orthodox Israeli neighborhoods) and even managed to heckle a woman on the street in Mexico by saying "so when are the women only super markets coming into place?" (irony since most people in the supermarkets are women) Chile for example doesn't have this problem. What's so special about Mexico and Egypt??? Btw the men interviewee had similar responses If we could find a common anthropological point in those two TOTALLY different countries we could find some action plan.

Muni said...

I've heard this topic discussed in so many circles here in Cairo, but great context nonetheless Sarah.

The last Anon. comment is so intriguing. It definitely can't be that Mexican men need some at the same level as Egyptians, and it can't be the visual stimulation. So what is it?

G also presented a couple of interesting points, and I have to agree that even body languages of some of my male friends change as soon as we are in the street i.e. more defensive, walking close by and usually behind me, etc. as compared to off the street. I think alot of them also feel the frustration and "protect mode" waves, which is a pity and a real endearing thing at the same time.

Do self worth and self respect ever cross your mind when thinking about harassers? Of course there is the notion that they DEFINITELY don't respect the victim, but what about themselves?

Anonymous said...

Salam alaikum sis! This is the first time I have read your blog, which is a fab piece of writting from you by the way.
Sister, I know I am going to perhaps get some disagreements, but this is what I think....
Islam elevated the status of women and what we see these days, are muslim women being how they were treated in the time of Jahililiyah. You will probably see it more in our times than in times before, guys walking about half nakedly and at the same time, dictating what women should or shouldn't wear. This sort of behaviour is inappropriate and demeaning to muslimahs. Basically it is as though we are seen as sex objects rather than respected as human beings. If we are to show a part of our skin, or make an action, it is seen that we are asking for something. Sisters please, educate yourselves, ourselves and inshaa allah let us bring up the next generation of muslims as better amin. We must strive to be like the salafi inshaa allah.
love you all for the sake of allah xxx