Mary Rogers [2015: link broken. article reposted here.] has made one of the saddest statements I’ve read on the horrible treatment of CNN’s Lara Logan. The gut-wrenching sexism of some of the commentary is sad. One more reminder that we’ve indeed “come a long way, baby.” A long way backward. That such commentary is considered normal — crude, but normal — is sadder. We should, by now, be in a place where it’s unacceptable to think such crap, let alone say it. But the saddest thing of all is a sentence in her article about the crime.
She knows the situation.
If you are a woman living in Cairo, chances are you have been sexually harassed. It happens on the streets, on crowded buses, in the workplace, in schools, and even in a doctor’s office. … 98 percent of foreign women and 83 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed. [That’s the number who would acknowledge they’d been harassed.] … what happened in 1994, shortly after I moved here. … A man walked up to me, reached out, and casually grabbed my breast.
In a flash, I understood what the expression to “see red” meant. … But the satisfaction of striking back quickly dissipated. By the time I walked away, I was feeling dirty and humiliated. After a couple of years enduring this kind harassment, I pretty much stopped walking to and from work.
Of course, harassment comes in many forms. … At times it can be dangerous. … I was walking on the street, when a car came hurtling towards me. Aiming for me!
… women who have been sexually harassed here have been too afraid or ashamed to speak up.
Any woman who’s not in denial doesn’t need to have the situation explained to her. For those men who don’t get it, try this thought experiment. You live in a world where you’re only allowed to go outside naked. No way to hide erections. No way to hide the fact that you’re male. Then, because you’re male, it’s an understood thing that anyone on the street can grab your ass, or poke an umbrella between your legs, or laugh when you double up in pain.
That is not sexy. That is not normal. That is not women expressing their hormones.
It’s a power trip. That’s all. It’s saying, “I’ll put you down because I can. And if you don’t hide, I’ll do it again.”
So, like Mary Rogers, you stop walking to work. You may have rights on paper, but you can only go where you’re allowed to go or people can grope your penis any time they feel like it. (No, you can’t just beat them up. The uppity sometimes get their bits sliced off.) Without freedom of movement, your whole world is limited. There are jobs you can’t do, raises you won’t get, recognition you’ll never see. The price of hiding is that nobody knows you’re there. The price of being a target is that you have no actual rights, no matter what it says on paper.
And don’t forget, being a man, you have to tough it out and pretend none of it matters. If you stop hiding, the humiliation will get worse. Much worse.
One more thing: being a man, you represent half the population.
With all that in mind, I come to the saddest thing Rogers said.
A law regarding sexual harassment will have to wait. The country has greater concerns now — forming a new government; writing a new constitution….
Greater concerns? Greater concerns than the basic human rights of half the human race? Say what?
What chance is there anyone’s going to get it, if even people who aren’t in denial can’t figure out which way is up?
Until people understand what human rights are, they can write constitutions till they’re blue in the face and it’ll just be sound and fury, signifying nothing. After the next round of kleptocrats, they can do it again, and it’ll still signify nothing.
The headline of Rogers’ article is “Egypt’s harassed women need their own revolution.” No, they don’t. The people who need it, of any gender, are the ones who think human rights don’t matter enough to put first.