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By VIOLET KITTAPPA
Much of the media attention this week on the sexual assault committed against reporter Lara Logan in Cairo has been filled with two strains of hatred—misogyny and racism—and supported by ill-informed and undeserved measures of American superiority in gender equality. In place of meaningful examination of the crime has been flippant commentary from sources we’d hope have a better understanding of the real situation, not least among them Nir Rosen and Simone Wilson.
In an effort to denounce what happened to Logan, many commentators have lazily used one Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights statistic on the prevalence of harassment in Cairo over and over again, omitting statistics from other sources showing equal and larger numbers of women being harassed in America, Japan, France, Argentina, Jordan, Australia, and England, to name a few—barely stopping short of saying, But that would never happen here.
Others have indulged in waxing proudly on the freedoms afforded American women, using mainstream media’s favorite defense mechanism—ethnocentrism. Poorly.
“How many Bahrainian women, after all,” wrote the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, “would produce an ass-cam video,” referring to an irrelevant YouTube clip, sending readers off googling ‘ass-cam’ and thinking about all of the ways in which Egyptian and American societies are different, instead of prompting them to ask why rape is happening in both places, and what part of our society is so broken that it can’t been fixed?
Because it does happen here.
What better ‘American’ example than Woodstock 1999, where four women experienced sustained sexual assaults and rape during daylight music sets on festival grounds packed with Pepsi products, ATMs, and MTV cameras.
During the 2000 Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, a 29 year-old kickboxing instructor named Anne Peyton Bryant, out for some afternoon rollerblading along Central Park South, was doused in water and beer, shoved to the ground, groped, and partially stripped of her clothing. An eighteen year old nearby had her underwear ripped off and was raped by finger while the men screamed, chanted, and cheered their fellows on. Bryant fled her attackers as the crowd moved on to assault dozens of other women, and tried in vain to capture the attention of police officers assigned to the area sitting on the steps of the nearby Plaza hotel. She was told to come back and file a report when she had calmed down a bit.
Thirty men were indicted in the case on felony sex abuse, rioting, and assault charges, including a 14 year old boy. Among the worst offenders was the younger brother of a NYC cop who took part in more than 15 of the assaults. Bryant became the mouthpiece for the events that day, enrolling in law school, speaking publicly about what happened to her, and filing charges against the city and NYPD for failing to respond to her pleas for help. Seven years after the crimes, she settled for $125,000.
So Logan’s assault is not an isolated or uniquely Egyptian incident. Failing to acknowledge our own widespread, homegrown brand of misogyny ensures that the anger and hatred behind these acts of sexual violence will continue to exist unchecked. Subverted public opinion borne of sloppy language choice and hateful media commentary ensures we’re busy reading whatever afternoon doldrums-inspired rant some journalist with a return key could spit out instead of considering what sorts of social programs and comprehensive government-backed studies will be required to remediate our own rape culture.
When we include the color of a journalist’s hair and details of her sex life alongside coverage of her sexual assault, what we are effectively telling the American public is that she asked for it. And when we half-heartedly try to convince anyone that we’re lucky to be female in America and not Egypt, we draw an unfair comparison and avoid solving the problem, perpetuating the same crimes of which we write.
TheStar.com reports that a Toronto police officer publicly apologized after telling a room full of law school students to whom he was giving a presentation, “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
Toronto Police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said cautioning women on their state of dress is not part of any police training,
“In fact, this is completely contradictory to what officers are taught,” she said. “They are taught that nothing a woman does contributes to a sexual assault.”
Where else are we seeing embarrassed people and institutions apologizing for the bad behavior of sick and hateful employees? Apologies are great, but let’s start eradicating the hate mongering before it begins by doling out real consequences for real misogyny. Read the full article here.
Armchair revolutionary and badass bloggers wanted!
Deadline to submit material for consideration is tomorrow, February 11 by 2:00pm EST.
Please email letter explaining your interest and qualifications as well as a blog post for publication to [email protected]. Bloggers will be selected for diversity of voice, clarity of writing, and overall badassness.
Film 678, a stark portrayal of street harassment by director Mohamed Diab (currently showing in Egyptian cinemas), is causing growing discomfort among Egypt’s top offices.
Bureaucrat Mahmoud Hanfy Mahmoud, head of the complaints department at the Egyptian Association for Human Rights and Social Justice, has filed an official complaint about the film, citing potential harm to men’s ‘sensitive spots.’
The film depicts women physically defending themselves against harassment and abuse.
In a separate case, the film faces legal action by lawyers Mohammed Hanafi and Melad George, who charge Diab and his cast with tarnishing Egypt’s reputation.
Coverage to date has not included follow up reports of complainants also taking action against perpetrators of sexual harassment and abuse.
Watch the trailer here
Two new studies came out this week, solidifying growing global anti-harassment sentiment and activism as forces to be reckoned with. Studies cross-posted from Holly Kearl at Stop Street Harassment:
#1: In a study of 828 salaried employees in an unnamed city in Korea, 43 percent said they experienced sexual harassment during their commute, and 79 percent were women. Via The Korean Times:
“Nearly 72 percent of the incidents occurred on subway cars, followed by buses at 27.3 percent and taxis at 1.1 percent. Nearly 60 percent said they experienced harassment between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. when most workers are on their way to work, while 17 percent were between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. while returning home from work.
About 61.9 percent said at the time of the sexual harassment, it was too crowded for them to move within the subway train or bus. In response to the harassment, 43.2 percent said they did nothing about it, and 25 percent moved to a different place. Only 18.2 percent strongly protested against the assailants and 6.3 percent shouted in anger.”
#2: In the state capitol of Thiruvananthapurm in the south Indian state Keralaas, 1000 women were recently interviewed about street harassment. Ninety-eight percent said they had experienced it and 90 percent said the harassment was either physically or vocally violent. The harassment was notable on public transportation and 62 percent had experienced it there. Only seven percent had reported any of their experiences of harassment.
India’s study was sponsored in part by UNIFEM, Jagori, and Sakhi Resources Center.
HarassMap officially announced the release of their SMS text reporting platform yesterday that will allow any cellphone user to report harassment and assault by sending a simple text message. This brings to 2 the number of anti-harassment initiatives launched in the middle east that we’ve written about in the past week. This is the fun part of the job.
HarassMap’s model is unique in that any cell phone user may participate, and not just those with iPhones or Droids. This means that replications in other cities around the world could soon be on their way, paving the way for continued success against public sexual abuse.
Reports are already being accepted . To report by SMS text, send details to 0169870900. To send a report by email, send to [email protected], or you can connect with the group via Facebook and Twitter as well. Visit the HarassMap site in English here.
Congratulations, HarassMap team, and THANK YOU for all that you do.
Email [email protected] to register.
With recent headlines calling attention to a Mizo gang rape case and a popular Delhi actress not keeping silent about being groped in public at a half marathon, India’s press is taking a much closer look at the situation on the front lines.
Mid-Day’s “A Tale of Two Cities” is chock full of interviews with psychologists, sociologists, government officials, and women who are sick and tired of being unwilling participants in a war they’re not interested in fighting.
“Their eyes show how much they respect women. Even men who are old enough to be your father don’t feel ashamed to pass lewd comments or touch inappropriately,” says one of the article’s sources.
“…And while human kindness is free and something we should all attempt to keep in abundant supply, it’s also unfair to demand that a woman is constantly doing hostess duty for every Tom, Dick and Hakeem who wants to demand a few minutes of her time,” writes The Beautiful Struggler in “Real Talk, Wrong Talk”. Insert big nod here.
Another quote from The Beautiful Struggler we like? “No one likes feeling like prey, or as if they are auditioning for a sexual role they have no interest in playing.” Right on.
Satire can be a powerful artistic form used to change bad human behavior.
It uses irony, wit, and ridicule to attack human vice, folly, and foolishness.
“As such, it is a tool that can be used to defeat street harassment,” writes blogger and self-defense guru Erik Kondo.
“Satire can be used to deny and refute the power of street harassers and expose their weaknesses and flaws. I came up with the term ‘sexless toad’ because as a man, I believe it is an insult that takes away power and is emasculating. The point is to come up with words that take away power. The insult ‘asshole’ actually gives power.”
Click here to read the tale of The Harasser, The Toad, And The Goddesses’ Daughter.