By Laura Dimon
By Laura Dimon
Morocco World News
New York, June 03, 2013
After extensive hair, makeup, and wardrobe preparations, male actor Waleed Hammad, 24, walked the streets of Cairo dressed as a woman. He wore a long skirt and long sleeves, and at times donned the hijab as well. He had another accessory in tow: a hidden camera crew.
The purpose of Hammad’s experiment, conducted with Egyptian television station ONTV for a documentary series, was to expose Egypt’s endemic problem of sexual harassment, and show a man experiencing it from a woman’s perspective. The harassment that Hammad faced ranged from harmless catcalls to being followed, threatened, and offered money for sex. He realized a new appreciation for the freedom he feels as a man, saying that he can casually go where he wants and do what he wants without worrying, whereas women have to be in a “constant state of alertness.”
He added, however, that sexual harassment is not about gender. And it’s not about sex, either.
In Arwa Gaballa’s report for Egyptian website Aswat Masriya, Hammad said, “Honestly, I felt sorry for all Egyptians, because the harassment wasn’t only from men; it was from women as well,” a fact that he was more troubled by. In Sarah El Deeb’s report for the Associated Press, he said that harassment was “definitely not a problem with men only.”
The finding was reminiscent of a contradiction in a November New Yorker piece about women in Egypt. In the piece, the writer’s main subject, young female activist Hend Badawi, spoke of the moment when she was a young girl and first “felt life was unfair for women”—when her aunt beat her after she brought home a love letter from a boy. In the piece, Badawi goes on to say that growing up, her brother beat her because the culture “gives him the need to declare his authority over me.” But Badawi had just spoken about her aunt, a woman, beating her as well. Similarly, when Samira Ibrahim, another female activist in the piece, spoke about her time protesting, she said, “Most of the people that attack me are men.” But it seems that the writer did not question either woman about the abuse they endured from other women. It was a missed opportunity to explore an important nuance of the situation, but the nuance was revealed nonetheless, as it was during Hammad’s experiment as well.
The writer of the New Yorker article said that it was a “common theory” that sexual harassment occurs so often in Egypt because “young men, unable to afford marriage, are left full of sexual frustration.” This might be “common theory” but it is an entirely insufficient explanation. Young men all over the world experience sexual frustration, or cannot afford marriage, but do not sexually harass women. (Conversely, if it’s true that Egyptian men are particularly prone to sexual harassment, they are far from unique in their proclivity to it. There are optional single gender subway cars, for example, in Japan and Brazil, for this very reason.)
Hammad disagrees that the harassment is about sex. “I doubt it’s ever really about sex, because sex is available to those who want it and want to find it,” he said. “It’s not a matter of ‘I’m not having sex thus I’ll take it out on women.’ No, it’s about domination.” He added that some men feel the need to “dominate women in order to feel worthy.”
He said that he felt the problem of sexual harassment, not exclusive to men or women, and not about sex, reflected “a deficiency in the entire society.” In other words, it’s often treated as a disease, but perhaps it’s a symptom.
Laura Dimon is a recent graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School in New York City. She’s been published in Newsweek Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Bronx Free Press, and other publications. She previously worked as a program analyst for the Clinton Health Access Initiative in Pretoria, South Africa, and as a research intern at The Council on Foreign Relations. Website: www.lauradimon.com. Twitter: @lauradimon
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