Sunday, April 08, 2012

Cat calls

I was walking down the street yesterday afternoon when I passed a man standing beside his truck. I could tell he was staring at me, but most Egyptians have staring problems, so I didn't give it a second thought. But right as I passed him, and my ear was at the same level as his mouth, he called me "3asal" (i.e. honey). I ignored him and quickly passed, but I was so disgusted that it took me all my willpower to not turn around and say something to him that I would've probably regretted.

Part of me always thought it was only the girls who didn't wear hijab or wore tight, revealing clothes that were harassed by men. I was wrong. I was wearing a long skirt and long loose shirt and my hijab covered everything that it should, not to mention a wedding ring. So logically speaking, according to my appearance I should be safe from cat calls, but obviously this isn't the case.

It has happened a couple of times before (naturally only when I'm alone), and each time I was wearing clothes that were more modest than the last time. This kind of thing makes me dislike going out alone, which is frustrating since I'm used to being an independent person. Needless to say, I now fully understand why some women choose to wear the niqab in Egypt.

It's not really about a woman's beauty, it's about the lack of care and restraint shown by many men in this society. It's about this type of thing being acceptable and not taken seriously by most people. In fact, I've seen many girls giggle to each other when men around them make comments, like it's funny. It's not funny. To me it's a question of power. Those men are exerting their apparently God-given right and power over random women. Women are forced into experiencing disrespect and sexual harassment, while harbouring the fear of violence or being exposed to humiliation if they fight back.

The power struggle between men and women becomes very obvious in these cases. Let's be honest, men do have that power of women - the power to make them feel weak, objectified, one dimensional. To me it seems that the more power men lose, the more they feel the need to exert their power on someone deemed to be weaker.

Naturally this isn't a unique characteristic found solely in Egyptian society - it's almost universal, which is sad.


hajar said...

I honestly hate that.
And over here in Malaysia they use the salam not to greet you but as a way to catcall you. They do this especially to girls with hijab.
It infuriates me, every single time.
Most girls I know would just ignore this kind of thing, but some would, like you said, giggle. *sigh*
But it's nice to find someone who feels exactly the same way as I do.
Nice post =)

Haj said...

Mariyam said she found this disturbing, but informative.

Asmaa said...

Haj, cats and cat calls - two reasons not to visit Egypt ;) Tell Mariyam that I will likely continue posting disturbing things, hehe.

Little Auntie said...

Sorry to hear about that incident.

I know what you mean about "wearing modest clothes and still getting harassed". I actually stopped getting harassed after wearing abaya (and much more proper hijab *shudders at the memories*), but I know what you mean. Through my online work (I work as an operator for a chat site meant to introduce Islam to non-Muslims), I've been harassed a number of times by some guys. So here's what I think: if a person wants to "objectify" women, he will do it, regardless of what she's wearing and what he can see. I mean, we're talking "online" where the dude literally doesn't see anything.

But anyways, I do want to say though that my decision to wear the niqab actually had nothing whatsoever to do with men. I wore the niqab simply as an act to come closer to Allah- I figured HE was that much Greater =)

Asmaa said...

I totally didn't mean to imply that women wear niqab solely for the purpose of warding off men's gazes. Sorry if it came off that way - I realize that women who wear niqab do it for many reasons.

The reason I said what I did is that I've known some people who don't wear niqab normally, but they lived in Egypt for a while and wore it while they were here because of the stares and cat calls. But that definitely doesn't mean it's the only or even the most important element of the niqab.

sumayyah said...

good thing hubby doesn't read ur blog :S

Anonymous said...

How can we change this?

mariyam said...

@ anonymous

to anyone who catcalls you, turn around and slap them really hard across the face.

That should teach them a lesson.