Around 40 to 60 percent of women from the Middle East and North Africa have reported experiencing street-based sexual harassment. Please let that sink in. That means that a minimum of 86,559,348 women have received disgusting sexual comments, been stalked and followed, or stared at and ogled like they’re mere slabs of meat whose sole purpose of life is to be a source of enjoyment for the disgusting predators who somehow think they’re entitled to them.
Women experience being catcalled on a daily basis. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it happens so much in fact, that many have developed methods of dealing with it- whether it be ignoring it and walking away, or responding with a ‘no, thank you’ to throw the catcaller off, or the classic: flipping them off. Some choose to talk to other women afterwards, or someone they trust. Others don’t have that luxury. And while that is unacceptable, it is true, one of the many reasons for that being victim-blaming; this happens anytime someone starts questioning what a victim could’ve done to prevent a crime.
Let me tell you something, and read this very, very carefully: we didn’t ask for it. We aren’t flattered. We didn’t say anything to encourage them. All we did was walk down the street. The very fact that it’s a reflex to ask what the victim was wearing, or what she said, or did is not only insulting but also upsetting. Of course, it’s made even worse when you ask why you weren’t told that your daughter was catcalled. Because really, what did you expect? When we see your reactions to the many, many stories, and hear your comments on how she shouldn’t go around wearing crop tops or shorts-completely ignoring the fact that it wouldn’t matter if she was wearing long sleeves and pants or wearing a niqab or hijab as well- we aren’t exactly convinced that you will understand. That you will validate our emotions about this. That you’ll understand the disgust that flows through us from such occurrences, and anger, and fear, and maybe even shame.
Shame for walking away without shutting them up, for not standing up for ourselves and the many other women before us who’ve had to experience this. Shame for letting the fear for ourselves and for our safety win out, although we cannot be blamed. Disgust at the low-lives who treat us like objects, or ornaments, or trophies that they think they can claim, who think that we will pull up our skirts at the first ‘flattering’ remark. Anger at their idiocy, and their entitlement, and at our society in general, for failing to educate them and everyone else about how wrong and how intolerable this is. Even more anger at the women who-instead of sympathizing or even empathizing- choose to blame us. Anger at you, for not making us comfortable or sheltered enough to share this with you, when you are supposed to be where we are at our safest.
When I read the stories, or when I see it on the streets, I am saddened by the state of our world. When I see the reactions of people who are supposed to be educated and wise-how they shake their heads and say that she should’ve been more careful-I am infuriated. But when I see how you react the same way, I become speechless. I truly have no words for it, how terrible it feels to understand that were I in her place, you might’ve blamed me, and not the perpetrator for using their sharp, forked tongue that quite frankly deserves to be cut off. To comprehend that you don’t understand that your daughter feels unsafe when she walks alone through the streets where she was raised, and that no amount of additional clothing will make her feel safer. That no one deserves to feel that way, no matter what they do, or say, or wear.
The reason we don’t tell you about being catcalled is because we don’t want you to blame and reprimand us instead of telling us that you understand. It is because we don’t want to hear that we should be more careful, or that it is our fault. We don’t want to detect the disbelief in your voice, maybe even skepticism about something like this happening, especially when 43% of Egyptian men still believe that women actually enjoy sexual harassment. We do not want to know anything except that you understand and are here for us.