Monday, October 03, 2005


I have debated a long time (well, three weeks) about whether to write about this topic or not. I know many of you who read this are church people or people who are really concerned about my safety and welfare and whatnot, and also that you want to know what it really is like to live here. SO: with all those things in mind, I'm going to go ahead because this is a part of life as a Western woman here. PLEASE keep in mind that I live in a culture where violence is rare and violence against women (other than domestic violence inside the house) is non-existent.

Men here have seen too many of Hollywood's worst movies. They've seen Baywatch. They've seen all those sketchy media things we like to export around the world regardless of their cultural appropriateness. And they haven't seen many women who aren't covered, and even fewer white women, and even fewer blonde-and-curly haired white women. Culturally, women are to cover their shoulders, not show midriff, not wear skirts that fall at the knee or above. Many tourists, however, can be seen in short shorts and tank tops, or in sheer shirts with no bra, or other horrendously inappropriate clothing. When men here see them (who are awfully dressed and are here for a few days), and then see us (who are appropriately dressed and who live here), they think we must all be just like the women in the movies and tv shows they've seen, or else we must be part of the sexual tourism industry. What that means to them is a) we're all "loose" and b)we like to be treated the way they've seen western women treated onscreen. They are, of course, wrong on both counts, but no one seems to have bothered to set all several million of them straight. So there are many men (not all, and this certainly doesn't happen ever day) who think that it is okay to say inappropriate things to women, to shout obsenities, or even to grab their bodies. In addition to the constant staring, I have had men on the street tell me they love me, tell me that they want to love me, tell me I've broken their hearts, tell me that want to f*** me, tell me they want to lick me, grab my behind, rub their forearms on my chest while talking to me (that happened in the Egyptian museum, actually), or rub themselves (you know what I mean) on my leg on a crowded metro train. It is not a pleasant experience. Sometimes I think it is simply funny and pathetic--that the best they can do for themselves is get half a second of gratification from touching a white woman on the street. Sometimes I think it's disgusting and all I want to do is take a shower. Naturally, the word "no" comes out quickly, as do the dirty looks and the moving away. Sometimes that is not enough. I have learned the Arabic word for "shame" as well as the phrase "would you do that to your sister?" Luckily, this is a culture so based on honor and shame that any man who gets called out on doing something like that is likely to run off, humiliated. If their sister were to get treated that way (and they were to find out about it), they would be likely to go out and beat up the guy...and then keep an even closer watch and tighter control over their sister's movements outside the house.

So anyway, this is a real problem here. Remember: it will never go beyond this. I am not afraid to walk in the streets (though I don't go places by myself, really, or at least not very much) because they may yell or grab, but they won't assault me. There's no possibility of rape or injury, other than to my psyche--which is pretty strong. Normally I laugh it off, because it's so pathetic. As if any of those men would even have the remotest chance with someone cute (and taken) like me! Anyway...yeah. Should you come to visit, be aware of this and PLEASE dress appropriately--for the sake of those of us that live here. That's all I have to say about that for today.

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