Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Middle East, women, sex, and the awful double standard

People of Shambhala
Tuesday January 21, 2012

What to conclude when an Egyptian newspaper is condemned for reporting gang rapes and sexual assaults on women in Tahrir Square? Or that a self-appointed "morality police" now patrols Egypt's streets with rods to beat any woman dressed in normal, causal clothes? Should we conclude that, in the Middle East, it is acceptable for men to rape, but not okay for a woman to show the least bit of skin?

A few days ago Egyptian newspaper Bikya Masr reported that an Arab-American woman had been "stripped of her pants, assaulted and beaten by a mob of men in the center of the square."

"Surprisingly," says Bikya MAsr, "this led to a backlash against us, in comments on the article, emails and on a private listserv here in Cairo." Journalist Joseph Mayton says he

received a number of emails condemning reporting such incidents, with the correspondence saying Bikyamasr.com is “anti-revolution,” “Orientalist,” and even patronizing and victimizing toward women by detailing the sexual violence that was perpetrated in the square.

This misses the reality. Sexual violence in Egypt, and around the region is not new. It seems to occur whenever large crowds gather in this country. As a media outlet, we can only do our best to report on such incidents. Many argued that we did not contextualize the situation by reporting the story of the woman being assaulted.

They argued Tahrir was “safe” for women and that even men were protecting women throughout the day. Certainly, this was correct, but it misses the point. Sexual assault needs no contextualization. Assault is assault, in our view.

Apparently in Egypt it's a controversial view. 

However, some in the Middle East are fighting back. With Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani told not to return to Iran because of a naked photo shoot published in Madame Le Figaro more than one Facebook group has been launched in support of the actress.

One, called, simply, Support of Golshifteh Farahani, says it "has been formed, in order to support Golshifteh's move, in order to say NO to relegion [sic], tradition, culture and anti women's law.Viva freedom !!!"

Reuters says "movement has sprung up, with supporters encouraging others to post Farahani's topless photo as a "PicBadge" of the actress' photo-shoot to their Facebook profiles." Activists are encouraging people to read The Stoning of Soraya M.

A number of activists -- men and women -- are also posting nude photos of themselves in protest at the treatment of Farahani and of women in the Middle East in general.

Nude protesting might be extreme, but --whatever one may think of it -- it is clear that a lot of people in the Middle East are getting fed up with rape being "contextualized" and portrayed as okay, while self-expression is seen as absolutely immoral.