Sunday, December 11, 2005

Social Freedoms and Chastity in Egypt and the US

This is a true story that happened to one of my American friends living in the US. I felt like sharing it with you because I am seeing it from a different social and cultural perspective being an Egyptian woman.

A friend of mine is living by herself in one of the residential buildings in one of the US renowned popular cities. She shared with me an experience in which I will not go into its details. However, the main thing that I want to review is the repercussions of her story. My friend got harassed by one of her ex-boyfriends. She had to take a couple of precautions. She also sought my advice and her family’s.

In Egypt, a woman is not supposed to live by herself in the first place to start with. A woman must stay at her parents’ house until she moves to her husband’s house. They have to guard and keep an eye on her chastity. She could be doing all that she wants in life including having sex but she must be under the roof of her parents house so that any would-be groom would look at her with respect.

Harassment issues in Egypt must be treated with carefulness because it might touch the girl’s “reputation”. FYI, women at the age of 50 can still be called girls because they are virgins. A woman is not called woman until she is married. A family might advise their daughter never to mention a harassment issue no matter what because if a would-be groom learns that somebody tried to harass his future wife he might consider not marrying her. The reason is always that if a woman has good manners, she would not have been harassed in the first place. Having a harassed daughter in the family is a lasting stigma, because this means that she did not respect herself in a way or another. Reporting violated rights is not an issue.

My friend reported the harassment incident at her work place, seeking the security personnel advice. They assured her. If an Egyptian working woman is harassed and reported that to her work place for protection, she might be subject to interrogation, but not to win her rights to understand why so that they could protect the work environment against deviated women. At the end of the day, she better lie about it to protect her dignity and reputation. It is like being raped in Egypt. A raped woman should remain silent to continue to live as an equal in the eyes of her society to any another woman and not being stigmatized by a rape incident when she could be going under psychological and in many cases physical pain.

Coming now to the building part where my friend lives, women in Egypt are not allowed to live by themselves because they are incapable of protecting themselves against male carnivores who were originally created as sexual predators. We have a very popular proverb of Islamic insinuation that says “if a woman and a man are alone, their third will be the devil”. The Bawab, who is alternative of reception personal in the US, could be the building’s chastity guardian or pimp in Egypt. My friend talked to her building’s manager. He assured her that her safety comes first and that he will give instruction to all receptionists to make sure to report to her all her apartment’s visitors and that noone will be allowed to get inot the building without her consent. He did not talk about her personal behavior or tried to condemn her in anyway as a loose woman. In Egypt, landlords may ask tenants to leave the building because they endanger the building’s reputation and other innocent women. And in this case they are always women because in Egypt we live in a masculine society that gives the men all rights to mess around with women but he repents and he is forgiven the moment he prays and be at the hands of god. Life is beautiful for men. As for the “Bawab”, he would start immediately to give personal smart interpretation like the woman is coming late, there is a guy who always follows her, she dresses in a way that seduces men…etc. He can spice up the story to an extent that ruins that this woman’s reputation socially. He will try his best to lay the blame on the woman no matter what. And by the way the word “reputation” is frequently if not excessively used, because “the reputation” is part of chastity.

Women in Egypt, if they are getting high education at universities, the lack of social freedoms reduces them to in-waiting potential wives because their families cannot rest before they see them married otherwise families will be hunted by the idea of their daughters losing their virginity. A father is always so worried about his daughters because culturally, they are believed to be a burden.

One of the tools for ensuring women’s chastity is female circumcision. It part of subjecting women to complete sexual obedience, something like the medieval chastity belts. Many men in Egypt believe that women must be circumcised otherwise, they can go and hunt other men. Women are treated as prostitutes and men as sexual predators in an age women travel to the moon in space shuttles.

When anyone raises the idea of women’s social freedoms, he/she is either accused of being a disbeliever or infidel or a shameless person who he/she propagating for sexual looseness. The easiest way to attack anyone in Egypt is to attack him/her in connotation to their faith since everyone will look down at him or her if they are socially regarded as not so religious. This is the way anyone can lose credibility. Because social freedoms are mixed with religion and values of a muscular society, there is no way to respect an individual's privacy or freedom. A private life is not a well-known concept in Egypt. Two main questions an Egyptian person would ask a foreigner: "What is your religion? Are you married?". In my society, everyone has a category.

I did not mean to compare Egyptian women, particularly to Americans but the story of my American friend inspired me to compare. I am sure the European or even Asian women are enjoying as much social freedoms as the American women with relativity.

Freedom is all about individuals’ rights. Freedom cannot be attained with individuals in our society crippled by patriarchal muscular ruling. Freedom is all about choices in life.


At 5:12 AM, Blogger programmer craig said...

Excellent post, Freedom. Being a guy, I don't really understand what life is like for a woman, even here in the US, but it's very interesting to read a direct comparison. Thank you for posting that :)

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Freedom for Egyptians said...

We tend to bury our heads rather than stopping to think about the roots of problems or question why social freedoms in our society are not granted. And the easiest way not to promote freedoms and exert the effort needed is to say or rather claim that this the word of god. Does anyone can say anything after what god has said?

At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am an egyptian girl. I moved out of my parents house into a different city.
refused to stay with my relatives, and took an appartment with a friend.
It's been 3 months now, and my father is still not talking to me.
He's had Masters Degree, travelled all around the world, smokes, drinks and goes to night clubs. He's had pre-marital sex, and affairs while being married.
He seemed to be open-minded to me, lets me go stay out late, travel alone and other things.
Moving out is something he could not accept, despite of his "loose" morals!

My 5 cents!

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Freedom for Egyptians said...

Hey anonymous brave girl,

I like the fact that you were capable of taking the decision of moving despite the social parental hindrance. There are so many women in our society that believe in independency but they do not take any step towards it. I applaude your courage.

One rule i know by heart, changes are never easy for humans even if they are positive ones.But changes take brave persons like you to happen.

So Chin up, you made it when many failed to do it.

Your father can never avoid you for long especially when he finds you a successful person. He will always be proud of you. It is a matter of time. Trust me:)

At 3:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So how many women in Egypt would you say are "circumsized" on that way?

Also, tell me more about Arab women, unveiled of course. ;-)


At 7:41 PM, Blogger Freedom for Egyptians said...

You can check UNDP statistics.

At 6:23 AM, Blogger Living Away said...

I even don’t know what to think about your amazing post. I will sleep on it.
But still, I cannot think about men as predators or as sexual animals. All my life I have had better relations; friend’s relations with men than with woman and I never got one unique disrespectful word from them. I do understand men’s mind better than women’s mind, even being a 40 years old marry woman. I do believe in a true friendship between women and men. I do!
I’m not here to defend men, cause I do know that we cannot trust all of them in the same way that we cannot trust all women. However is so crazy for a non-muslin, Latin heritage woman to understand that concept of a woman being a sexual material 24/7.
I have many Islamic friends, mostly male friends, single and married, and they are simply wonderful to me. We do talk a lot about everything, and they never showed this kind of behavior. Never!
Please, could you answer me if they have a different behavior when they are living abroad their muslin countries? I asked that because I never went to a muslin country and perhaps that’s why is so hard for me to understand it!

I came here by Highlander’s blog.

At 5:35 PM, Blogger Hannu said...

Love your post and will visit frequently!

Unfortunately, in our "retarded" part of the world, the woman is always the victim--twice! If she is raped, she must have brought it on herself by some way or the other; if she's abused, she must have brought it on herself too. She's the victim of the vicious act and the victim of the accusations. Like you said, "reputation" is excessively used!

The sad reality though is that a lot of these women believe they are the reason for what befalls them and take on the guilt. I always tell those who need help, "nobody can help you if you don't help yourself!"

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Hannu said...

With your permission Freedom for Egyptians...

Living away, there are definitely very decent Arab men, but very few. Most of whom are those who lived in the west most of their lives or were brought up without the male-chauvinistic, man-is-superior mentality. Generally I have realized that Arab men interact differently with western women. They show them more respect and decency than that they would show to Arab women. Their god-given right and superiority over women does not apply to non muslim women. Actually, there is a difference in the way they interact with Arab women who are not from their country and their fellow countrywomen.

At 7:09 PM, Blogger Freedom for Egyptians said...

Living away,
I cannot generalize about muslim or middle eastern men in gernal. All I can tell you that there are so many complexties.

And I agree with Hanu on what she said.

Men from the Middle East tend to treat western women differently than the women of his own society.

At 11:33 PM, Blogger Weird said...

That is an eye-opening piece of work. Thanks for that little insight into the modern Egtpyian culture.

It's hard to imagine that these problems still exist in the world. I sincerely hope that things will change for the better.

Great blog, I'll stop by again,


At 8:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually Egyptian men don't treat western women with more respect. I've lived here for 2 years and still get treated like a whore (and, mind you, I don't dress like one or act like one). Some days I'm so tired of this stupid culture I could puke...until I realize of course that women have these problems everywhere in the world. When are Cairenes going to get cosmopolitan, you know, like not all racist and freaked out by people who don't look like them? Or is it because there are so many tourists without morals that all white people are assumed to be godless, sleazy, sex-pot drunkards?


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