I’ve been watching the news from Egypt for days now, and one thing seemed really clear: the streets were full of men. With the March of a Million scheduled for today in Cairo and Alexandria – and points in between – and the countless photos and videos of men protesting, men in uniforms, men being hurt and men rejoicing . . . I figured that women were taking care, as they do, of home and children.
Since schools have been shut down, electric power is often limited, and grocery store shelves are less well-stocked than before, there is plenty for women to do. Bottled water is giving way to the familiar technique of boiling water for drinking and cooking. Even in the midst of what many fervently hope is a toppling of the 30-year Mubarak regime, women give birth, feed and nurture children, and, no doubt, assign homework even if classrooms remain closed. Who has time for protest in the street?
Lots of women do. Today I read of something I hadn’t seen: while reporters and photographers follow the crowds in major streets, all over the smaller streets and squares of Cairo, women make their own protests. Young women in jeans, older women with covered hair and faces, women with children, hundreds are marching with banners and slogans.
Interestingly, while Cairo streets are often the sites of sexual harassment, anti-Mubarak men are so much in solidarity with their fellow citizens, male and female, that even their usual coarse remarks and sly touches have disappeared. It’s as though Egyptians are hauling their habits into the 21st century, and reminds me of observations made of America in the early 19th century by astounded Europeans: that Americans were so careful of female honor that a woman might walk naked for miles, and never be insulted.
The US has lost that caution, and Egypt is nowhere near it. But for relations between male and female strangers to be free of the gender apartheid that characterizes the Arab world, even if for just a short time, is a wonderful relief . . . and a model for what might be in the months to come.
Egyptian protesters have adopted as their theme song the odd, popular 1990 song by the Bangles, “Walk Like An Egyptian”. These days, that means walking tall.