Egypt: Walking While Female

The days of parity

Both men and women participated in the protests that brought about the fall of Mubarak. During that time – I wrote about this earlier – there was a noticeable, remarkable cessation in the usual harassment of women in public. In the service of revolt, men treated women as respected allies, as sisters.

No more. Mubarak’s gone, but the constant, insulting, painful words/touches/pinches are back in place. Two weeks ago, women might cross a street without worrying about being touched.

No more.

According to reports, it doesn’t matter how old – or young – the woman is, nor if she’s Egyptian or foreign, nor her religion, nor how she’s dressed. Egyptian women in flowing burkas and gloves are harassed and molested just as often as foreign women in jeans, and fame – as in the case of Lara Logan – is no shield, either.

What matters, therefore, is the personal maturity – or lack thereof – of the men.

Sadly, that has a lot to do with their upbringing. Which depends much on older males’ perception of what healthy male behavior is. Not, understand, on their thoughts about women. But what they think men are entitled to do, both in private and in public.

Take Italy, for example. Twenty years ago it was not uncommon for women to be accosted wherever they went. Streets, restaurants, museums, trains, cathedrals, nowhere was safe from leering suggestions and abusive hands.

Fast-forward to 2011, and such harassment has largely disappeared. Why? Young Italian men apparently got tired of their fathers’ and grandfathers’ behavior. They were embarrassed at the reputation Italian men had within the EU – they were viewed as boors, slobs, vicious, disrespectful. They wanted to be seen as civilized.

Only when Egyptian men grow likewise impatient with their own image will their behavior change. Only when they take on maturity will women feel safe to cross the crowded streets.

That day can’t come soon enough.

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