Tag Archives: egypt

Let’s Stop Saying Women. Let’s Say People.

These are people, people.



The minute you say “women”, all of a sudden listeners place them in a separate mental pocket.


Close your eyes for a moment. When you imagine people, you see all sorts of humans, right? (Some of you may envision only men. Men are not the default, so go back to your caves.) Nevertheless – eyes open – the humans pictured above are people first. Yes, they’re people who are female, granted. Still, human beings, people, first and foremost.


An interesting thing has been happening over the past few years with regard to humans who were bought and sold prior to the Emancipation Proclamation in the US, and those who now live the same tragic existences all over the world, primarily in India.


They used to be known as slaves. These days, most journalists and even the guides at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, refer to them as people held in slavery or enslaved people.


You can tell the difference, right? A slave is not as human as an enslaved person. The latter is a person held in a temporary state of non-liberty. The former is, perhaps, subhuman and born to be owned.


Huge difference.


Think how a similar enormous difference impacts the human beings shown above. Referred to as people, they remain human. Called women, however, and something happens in the mind of the listener, particularly if dangerous cultural or political baggage gets in the way, as in this article regarding the politics of sexual violence in Egypt.


They become something less than people, as if we were speaking of dolphins or aardvarks.


Farfetched? No. Language carries enormous cultural weight and can cause confusion. In Spanish, for example, mujer is the word for both woman and wife. Asked by authorities if she is the “wife” of an injured man – spouses may give consent for medical care – a woman may well answer “yes” even though she is not legally married to him.


Language gives order to how we learn and remember. Language has power, and it offers power, as well. Witness the rise of Welsh-language schools in Wales, the persistent efforts of French speakers to make Quebec a separate country, and the efforts of billions of people to learn and improve their English, the current linguistic coin of power.


It’s just not wise to dismiss how we use words when their use either reduces power or increases it.


We should not have to keep making signs saying “Women Are People, Too!”. That’s so 20th-century.


We do need to begin replacing the words woman/women with person/people as much as possible.


It might sound awkward at first to talk about pregnant people, people with breast cancer, people who have survived FGM.


Though we do speak of pregnant whales, giraffes giving birth, and elephants that have survived poachers’ attacks.


If one, why not the other?


Doing so would point up the humanity of people who are female, rather than consign them to a lesser status in the mind of the listener. Calling them people gives primary acknowledgement to their personhood. Qualifiers – like the word female – are the secondary identification. Then again, speaking of people means that if they carry XY chromosomes, they too will need a qualifier. Male.


When we talk of people, we’ll make more sense than if we used words that mistakenly relegate others to a status below humanity.


Words like slave. And, unfortunately, women.


Stand firm. Use words with care. Up with people !




Filed under Feminism

Paging Dr. Kegel


The man who made surgery unnecessary




That’s the reaction I had when reading this article on young women opting for surgery to obtain what are termed “designer vaginas”.


Lest you think we’re confusing our V-words, no. They’re not attaching rings or gems to their vulvas (the part that can be seen), they’re paying surgeons to cut-and-stitch their birth canals.


And why? Well, porn, for one. They – or their partners – expect a certain experience that imaginary, pixelated characters presume to have. In other words, fiction. So if their own friction doesn’t live up to the low standards of their preferred fiction, well, off to the GYN to have that little “problem” resolved.


Of course it’s the woman who submits to surgery. Naturally. Never mind that surgery is supposed to be healing by way of a knife, and there’s no healing performed here because, well, there’s no disease or injury.


The mind boggles.


So she has her expensive surgery. She risks complications from the anesthesia, recovery, the many nasty germs that float through hospitals, post-surgical infection, and, let’s face it, from the potential mistakes of the surgeon himself. I say him, could be her, but most Western surgeons are male.


There she is, form-fitting and juuuussssst right. Maybe. She could end up dead from septicemia, or merely wounded and requiring hospitalization and perhaps months of recovery.


There has to be an easier way.


There is. Ta-daaah! Enter Arnold Kegel, MD, who in the 20th century designed a series of exercises so simple and discreet they can be done on public transportation, in meetings, even while watching TV with the family. Although Kegel – the man – designed Kegels – the exercises – in order to help women who had trouble with bladder control (they’re great for that, too), he soon found his patients reporting an odd side effect: sex with their husbands felt better, and the men were ecstatic.


Well, duh. What the exercise does is help the pelvic floor muscles become more elastic, stronger, tighter. It would be strange if that didn’t improve vaginal intercourse.


Kegel exercises are recommended to women of all ages. (Maybe the people choosing surgery missed that day in sex education class?)


So why pay thousands of dollars and run the risks of surgery when, in just a few minutes a day, you can build yourself a snappier little birth canal for free?


In any case, surgeons who do gynecological reconstruction have a far greater task ahead of them, one they could begin on immediately, both paid and volunteer, and that’s repairing the ravages of FGM (female genital mutilation), which is not only long-term torture in terms of sex, but also impairs a person’s ability to give birth and survive it.


Some surgeons, especially in France, have begun this work. It is like a miracle to people who for years have paid a very heavy price for their society’s inhumanity.


But there are hundreds of thousands – likely millions – of people who currently have no access to such surgeons. In Egypt, over 90% of female adults are survivors of knives that cut away their clitorises, inner lips, and sometimes the outer lips of their vulvas, as well.


While numbers in Egypt are very high – FGM started there in the time of the pharaohs, and Islam has yet to name it accurately as a pre-Muhammad cultural practice, thus pagan and forbidden – other nations have shockingly high percentages of mutilated people, too. Horribly, the practice continues, so that attacks on little girls in many Muslim families are regarded as just a part of growing up. (Note: Some of those little girls do not survive the assault. They die from blood loss, shock and trauma, and, days later, fevered and hallucinating from advanced septicemia.)


So instead of doing useless designer surgery, gynecologists, how about employing your skills to heal? Educate your colleagues, get together and devote one morning per month – per week – to FGM survivors, and know that you’re not just making life better . . . you’re making life bearable.

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Filed under FGM, Violence, War against women

Is Egypt Hopeless?


Just a few months ago, hope rose in Cairo’s Tahrir Square (aside, of course, from the horrifying gang rapes committed there, several against foreign reporters).


Egypt would, people on the ground predicted, shake off its past and move into a new, brighter future.


Then came the election, in which only 43% of the Egyptian electorate put an Islamist in power.


Now, there seem to be no more reasonable answers. President Morsi has left. His supporters battle with the Egyptian military, and over 700 people have lost their lives, including women and their children installed in the Cairo protest-camp tents (presumably to prepare food for the crowds, since women who gather to protest or report are routinely raped), tents destroyed by the army’s flamethrowers and rockets. Photos of the bleeding wounded and rows of shrouded dead are everywhere. Police are allegedly confiscating the equipment of journalists so they cannot file stories, and the scenes are described as massacres.


At least one British photographer and one female journalist have died, shot by snipers aiming right for their heads, so that the bloody surge would escape reportage.


Egyptian police were hauled from a bus and executed, hands tied behind their backs.


The military disavows its actions, claiming they were attacked first (possible – men in the camps stockpiled weapons and fired guns) and responded with restraint.


No, they did not. When non-combatants are killed by sharpshooters, self-restraint was lost.


The US has cancelled a joint military operation with Egypt, Denmark has halted their aid package (other nations’ governments are under pressure from their own citizens to do likewise), and the United Nations warns that Egypt is dangerously polarized.


The pendulum swings over, swings back. Eventually, Egypt – where protests and violence are spreading, such that Western tourists are keeping to their hotels and some countries are advising citizens to cancel their plans to visit Egypt – will be more peaceful. How many more people will die, however, before peaceful disagreement will be achieved? Already, Egyptian violence has affected its lucrative tourist industry. Even the resort town of Sharm el Sheikh, hundreds of miles from Cairo, has seen its tourism vanish. The dearth of visitors with ready cash bounces along the economic road: first, hotels and restaurants and their employees, then the growers and producers who supply them, and on and on.


When violence is the way of the day, people get hurt. People bleed, and not just literally. War-created poverty affects whether children are schooled or must toil for abusive employers, the amount of nutrition they get, how they are healed – or not – in cases of illness or injury, and, if they’re girls in a Muslim country, whether their parents will barter them to lecherous men in foul “temporary marriages”, a thinly-disguised form of forced prostitution.


Political violence afflicts the next generation. That’s why a strong middle class is the best harbinger of children’s future health, because a strong middle class prevents political violence.


The wealthy in Egypt have largely fled the turmoil. They have the money to do it. But ordinary people? They’re stuck. They have not yet tried for refuge elsewhere, as Syrians have done in hundreds of thousands. Yet if Egyptian violence continues, people there will begin to stream across borders to neighboring countries.


Which is a guarantee of more horror for children, since refugee status brings abuse of its own by men who protect themselves from violence only to perpetrate it on others, like men from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states who prey on Syrian refugee girls.


Is there hope for Egypt? Eventually. In the meantime, both protesters and army need to recognize that their conflict guts their nation’s future, slicing it open for human predators.

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Filed under Cruelty, Egypt, Egyptian beaches, Rape, Violence