Following the mass sexual assault in Cologne and the discovery that most of the men involved were from Arab countries, many in the West have made the claim that gender violence is something unique to the culture of the Middle East. This argument has so far been used to justify the turning away of refugees who show up desperate and exhausted at Europe’s ports. In Norway, male immigrants are forced to participate in a program designed to teach them how to treat women, with other countries in the process of implementing similar programs.
Western discourse has a long tradition of looking outside of its borders to locate the problems of the world. In my home country of the United States, a frontrunner for the Republican nomination has employed similar logic to demand a border fence between the US and Mexico, claiming that Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and should not be allowed to contaminate our allegedly pure and gender-equal society. These kinds of statements are how the Western world asserts moral superiority and reinforces political hegemony. It is also a way of intentionally overlooking the social issues that we ourselves face, many of which are the same issues that we condemn outside our borders.
As an American living in Cairo, I have experienced Egyptian harassment, which takes its particular forms. It is true that I have never seen street harassment to this degree anywhere else, which is why I have been inspired to follow organizations like HarassMap. Egypt is also well-known to be one of the countries in which more than 50% of the male and female populations believe that domestic violence can be justified in certain situations, another symptom of a wider problem. At the same time, I have experienced gender-based aggression in the US, which often looks quite different. Perhaps we should have gender training for the US members of the ridiculous Men’s Rights Movement, who actively fight against the feminist movement, and their brothers in the Pick-Up Artist community, for whom harassing and degrading women is an official dating tactic.
I do not write to defend Egypt. I write to testify that patriarchy is not country-specific. While examining our cultures’ particular manifestations of gender inequality, we must recognize its common roots and act in solidarity to dismantle the systems that oppress us.
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