Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lara Logan

This morning, when I heard about what had happened to CBS reporter Lara Logan in Cairo, my heart sank. Independent of any of the surrounding circumstances, this was a terrible thing to happen to anybody, anywhere. That the attack was perpetrated on a white woman, in the Middle East, was horrifying on a more personal level.

What happened to her is my personal nightmare scenario come true, on a grand scale. And I would wager that it is the personal nightmare scenario for many, many other foreign women living in the Middle East.

For all of you who just rolled your eyes and thought, "boo hoo, so the blonde American girl is afraid of the Arab boogeyman," let me tell you why it can sometimes be unnerving to be an obviously foreign woman in the Middle East. Even when you're not a reporter. Even when you're trying to keep a low profile.



You're harassed all the time. The least scary form it takes is the constant staring. Not casual glances, but full-on, full-body staring. Then there's the tactic where when you're walking on an empty sidewalk, a man coming the other direction takes care to move all the way over so he brushes into you when you walk past. Sometimes it's almost a subtle body-check using the shoulder.

Then there's the verbal stuff. Catcalls from across the street, hopefully in a language you don't understand (or using vocabulary you don't understand. Mercifully, that is often the case). Muttered, suggestive-sounding comments tossed out by a man as you pass him. Or the direct, clearly stated harassment, the kind that makes me shudder just thinking about what I've been called and asked. Once, walking home from the grocery store in Cairo, a man sidled up next to me and said simply - not even bothering to whisper - "Sex?"

At the time, I was walking briskly with a sense of purpose, avoiding eye contact, and I was dressed in loose jeans and a butt-covering, non-form-fitting shirt with long sleeves. I was doing everything right to avoid being harassed. And it was meaningless. I was powerless. I can never unhear what he said and I can never unfeel the gross insult to my integrity.

And then there's the groping. The ubiquitous, pervasive groping, so common that most foreign women I know who have spent any length of time in the Middle East have had it happen to them. No matter what they were wearing, no matter what precautionary measures they took, no matter how long they managed to successfully avoid it. One by one, we all succumb.

This is a problem. And I feel like in many ways, we ladies try so hard to cope with it and still be able to live our lives here in the Middle East that we trivialize it. We laugh at it, or find something to blame it on ("it was my fault because I shouldn't have been riding in the mixed car"), or chalk it up to just another day in this crazy region. Until our nightmare scenarios come true, as they did to Lara Logan.

(I'm not trying to discount or ignore the harassment that Arab women face in their home countries. This blog post isn't about that but I am aware that they have their problems, too.)

I didn't really want to write about this. But I think it's important to point out that while the scale of what happened to Lara Logan is certainly beyond the scope of normal, the attitude behind it isn't. Not at all. And that's a tragedy, too.

I'm grateful that Ms. Logan was willing to go public with what happened to her, so soon after it happened. Maybe a little global outrage is what is needed to get the message that American women are not worthless, lowly beings to the people who need to hear it, so they'll stop treating us like that.

I remember when I attended a book talk at the University of Arizona featuring two (male) authors who had written books that required extensive research and travel in some of the most dangerous areas of the world. At the end of the authors' presentations, one of the audience members asked a question along the lines of, "Do you think it would have been possible for a woman to write this book, speaking purely in terms of personal safety in the areas you were researching?" And the unequivocal answer was, sadly, "No." (For more on that subject, read this report.)

Like I said, I didn't really want to write about this. Obviously I don't have any solutions to offer and not much intelligent analysis of causes, either. But I wanted to publicly state that when it comes to harassing a woman simply because she's blonde, or American, or has blue eyes, or is wearing short sleeves, or doesn't have a support network of brothers and uncles nearby, or doesn't wear the veil, there is no level of acceptability. There is no line beyond which you should not go, unless that line is set at absolute zero.

Mostly I'm just sick of pretending to not notice my womanhood being disrespected and dragged through the gutter by any man on the street who feels like it. Just once, I'd like to complain about it, loudly. And since it will most likely never happen face-to-face with the perpetrators, you get to hear about it instead.

Sorry, and best wishes to Lara Logan for a full and triumphant recovery.

14 comments:

RED said...

I was also sad to read what happened to Logan!

I am a Jordanian woman and I think it's totally ok for you to write about whatever bothers you in the middle east, without having to apologize to anyone!

What you have wrote about is a valid issue, and it's very sad! Telling you that this can happen anywhere doesn't justify it either! And it doesn't only happen to foreign women! But what I know is that attacking a woman to this extent is in really rare cases! Other European or American cities are much more dangerous!

I also think that what happened with logan was more political than anything else, because she's a reporter from an American channel! Which doesn't make it ok also!

As for you, when you walk down the streets you should just be confident, and ignore anything of what's being said, don't even bother yourself to look or think about it, this is the best thing you can do! Bcz those men want you to react in anyway! Just don't! Nothing will happen to you :)

Keep posting:)

Susanne said...

Wow, I hadn't heard this about Lara before reading your blog. How awful that you've had to put up with so much harassment by living over there. I was just this morning thinking about how charming your life is and then reading this put a bit of a damper on my thinking. Do you ever question whether allowing your little blond girls to grow up there is a good thing? Or hopefully the men there are decent enough to stick with blond women and not little girls...ugh,the thought makes me sick. I know you do all you can to protect them, but you can't stop what men do to them (or even yourself) as you walk down the street. Blah. I wish people would just respect others. I'm sorry you've had to put up with this.

And since you were wondering about skinny jeans the other day...if wearing them will make men more likely to grope and stare, I'd stick with looser clothes. BUT as you pointed out in this post, you have worn looser, longer clothes and the men still grope and say things. So maybe it doesn't matter if you wear your bikini or a black trash bag because men there will say something.

Do you have a problem with this in the UAE as much as you might have had in Egypt or Syria or Jordan? I tend to have this view in my mind how things are for you and I think it may not be accurate.

Regardless, thanks for sharing this and for speaking out. I've read many women complain about such things and it always makes me sad and disgusted for them.

Sherwood family said...

AMEN!!!

Bridget said...

RED, thank you for your words. I know that Arab women suffer from harassment as well but obviously I can't speak to that with much personal experience.

Susanne, we are as vigilant here with our children's safety as we would be anywhere. The UAE is fairly tame as far as verbal harassment and groping go but when it comes to the stares, hoo boy, do they ever have it down. It's not always the Emiratis themselves, though. The other nationalities contribute more than their fair share.

breanne said...

Bridget, thanks for posting this. I agree that this is a big problem, especially because so often Western women living in the ME think that when things happen (from staring to groping to worse things), it is somehow their fault, like you mentioned.

I know when I was in the Middle East I cut my hair short and colored it dark brown and wore sunglasses all the time (to hide my blue eyes) and I STILL had problems. It made me angry--so angry that the rage just seethed from me most days. I think the men could tell because after I got this angry, they usually didn't bother me (and if they did stare at me they would look away after I glared at them). Some girls in my Arabic program had some real problems, though, even with sunglasses and loose clothing and not making eye contact.

This was very traumatic for me because I started to become angry with the Arab world as a whole and not just the creepers on the street. And this brings me to a question I have been meaning to ask you for some time: how have you stayed so positive about the Middle East while living there, especially since you do have blonde hair and blue eyes? Was it a bigger problem in Cairo than anywhere else you have lived? (I was guessing that this was one of the reasons you had a less-than-thrilling time there.) Do you have fewer problems when you are walking with your husband or your girls, or do you still get the stares? And is it different in the UAE? (It seems like there are fewer people on the streets, anyway.)

You don't have to answer all these questions. I am just curious about your experience there, especially since you have lived in so many different places in the Middle East. Thanks for the honesty in all of your posts--it is refreshing to read about both the good and the bad (especially because so often I feel like my own opinions and experiences are validated by reading your blog!).

Crys said...

AMEN BRIDGET!!! And thank heaven for the woman and soldiers that finally got her out of there.

Cait said...

This makes me sick. I met Lara when I was interning in DC, and she was so charming. Not only do I hate the idea of Egyptian men violently sexually-assaulting her in ANY circumstance, it annoys me that they were out there protesting for their freedom while taking away hers.

Becky said...

I, too, experienced some of this (on a minor scale) when I visited the Middle East. The catcalls, lewd behavior and groping (not experienced personally but by some friends). It is appalling, and unfortunately a part of living in these countries. There was a fantastic article in National Geographic in July 2010 about the abuse that women in those countries endure. It was a huge eye-opener. They theorize a possible reason for high abuse rates is the culture of war and violence that is so prevalent in these areas. The cover art of a woman from Afghanistan whose husband cut off her nose, ears, and hair as a form of punishment for her running away from his abuse won a journalism award. I, too, pray for Logan but was touched by the fact that she was rescued by other women (and police) and I pray for the women in these countries that probably endure worse atrocities that don't get splashed all over the media.

Joana said...

Amen!

Joana said...

Amen!

New Buffalo MI fishing said...

This is a tough woman, and as difficult as the details of her assault are, the perpetrators should be exposed for who and what they are. The Mubarak regime was behind the earlier detainment and torture. Were his henchmen behind this assault too? While protesting the abuse of Muslim women by non Muslim men, Muslim men seem to think that non Muslim women are free to abuse. Come to think of it, they seem to think that all women are free to be sexually abused unless complicit to the religious police.

Kathy Haynie said...

I heard a piece on NPR today about sexual harassment in Egypt - it cited this big study / survey that exactly came up with what you describe in your blog. I appreciate you being so straightforward about a difficult situation. I was encouraged to hear the piece on NPR - it made it sound like things are changing a little, albeit slowly.

Bridget said...

Breanne, sorry it's taken me so long to answer your questions. I considered doing another post because this might be long, but in the meantime, here goes.

Your main question - how I have stayed so positive about the ME despite this kind of constant harassment - is that sometimes, I'm NOT so positive. It takes an event like what happened to Lara Logan (or a particularly bad stare or body check) to bring the rage out in me, but it is simmering below the surface, just like yours. A few months ago, Jeremy was saying something about Egyptian men (not related at all to harassment) and the reaction I had was so visceral - it was completely off-topic and yet the subject of Egyptian men brought up this huge wave of anger and revulsion in me that frankly, rather shocked Jeremy.

This, even though I know not ALL Egyptian men are scumbags. I KNOW THIS. And yet I still have that anger that I sometimes cast in a very wide net to take in the entire male population of an entire country. It doesn't make sense and it's not fair, but guess what? Neither is sexual harassment.

Back to your question - I don't stay positive all the time. I prefer it when Jeremy is with me because then the harassment is so much tamer, but obviously he can't be with me all the time. Mostly I try to ignore it until something happens and I let out some rage, as in this post. Then it's back to normal for a while.

breanne said...

Bridget, thanks for your answer. I hope you do write a post about how you handle it--especially since it looks like you will be in the ME for quite some time! Although I know that most foreign (especially Western) women deal with these sorts of problems in the Middle East, what I meant by "you stay so positive" is that your blog posts, at least, don't turn into angry rantings (and a list of complaints about why you should leave the ME and your husband should get another job back in the America) but rather are intelligent and well-reasoned responses to your situation (even if you feel angry), which I view as a bit more "positive" (if that makes sense).

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