The other day, I was talking on the phone to my two Egyptian friends about weather, elections & lack of equality in job offers between men and women.
As we were talking about what mattered and what didn’t, my female friend remembered how she felt on her last trip to Europe, when she got harassed in the street as she was walking back towards her hotel. She added that this might be the harassment number 1,432 in a row.
Our male friend’s immediate response was:
“Come on! don’t exaggerate to get my empathy, ladies!”
My friend replied to him: “ This is not an exaggeration. You don’t know that this happens every day, and every time I step outside my house?”
Our innocent, oblivious friend response that shocked me was:
“ I honestly didn’t know!”
I started thinking more in-depth about it. Remembering every shred of a conversation I had with my supportive male friends about an unequal job offer, a horrendously-outrageous remark on my body I got from a colleague, and the fact that I didn’t walk freely in Egypt streets in my last visit. All those conversations didn’t end with denial from my friends; they merely didn’t know.
To my vast, utter surprise: they didn’t.
This led me to think: How come men are oblivious to the fact that we, women, get harassed in every little aspect of our lives? Isn’t it super obvious? What am I missing here?
My search led me to three conclusions:
1. Men haven’t been in our shoes: White people can’t understand the suffering of black people. They merely haven’t been there. How can you talk about labor pain if you haven’t given birth to another soul? Unless a man gets the same manner of treatment we get every day; they will never understand.
2. The psychology is different: Men look and think of things differently. If you hit a man, he will hit you back on the spot. No thinking process is involved. On the other side, if you hit a woman, she will think first of her chances to survive a retaliation, an escape gate, and the scene she’ll make — a massive difference in handling data.
3. The masculinity refuses to be ‘less’: Men are masculine. They are Superman and Alibaba. They solve problems, and they save the day. When you ask a man to put himself in a vulnerable situation, their mind will refuse it. They don’t bend, and they won’t submit. So asking them to live what you experience is against their natural biology.
Before we continue with this, let me share a short story from Egypt with you:
If you don’t know, Egypt is one of the countries with the highest rate of sexual harassment in the world. ECWR survey in 2008 found that 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women within Egypt had experienced sexual harassment at some time, and only 12% had gone to the police for complaining such issues.
And to make you feel even more uncomfortable, Egypt has witnessed massive sexual harassment moves; an enormous group of men would chase and harras women passing by. The answer to that question in your head is NO; no man would step up to stop what was happening. NOT ONE SINGLE MAN.
With that in mind, a courageous young man called Waleed Hammad, disguised as a woman and filmed himself while walking the same streets of Egypt he used to walk every day. The one difference was extra curves to his figure.
The reactions of the actor himself made me seriously rethink. The actor had absolutely no idea. He couldn’t believe women had to experience this every time they walked down the streets.
“I, as a man, can’t imagine living my life like that every single day!” — Waleed Hammad
His shock was genuine that it made me realize the one fact:
Some men WANT to be allies. It’s our duty to educate them.
As a woman who believes in the abyss between right and wrong, who understands her rights, and wants what’s hers, we need to get ourselves heard. To do so, we need our male allies to help us. The goal of an equal scale of acts, where what you do is judged the same way when it comes from a man or a woman, and your look matters only for your boyfriend/girlfriend; that goal needs collective work from men before women.
So, ladies, this is what we need to do:
A) Speak Up:
I keep saying over and over: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Talk until people are bored.
Talk until people ask you to stop.
Talk, then talk more.
The first step to achieving anything is to talk about it. Lecture the gentlemen around you, who believe in equality, about how you get harassed daily, how everyday work talk turns into implicit remarks on your sexuality, and how you do things differently just because you were born a woman.
This time, I won’t ask you to engage yourself. I’d ask you to engage your male friends. Ask male allies to take a role in an equal right match, encourage them to talk about their minds in the monthly HR diversity meeting, and challenge them to defend someone in need. I said ‘someone’ not a woman because diversity has more colors than only being a woman.
C) Activate “the walk of shame”:
I started doing this lately, and it does wonders! Whenever a man makes a move towards inequality, whether it’s an inappropriate sexual remark or explicit harassment towards a female in the neighborhood or me, I would call them out immediately. By making them take “The walk of shame,” you’ll make them think twice the next time before they attempt to repeat the same action.
The road to Utopia has long been the slowest and loneliest to walk. You need to understand that reaching that point when men, women, and anyone between can live in an equal system where the only differentiator is the quality of your work is still far ahead. It takes people like you who are willing to speak up to make that point closer.
That time will come, I know. It will take us more battles to fight to get there, but we will.
In the meantime, feel free to watch Taylor’s Swift song, “Tha man.”
The first time I saw this video, I felt strangely uncomfortable. Knowing that THE MAN was not a man in reality, and seeing a woman making all those stunts in the video, it got me to realize: it is a double standard society. Be it your gender, your ethnicity, your color, or your religion.
We are biased by nature, but together we can make this end by calling bias out.