walking Cairo streets with two young friends of my daughter recently was a mixed pleasure. Not too difficult to ignore the ridiculous behavior of mostly young males from anywhere between 12 and 35. But very tiring to suppress the waves of aggression that well up under my skin, it’s an effort I can do without. So it doesn’t take much to become aware of what a male gaze (what a euphemism isn’t it) dominating the streets does to you; not necessary to move to a place where it is much less prominent.
Very confusing this is. I’ve been educated – thoroughly – to continuously question my culturally determined reactions. So how to think about that aggression and what triggers it? Is it culture? Is it Islam? Another one of those mine fields, because whatever my intellect has consumed about the two not being the same, the common sense interpreter keeps confounding them. I get as agitated seeing male overweight UAE medical tourists in Bumrungrad hospital, dressed in prototypical American outfits, bermuda short, hawai shirt, with a train of fully veiled women behind them, as I do when a 20 year old Caireen male jumps in front of a female friend walking next to me and starts talking crap. The medical tourist brings up Islam, the adolescent culture, my mind quickly produces some positive feedback loop image, and deep down I am anxious about this all being quintessentially male rather than anything else, in other words that it is neither but that it is me.
In the meantime enjoy something beautiful about Cairo by Terry watch-him-play-with-Zappa Bozio. Dunno if it is actually about my Cairo, but it certainly evokes the right all is rhythm big city fascination:
The weird thing is that exactly the same contexts give plenty of food for thought that doesn’t fit the above described gut feelings. I was totally unprepared for the many many love birds hanging out on Cairo streets, well maybe that’s big city, cannot say as I haven’t been outside much, but still, open expression of love was culturally inappropriate wasn’t it? Equally, often, when male medical tourist and his female retinue would mull about the waiting room, the intra-group interactions seemed so utterly familiar that they made the costumes much less important.
Today the blogger whose posts I look out for most, Joris Luyendijk, wrote a piece for his Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad blog, expressing his amazement, or better incomprehension, of what passes for office floor banter in the the UK. I’ll quote his female source in full:
I worked there for months already and every so often I heard my male colleagues chant ‘NFC! NFC!’. I assumed that it referred to some complex financial product, like a CDO, or maybe a company listed at the stock exchange? Turned out they chanted it when a woman with a dark skin color walked the trading floor. It meant No Foreign Cunt…
If that is teasing, what then would constitute bullying I asked her, and she said: someone looses his child, and turns grey overnight. From then onward everyone calls him ‘Nelson’, after the statue of admiral Nelson on Trafalgar Square that is also grey – because of all the bird shit.
Joris is Dutch like me and I assume that is why these anecdotes resonate with me. But if the differences between what is normal (apparently not bothering people, males and females, too much), and what is not done, inappropriate, etc. are so far apart for Dutch and English, what does that tell me about my reactions to Egyptian male behavior?
Anyway, the intellectually appropriate answer probably is that all of the suggested factors, plus plenty more, there is always plenty more, play a role in a weirdly complex interaction. When that complexity is woven into a captivating narrative by a stellar writer like Shereen El Feki it can translate into appreciation and wonder. But even then it doesn’t guide you in how to deal with your moral and emotional reaction. Equanimity?
My line of thought has reached its unsatisfying end here, so by way of closure, let me offer you something of a different nature, another Egyptian city song that I can personally vouch for as being great for running.