One of our old friends returned to New York recently after spending time in Egypt and Turkey and Israel and India. As it happens, she can pass for a native of any or all of the above—in Egypt, Egyptians think at a glance that she’s Egyptian, in Turkey a Turk, and so forth. And so, while travelers from, say, Japan, or lighter-skinned, blonder-haired travelers from the U.S., got a pass, what our friend got was a great deal of unsolicited advice about what she shouldn’t do outdoors. Such as exist, outside the company of a man.
In Egypt in particular it wasn’t advice, it was exhortation: a woman in the street without a man by her side—either father, brother or husband—is any man’s, to do with as he will. And if she makes the mistake of dressing provocatively to boot, she is taking her life in her hands. (How many rapes per day are there in Cairo? Do you just want the official, reported figure…? How shall we count gang rapes?)
Of course, there is more going on in Cairo right now than attacks on women. But when the revolution passes (and it will, they always do), the plight of women will remain. On the “women’s car” on a train—and, my god, I could just stop there, couldn’t I? that there even is such a thing, in 2013—on the “women’s car” on a train, women covered from head to toe stole curious, eager, wondering glances at the western women, the ones who dared to wear short sleeves, and pants. But only glances, only peeks, and then they returned to their covered-up existence.
Why do we go topless in the park at the end of summer in the middle of New York City, where it is legal and any woman may do so if she wishes?
That’s fucking why.