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No Means No

We've been hating on the rampant sexual harassment on our city's streets, but what about what happens at parties and the long drive home? Anam Sufi discusses sexual assault among Egypt's elite and why it remains unspoken of.

It’s been a long and relatively lonely few months, compliments to the curfew. The clock seems to have lost a few digits and the night ends too soon. So it’s no surprise that the nocturnal sensation seekers are awaiting the end of the hazr with bated breath. Judging by the sudden surge in events, one can tell that 'tis, indeed, the season to be jolly. However, between the panache of nearly-nude gogo dancers, excitement of flame throwers, sexiness of strobe lights, and suspiciously long bathroom queues, the darker and less exposed angles of the night are usually what don’t make it to Facebook or Instagram the next day.

What am I talking about? Harassment. Sexual harassment. We tend to think it doesn’t take place within our tier of society (aristocratic as that sounds); after all, we all went to fancy schools, drive fancy cars, watch Two and a Half Men, and listen to Deep House. But the hard truth is, the phenomena takes place more often than we’d like to think it does. More unnervingly, it involves people we know; arguably, good people.

Given the sensitive nature of this subject matter, it goes without saying that the names of sources have been omitted in order to expose the issue at large. It’s also important to stress that this is in no way my attempt to cloak the drunken (or not) misdeeds of those who are guilty, rather a show of respect to the girls who graciously shared their stories with me for the purpose of this article.

And so we proceed…

Case 1: Easy is not a synonym for woman 

A girl went out to an over night party. She’d booked herself a room at a snazzy hotel, and brought along a bottle of courage to keep her confidence in check through the night. The club was pumping and the company was great, giving the night a solid 9 out of 10. That is, until shit hit the proverbial fan. A friend of a friend, coveted as a demi-God of popularity and looks, approached the girl and whispered something to her. Unable to hear him, she asked for a repetition. 

“414.” The vulgar hollowness of the number took a second for her to realise what was actually going on. At this point, giving the poor lad the benefit of the doubt, you could still argue that he was just trying his luck at being a Don Juan for the evening. But unless some kind of memo went out to the five other guys who clumsily threw their room numbers at the same girl, I highly doubt that he was just caught in the crossfire of an overly excitable crowd.

Can we all take a second to digest the inappropriateness of approaching a girl, without any effort to flirt or converse, and proposition her with a room number? I’m not asking that everyone abide by the rules of Jane Austen and emulate the mannerisms of a certain Marc Darcy, but for fuck’s sake… show a little respect! No matter what kind of clothes a girl wears, or how seductive her dance moves are, it is simply not okay to treat her like a whore. 

Case 2: Commitment? What Commitment?

A girl asked her engaged-to-be-married friend to leave his fiancé for a few moments to help her find another mate of theirs. As the search proved unfruitful, they decided to look outside of the party venue, in places where the crowds were thinner. In a drunken stupor (or so they always claim), the guy tried to pull a sly one with his friend. “Dude, wtf! Your fiancé is in the other room!”

Needless to say, the girl put a pin in the matter then and there. But it really is remarkable the number of stories you hear of Facebook flirtations and thrill seeking infidelities these days. What’s worse is how guys garner the assumption that girls are so welcoming to crown the title of home wrecker. You know, if you want to mess about, the solution is simple: don’t commit.

What’s more, it appears to be a trend to present some sort of inspiring and “romantic” explanation for such infidelities. My response: spare society your psycho-babble bullshit that the sexual transgressions are what allow you to love the girl you’re committed to. It’s a sad attempt to victimise your villainy, and no one’s buying it. 

Case 3: The Drive Home

Egypt is not safe enough for a lone girl, dressed for a party, to be taking public transportation on her way back home after a late night out. Enter: the noble knights in shining armour, or shining cars. It happens often enough: a guy offers to drop a friend home, does the deed and drives away like a good Samaritan. But unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In fact, I can vouch for the fact that almost all of my girl friends have been made to feel (at one point or another) that they owe the driver something for having dropped her home. In one particular case, when the guy attempted to try the old ‘lean and smooch,’ the girl explicitly stated that she had a boyfriend. Poor thing, she didn’t know that no one really cares about the other guy in these situations. He continued to corner her in an aggressive manner until at last, she had to press the car horn to make a great “escape,” which also involved unlocking the purposely locked car.

The stories that take place during that critical moment when the car is parked but a few blocks from the girl’s house all follow the same plot. And in response to such inappropriate assumptions, I would suggest the establishment of a charity where the proceeds would all be donated to an institute for boys, specialising of course, in teaching them the meaning of NO.

When a girl is on her own, staring at you with a stern expression: No means no; not a repressed yes. Anything that follows afterwards is sexual harassment. It doesn’t matter how long you have known the guy, how drunk you are, how well respected he may be within the social scene… it is simply not okay to impose insistence after a clear line has been drawn.

While I can continue to indulge in what is an unfortunately expansive series of episodes in the collective experiences of girls in the elite social scene, I’ll let these three cases circumscribe the matter for the sake of limitation.

Having said this, the question then arises: Why are these occurrences overlooked, and what has led both parties to believe that such behaviour is tolerable?

The answers are plentiful, ranging from “boys will be boys” to “the social construct of centuries forgone,” but none of these suffice when standing alone. Sure, the social mores of Egyptian society have had a history of elevating men, and subjugating (to some extent, at least) women, but in the context of the elite social circles, where the members involved are largely Western educated, products of a globalised world, this reasoning seems to fall flat.

I want to be weary of making normative statements, but I believe the fault is twofold; guys need to essentially stop being pricks, but girls also need to start adopting rhetoric of vituperation, as opposed to acceptance, towards transgressions dealing with the kinds of sexual harassment familiarised in this article. Furthermore, it should be noted that this is an action that can be taken by both sexes. When guys will stop turning a blind eye to the fact that their male mates are “weird with girls, but otherwise a good person” and when girls will cease to sell themselves short by believing “all men cheat, it’s a matter of acceptance,” then, and only then, do I believe society will have a fighting chance at expelling age-old traditions of aggressive and disrespectful gender conquests.