The Right to Bare Arms

Since moving to Egypt just about 8 weeks ago, I’ve learned how much I took for granted in the US concerning my right as a woman to do just about anything I wanted to.  Within reason, of course.  And, we can’t forget that women in the US are still struggling with things like wage gaps and SuperMotherhood.  In the US, I have the right to own property, to get an education, to vote, to have a job, to have a child or not to have a child.  I also have the oh so underrated right to bare arms.

I used to run around Norman in whatever I wanted to wear, whatever was comfortable.  I would usually wear shorts and a tank top in the summer, because it is oppressively hot in Oklahoma summers.  Sometimes, I’d wear only shorts and a jog bra and even that felt like it was too much clothing!  Yes, you’d get an occasional honk from a sleezy dude, or an appreciative shout out from a car full of frat boys (I told myself it was in appreciation…).  My boss saw me running in a sports bra once, something I’m sure he’ll never want to see again.  But, all in all, it was no big deal.  Wear what you need to to maximize your efficiency and comfort on a long, hot run on a hot day.

Since I’ve been here in Egypt, I’ve been running a lot but the experience is totally different.  My outfit has routinely consisted of capri or knee-length leggings, shorts, and a t-shirt with sleeves.  It’s HOT here–a different hot than Oklahoma, but hot.  The leggings and sleeves, and sometimes the shirt itself are a bit much for physical comfort, but they do wonders for my psychological comfort.

Let me back up a few weeks.  I moved here in the middle of August when it was very hot and very dry.  I always saw men and boys in the mornings, when it was still dark out and pleasant enough to get work done or errands run.  I got shouts, honks, yells, kissy noises, “good job”, “hello”, “you are lovely”, and my favorite, “I love you.”  I guarantee you that not a one of these greetings was in appreciation of me, as a runner or as a woman, much less as a person out for a morning workout minding my own.  I still get harassed, but by surprisingly fewer people now that there aren’t as many men on the streets in the morning.  On a few runs I’ve had cars full of men follow me, slowly, or groups of men/boys who want to impress each other that will stop in front of me so as not to let me pass.  Mostly, it’s just yelling, but sometimes it is physically frightening harassment.

I am reminded of this disrespect as I strap on my water bottle each morning.  I use a water bottle because it’s flippin’ hot, but also at that moment I can’t forget to grab my running mace to carry in my other hand for protection.  I’m also reminded of it when I see men running past me in shorts and a tank top.  I wish I could do that too!!  It becomes clear to me, every day, that no matter what I might wear to run, to walk, to be a woman each day, I will get taunted.  I’m not special, either.  All the women I know here feel the same discomfort.  One day my friend wore a sleeveless top to dinner.  On the way home, even the women made comments to us!

It isn’t that I want to wear tank tops each day, or a short skirt hiked up to my upper thighs.  All I want is to respect the cultural way of dress in Egypt, within reason, and be respected in return.  It isn’t much to ask.  Or is it?

This post comes about because of a recent murder of a Lebanese woman by an Egyptian man.  See this NY Times article for the full story: The Female Factor

It isn’t the man who made the choice to murder her that is to blame, in the minds of both men AND women in Egypt, but the woman for making him do it:

This is the standard argument presented, more even by women than by men, in the Arab world, where strict patriarchal traditions continue to hold female victims responsible for crimes against them by men. If a woman is sexually harassed, then she must have been dressed provocatively. If raped, she somehow must have put herself in a compromising position. If pregnant out of wedlock, her conduct is to blame. And if she is murdered, then she must have committed an even more abhorrent crime.

It won’t get better for women while I’m here.  It may not get better for women in the Arab world in my lifetime.  All I can do is try to respect the culture and mind my own until I get back to the US, where I will never again take my rights, privileges and duties for granted and, I hope, support and fight for the rights of other women.    Especially my right to bare arms.  I suppose I should start lifting weights again…

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