The Magnitude Of The Problem

Me too.

Me too.

Me too.

This is what my timeline looks like. This hashtag, used by millions of women (by women, I mean all individuals who identify as such, girls, trans and cis women, femmes and queers) around the world, is meant to make people (men) understand the ‘magnitude of the problem’ of sexual harassment.

Yet it shouldn’t be on us to make men understand that women are people who should not be seen as sexual props designed to please the male gaze. It shouldn’t be on us to think of all the instances our bodies have been violated, our intimacy and privacy invaded, our bodies questioned and discussed as if our consent or absence of it didn’t matter, just to make you understand ‘the magnitude of the problem’.

But then again, the anger I’m feeling at reading all of these ‘me too’ is threatening to froth and boil, fizzle and explode, the raw anger I feel at seeing all of these women, my gorgeous, beautiful, strong army of friends and sisters sharing publicly that they, too, have been assaulted in one way or another.

As many wrote, I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t.

As many wrote, we don’t owe you our stories. You know our stories, you’ve been writing them for centuries, years of years of male domination over women and girls, exploitation of women’s bodies and minds (yes, EVEN YOU MY COMRADE so don’t fucking hide behind  Rosa Luxembourg, we fucking see you and each time you brush aside feminist concerns in your grandiloquent speeches you are part of the problem).

You want the magnitude of the problem? I’ll give you the magnitude of the problem.

It is thinking twice about the outfit you wear because if something happens to you, you don’t want to be accused of ‘having asked for it’. It’s being accused of having asked for it even if you were wearing a hair shirt and several layers of clothes and a poster that screamed ‘please don’t harass or rape me I’m only trying to get to work’. It’s carefully monitoring your behavior not to seem to flirty, it’s being perceived as a temptress whom men can’t resist, it’s not their fault it’s yours, all the fucking time. It’s being categorized as a ‘sexual beast’, or as ‘submissive’, depending on your race. It’s being called a whore, a slut, a frigid monster every time you turn down the unwanted attentions of a man. It’s being sexualized as a young girl, it’s being denied the sex education you need while people tell you to remain a virgin, it’s being told be beautiful, a certain idea of what beautiful is, you HAVE TO MAKE YOURSELF BEAUTIFUL so men will like you. It’s checking on your girlfriends to see if they have made it home safely, tell me Brian when was the last time you did this for Brad? It’s being exploited and trafficked because you are a woman and you are poor, it’s being denied a sexuality or being raped because you live with a disability. It’s not being able to do your job properly as men in power hold you back unless you sleep with them. It’s your body being a battlefield in itself in war time, enduring unspeakable torture.

It’s never being listened to.

It’s being always blamed for what happened to you.

It’s never getting justice. Real justice, not traumatic post-rape investigations that leave you wishing you had never pressed charges.

It’s never being granted any type of humanity unless men have sisters and mothers and daughters they can relate to.

It’s men’s uncomfortable silence over their own role in perpetuating rape culture.

It’s being so tired, so so tired of this shit all of the fucking time.

It’s this rant not being the quarter of the magnitude of the problem.

It’s the fact that our voices can grow hoarse trying to make you see and hear us, nothing will change unless patriarchy is overthrown, and you don’t want to lose all of these privileges now do you Brian?

But we will continue to fight. Even if we are super tired of this shit. We will go on strikes, we will yell at you, we will kick and scream our ways through our lives because we are not willing to accept defeat and if this sounds like a war cry then take it as such because it is one.

And we will be inclusive or we will be bullshit. Sorry Susan, but struggles against racism, classism, against transphobia and homophobia and islamophobia will be at the center of our actions and demands because all of these systems enable sexism and because none can be liberated when three quarter of us are downtrodden.

To all the survivors out there: your courage and grace are infinite, you matter, and most most most importantly: it is not your fault. Never has been, never will be.

On the dangers of standing on a street in Lebanon

So there I was, innocently standing on a street after work, waiting for a pick up, when a car stopped in front of me.
– A question please Miss, he said.
So I walked to his car, obliging, thinking he needed directions ( that’ll teach my civic sense to shut the fuck up and now give the finger to every living soul I don’t know that talks to me).
– what do you do? He said, I always see you here.
I looked at him, puzzled and bewildered. Why was he asking? Dif he need to find my organization for something or the other? I decided on vagueness.
– I work in the neighborhood, why?
– I always see you I told you, so where do you work? Tell me! What do you do? What type of job you have?
There and then, I knew he was not looking for information, but perhaps, for a suitable bride with good money that comes with, or a quick fuck, of God knows what. So I just told him, Ma khassak. This is none of your business.
-So if someone talks to you what do you do, you hit him? Byekol 2taleh? He yelled, bristling with aggression.
– I’m married and all…
As soon as I said that, he said: oh, that’s different then, and just left in a hurry. He was right to leave, not because my husband is 1m88 and could easily kick his ass, but because I was 1m66 of pure, pure unadultered sheer rage and would have made him EAT his stupid car.

But I hate myself a little for having had the knee jerk, automatic reaction of telling him straight away I was married. I shouldn’t have, and will never ever say it again should a similar situation arise, for what is this society that barely respects a woman only if she’s a mother and a wife? Aren’t single girls worthy of respect? So let me get this straight: he has the utter sense of entitlement to stop and invade my privacy and ask all kinds of questions, and when I refuse to answer and tell him it isn’t any of his business (not to mention it’s for my own safety, the last thing I need being a stalker), he’s all offended and aggressive, demanding to know, making me pass for a hysterical woman who beats the crap out of every person talking to her (how i wish it were true).
However, I tell him I’m married and all of a sudden he feels shameful and drives off. In one event, I was able to witness the condensed patriarchy of Lebanese society. Single women suffer from a paradox: their honor lies in their virginity and they are to be sheltered and watched, but at the same time it’s like, in the eyes of society, they don’t belong to anyone yet, so they’re sort of up for grabs, making it ok to harass them. Married women and mothers are sacralised, their union having been blessed by a religious, patriarchal, authority.

All women out there in the public sphere, trying to play a role in their communities, run the risk of being harassed on the streets just because they are women.

This is precisely why we should be even more visible, why I will never ever say my marital status again because it is no one’s business, because I deserve respect, not because I am married to a man, but because I am a woman, a human being.

Lebanese Chronicles: Two

Sexual harassment in Lebanon is a reality. The fact is simply enunciated, yet I’ve heard the exasperated “oooohhh you’re exaggerating again!” more than I care to mention. 

And yet it’s right there, looking at my breasts on a Gemmayzeh afternoon, going “smallah”, it’s right there, shouting “Shou hal 7elo!” on Hamra Street, it’s right there, staring sleazily at me while I’m walking, two greedy eyes that I still feel on my back as I walk by. It’s right there in the stories my friends tell me of breasts and bums brushed, squeezed, felt, it’s right there, invading our privacies and our bodies and our minds, and it’s intolerable. 

The sick thing is that I’ve often heard women stating that at least, they feel beautiful in Lebanon because of the stares and of the comments they get as they walk by, by opposition to their lives in Europe where apparently no men ever looks at them. First of all, let us all inject ourselves with a healthy dose of self confidence: our sense of beauty isn’t and shouldn’t be defined by how a random man looks at us. It’s something that should come from within, an agreement we make between ourselves, between our minds and bodies. Secondly, there is a difference between an admirative glance, that lasts about a quarter of a second and an aggressive, invasive stare or offensive comment about any part of our bodies. While I wouldn’t consider the former harassment, I can’t help but consider the latter for what it is: an violation of my privacy, of my body. 

And I simply won’t allow it. 

The sicker thing is that I can’t help a feeling  of shame when something like that happens: I feel uneasy, uncomfortable, like I shouldn’t be dressed like this, like I’d want to bring my breasts inwards or make my clothes looser or shield my face or SOMETHING. Now don’t get me wrong: I do not feel guilty, for I know, and by this I mean the rational part in me knows, that I haven’t done anything wrong, that rude comments and stares are the product of years of education and patriarchal values that state that a man is allowed to heckle a woman and that the woman should feel grateful for it. The emotional part of me, or the subconscient or whatever is nevertheless penetrated by the same patriarchal values that a woman should walk her head bowed and not look at anyone and not dressed in a certain way, hence the ever slightly present feeling of shame. 

And I simply should suppress this feeling, for it’s the rational part of me that’s right: I am a human being, and as such, my privacy and body should be respected. It’s not a privilege that society grants me: it is my right. 

And as such, I should reclaim it. So this is why I shall dress the way I want, walk my head high, answer the guy who thinks his comment is clever (although maybe in a language he understands, i.e. not French), and keep on denunciating the harassment cases and talk about it until my voice hoarse, so that mentalities start shifting and see clearly that: Sexual harassment Is. Not.Okay. 

And my favourite people at Nasawiya have been tackling the issue for a while now with the adventures of Salwa: for more information, please visit 

For a brilliant literary illustration: Introductory scene of The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Safak 

Portrait: Abou Georges

Abou Georges is a “Chauffeur Taxi”, and by this, please understand “Client’s Worst Nightmare Extraordinaire”. 

You see, people need him and his brotherhood of drivers linked by their ever powerful radio, so they have to put up with whatever he decides. 

And if that means making his (rusty old ‘72 Merc) engine roar at 120km/h on the Ashrafieh/Hazmieh autostrade while srcibbling down the phone number of his next patron and zigzaging in between cars, then so be it. And woe betides the fool who would timidly ask him to slow down a little! Ba3d na2ess heyde to come and teach him how to drive in this country! Leyke 3ayne, I’ve been driving for 40 years in this country, if you’re not happy, take the bus! Cue chuckles and mumbles under his chin. 

You see, Abou Georges knows full well there are no buses to speak of in Beirut, no one really knows where they go, or how to take them, and the bus stops seem so elusive looking for them is like looking for a warlord money: invisible until it pops up in front of you, as if by magic. Not to mention the fact that very few women risk themselves on the buses, for fear of having their boob or butt felt up. Abou Georges tried once, and still remembers the allmighty slap in the face he got, assorted with copious insults and threats. Not worth it, wou ba3den he felt bad, I mean he does have the whole collection of saints of Lebanon (Mar Charbel. 2dissetna Rafqa. Mar Hardini. Our Lady of Lebanon. Jesus Christ King of Kings) stuck in front of him, as well as the Holy Cross wrapped around his rear-view mirror. I mean, they can’t have them be the witnesses of his weaknesses.

No, no he is safe in the haven of his Markazieh, the taxi central, and please do not mistake him for a vulgar service that roam the streets of Beirut, looking for clients as if they were beggars: he is a proud member of the  Alonso Taxi fleet. Service! Pah! Can these people yell Markazieh, Markazieh! Tess3ira! Yalla Chabeb! Who can go from Verdun to Ashrafieh in under 2 mins? Yalla! Tayb Khod el tari2 3aks el serr Kheyye! Well can they? See, didn’t think so. The Markazieh makes all the difference. 

Abou Georges likes having clients around, so he can share bits of his life with them, and occasionnally start the odd mashkal. I mean, one does get a tad bored driving up and down Beirut like that. This is why Abou Georges usually plays pro-Lebanese Forces radio shows very loudly in his car, in the hope that a Tayyar-supporting client will jump in, listen to an apology of Hakim Samir Geagea and start a heated conversation with him (also known as fight) until he drops the little traitor in Da7ieh where he belongs now. Sadly, this only rarely happens. So sometimes Abou Georges calls his brother in law to discuss the plans of their joint business together, where it’s question of obscure investments that will leave the client wondering if Abou Georges is not, in fact, some kind of pimp. “There is a lot of money to be made in that business, kheyye”, certainly does nothing to reassure the poor, already horrified, client. 

No, Abou Georges definitely loves being a chauffeur taxi in Lebanon: the comradeship with his fellow taxi drivers remind him of the togetherness he felt with his fellow militia men during the war, even though those truly were the Halcyon Days of never being bored. Ah well, one does get old, and if he ever needs the adrenaline rush, he can always play with his life (and with whomever had the bad luck to be with him that day) on the Sanayeh roundabout.