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 www.qawemeharassment.com 

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