The Demonization of Women in Egypt

The Demonization of Women in Egypt
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  The Demonization of Women in Egypt Susan M. Belcher El-Nahhas Too often the only actors of history are the recorders of history, not real people. Malcolm Azania (1!"The first step to li#eration is sheddin$ the ne$ati%e self-ima$e and seein$ oneself throu$h the eyes and %alues of the oppressors. &hristine 'elphy (1)*" I. Introduction The mass media in E$ypt are increasin$ly portrayin$ +omen in a %ery ne$ati%e li$ht. E%en a casual $lance at #ill#oards in $reater &airo astonishes E$yptian and estern +omen alie. ifty E$yptian +omen li%in$ in $reater &airo durin$ 1/-10 +ere intensi%ely and etensi%ely inter%ie+ed to elicit their %ie+s a#out ima$es of +omen on #ill#oards. These respondents came from all social $roups and types of districts in the &airo re$ion. urthermore, most of them +ere +ell-no+n to the author, facilitatin$ not only access to respondents #ut the relia#ility of the inter%ie+ data.2espondents all identified these ima$es of +omen as either 3$ood4 or 3e%il4, utilizin$ a hierarchical series of cate$orizations. The initial focus +as on the physical #ody, then the clothin$ and adornment, includin$ 5e+elry and mae-up. 2espondents finally focussed on those aspects of 3femininity4 +hich related to character , +hether a +oman is a 3$ood4 +oman or an 3e%il4 +oman. 6n addition to these other initial factors, respondents =  determination of a +oman7s character +as made #y e%aluation of #ody lan$ua$e, +hich included facial epression, pose, and  pro5ected seuality. The use of dru$s +as also considered an important determinant of character. All of these factors +ere deemed si$nificant in determinin$ +hether a +oman is 3feminine4 or not, decent and moral (3$ood4" or not (3e%il4". 6n addition, respondents lined the character of a +oman to the +oman = s role(s". They #elie%ed that a +oman = s character and social role(s" are inetrica#ly intert+ined. omen7s roles, thus, are also di%ided #et+een those of the 3$ood4 +oman and those of the 3e%il4 +oman.Some+hat related to the issue of character, respondents also distin$uished #et+een a 3mannish4 +oman and a 3+omanly4 +oman as +ell as #et+een an E$yptian +oman and a forei$n +oman ( = afrang     yah 8 = agnab    yah ". 6t +as $enerally a#horrent to respondents that most #ill#oard ima$es of +omen +ere, in fact, 3mannish4, 3e%il4, and8or forei$n. The follo+in$ sections are #ased not only on information pro%ided #y respondents7 comments a#out the ima$es of +omen depicted in #ill#oard ads, #ut also on their responses to set 9uestions a#out $ender and $ender roles, as +ell as in $eneral dialo$ue +ith them a#out +hat is appropriate for E$yptian +omen. The data clearly sho+ that e%aluation of a +oman +as not only determined #y her $ender-appropriateness, #ut that, in fact, $ender-appropriateness +as associated +ith #ein$ a 3$ood4 +oman. :irtually all the criteria used #y respondents to discuss 3femininity4 +ere used +ith the intention of determinin$ the +oman = s character) +as she a 3$ood4 +oman or an 3e%il4 +oman; II. Personality Traits 1  2espondents often commented a#out the personality traits +hich they percei%ed to #e  pro5ected #y +omen depicted in #ill#oard ads. This also #ecame a central element in their discussions a#out their conceptualization of $ender. The respondents all a$reed that the follo+in$ traits are considered positi%e 3feminine4 ones +hich are idealized for +omen in E$yptian society) soft, delicate, tender, nurturin$, lo%in$, +arm, pleasant, s+eet, shy, calm, self-effacin$, deferential, su#missi%e, dependent, hum#le, 9uiet, o#edient, a$reea#le, happy, content, smilin$, $enerous, ind, considerate, accommodatin$, polite, patient, sincere, honest, moral, chaste, innocent, pious, non-seual, discreet, thrifty, hard+orin$, industrious, relia#le. These, then, are the traits of the 3$ood4 +oman in E$ypt. Y    n   , $irls in our society do not re%eal their emotions, you see; Sometimes they are shy #ecause our traditions do not permit them to do so. But #oys do not care. (2espondent <1! for photo <*/"A lady must #e ind and simple, hum#le and soft. (2espondent </! for photo <1/"  Ne%ertheless, many respondents #elie%ed that +omen should #e asserti%e in order not to #e taen ad%anta$e of seually #y men. Therefore, asserti%eness, #ut not a$$ressi%eness, +as considered 3feminine4 #y some of the +omen. 6ndependence +as also considered admira#le #y some +omen for similar reasons. Asserti%eness and independence, ho+e%er, are not considered 3feminine4 traits in $eneral in E$ypt. These #eliefs +ere epressed in the follo+in$ comments, typical of respondents7 reactions to some of the #ill#oards) She is %ery li#eral. E%en thou$h she +ears men = s clothes, she acts %ery decently. 6 can relate to her. Sam  h = An+  r is comforta#le in talin$ to men and she doesn = t use hea%y mae-up...She is %ery open and direct. She deals +ith men and #oys directly. She is asserti%e. She is not timid, lie many $irls. (2espondent <0= for photo <1/"Sam  h = An+  r is a talented actor #ut most E$yptian +omen dislie her. She is asserti%e and e%en a$$ressi%e in her roles, some+hat tom#oyish. (2espondent <*1 for photo <1/" All the respondents a$reed that the follo+in$ traits are not considered 3feminine4, and are hi$hly undesira#le in +omen) domineerin$, #ossy, an$ry, unsmilin$, loud, #oisterous, ro+dy, diso#edient, defiant, rude, impolite, unind, insensiti%e, impatient, tou$h, hard, a$$ressi%e, too independent, too serious, stin$y, selfish, conceited, lazy, dishonest, deceitful, insincere, unrelia#le, nau$hty, epressin$ affection in pu#lic, seually pro%ocati%e, seual in pu#lic, unchaste, ha%in$  premarital se, unfaithful, and promiscuous. These are the traits, then, of the 3e%il4 +oman in E$ypt. >ere, she ?@aila > Al+   loos lie a #i$ shot, lie she thins she is some sort of #oss. 6 don = t lie this attitude or this picture...She is on the %er$e of #ein$ %ul$ar. (2espondent <* for photo <*"She ?Sam  h = An+  r act?s lie a #oy, and she loo?s lie a #oy, too. 6 lie her #ein$ e9ual to the man, #ut 6 don = t lie the +oman to act lie ?a man. She is not soft. She is too tou$h. She rides motorcycles and she +ear?s leather 5acets and al+ays she +ear?s trousers. (2espondent < for  photo <1/" The precedin$ comments are typical of those made #y respondents a#out the personality  pro5ected #y +omen depicted in #ill#oard ads, and reflect a %ariety of %ie+s a#out +hat is *  accepta#le for +omen, particularly if the +oman is 3mannish4. C%er+helmin$ly, the #ill#oard ads depicted +omen +ith personality traits +hich +ere $ender inappropriate in E$ypt. 6n fact, most of them pro5ected %ery ne$ati%e ima$es of +omen. III. Sexuality 6n addition to personality traits deemed appropriate for E$yptian +omen, many of the respondents #elie%ed that any reference to seuality +as completely ta#oo, particularly for +omen. Thus, it +as not considered appropriate for +omen to sho+ any interest in seuality, discuss any aspect of seuality, certainly not appropriate to epress affection in pu#lic, and e%en +orse to appear seually pro%ocati%e. 2espondents all a$reed that these #eliefs a#out seuality constitute a stron$ social norm in E$ypt today, thou$h they acno+led$ed that it is increasin$ly #ein$ %iolated  #y mass media, particularly ad%ertisin$. 6ndeed, the #ill#oard ads $enerally portrayed +omen in seually pro%ocati%e +ays and #roe many social ta#oos. A. Menstruation This %iolation of social ta#oos around seuality #y the mass media in E$ypt is particularly true for menstruation, since many estern products are no+ mareted in E$ypt. Many of the tele%ision ads, for instance, are almost identical to the ones +hich appear in &anada and the D.S.A.)  #lue li9uid #ein$ poured into pads to demonstrate their a#sor#ency. All of the respondents #elie%ed that these t.%. ads $o too far, e%en for E$yptians +ho don7t mind these products #ein$ ad%ertised. Some respondents complained that these ads ha%e had ne$ati%e conse9uences for +omen #ecause no+ men are teasin$ +omen a#out menstruation. The follo+in$ comment, tri$$ered #y the  #ill#oard ad for locally-produced sanitary napins (photo <", illustrates these #eliefs a#out the inappropriateness of ad%ertisin$ these products, especially on tele%ision, and a#out the #aclash this has created, particularly men main$ 5oes a#out it) 3@oulou4 should not #e sho+n in the streets...Men +ill mae fun of such an ad and mae fun of +omen, asin$ them if they ha%e a 3@oulou4 today. They +ill call her names. They may call her 3@oulou4 e%en. No+ men are callin$ +omen 3@oulou4. 6f a +oman has a headache or does not feel $ood, men +ill as her if she has a 3@oulou4. 6t #ecame a #i$ 5oe. There are many ads for 3@oulou4 and other companies on t.%. These ads are #ecomin$ more dama$in$ than the street ads. This $i%es a  #ad messa$e to #oys. The #oys are #ac+ard here and they mae +omen feel uncomforta#le a#out this thin$. Cn t.%. they ha%e many +omen doin$ these ads. eople sometimes are amazed ho+ a father or a +oman7s hus#and +ould allo+ these +omen to do such ads. There7s a 5oe that the father of the +oman +ho does this ad should $et the etra 3@oulou4 +hich is in e%ery paca$e. 6t7s a +ay of puttin$ do+n such men. 6t implies that he is really a +oman. >e7s doin$ it for this free sanitary napinF (2espondent <*" 2e$ardin$ the #ill#oard ad for 3@oulou4, not all respondents +ere +illin$ to discuss this ad,  primarily #ecause they +ould not #rea the ta#oo on discussin$ menstruation. 6n some cases, 6 had to 9uicly hide the photo$raph of this ad and s+itch the respondent = s attention to other ads in order to continue the inter%ie+. E%en so, some respondents reacted so ne$ati%ely and emotionally that the inter%ie+ could not #e continued at that particular time. Cn the other hand, a fe+ respondents thou$ht that the ta#oo on this su#5ect +as old-fashioned and should #e a#andoned. They #elie%ed that menstruation +as a natural process +hich e%eryone should no+ a#out and #e  prepared for. hile some respondents said that they +ould feel comforta#le discussin$ /  menstruation and sanitary products +ith other +omen, most respondents said that they +ould not do so +ith men or children. Still, a fe+ respondents said that menstruation is a natural process and e%eryone should no+ a#out it, that it should #e discussed +ith children and perhaps +ith men. hether +illin$ or hesitant to discuss menstruation, %irtually all respondents lined their remars a#out this su#5ect to ad%ertisements. 6s ad%ertisin$ sanitary napins appropriate; 6f so, +hat ind of ads and in +hich media; Most respondents #elie%ed that ad%ertisements in +omen7s ma$azines and small posters in  pharmacies +ere the most accepta#le media. E%en amon$st the most tolerant $roup of respondents, not all a$reed that ads for sanitary products should appear in the streets. The follo+in$ remars indicate respondents =  #eliefs a#out the appropriateness of discussin$ menstruation and sanitary products, and hence, their +illin$ness to %iolate the social ta#oo on this topic, intert+ined +ith their #eliefs a#out the ad%ertisement of +omen = s sanitary napins. They ran$e from the most ne$ati%e reactions, illustrati%e of those +ho do not thin menstruation should  #e discussed or ad%ertised, re$ardless of medium, to the most radical %ie+, that menstruation should not #e a ta#oo su#5ect, and that sanitary napins could #e ad%ertised lie any other product) Y     Sal    m F 6 ha%e ne%er seen this ad #efore and 6 thin this +ould #e %ery +ron$ to ha%e this in the streets. This is somethin$ pri%ate, not ad%ertised. (2espondent </1"This is  taht zift   (#elo+ shit8$ar#a$e". This must not #e on the streets or in t.%., or in ma$azines. This is pri%ate and not to #e seen in pu#lic. 6 hate it. She has no face. That = s #etter for her to hide her face. She should #e ashamed to #e in this ad. E%ery#ody no+s +hat this is and its use. 6t should not #e ad%ertised. (2espondent <0"6t7s too personal a topic. 6 +ould not $o to the pharmacy to #uy these products e%en if 6 could afford them #ecause 6 +ould #e too shy. They should not put these ads in the streets. 6t = s not appropriate for such a personal su#5ect. (2espondent <*"6 don7t thin these products should #e ad%ertised in the streets. They should #e more discrete and only ha%e small ads in ne+spapers and ma$azines, #ut not in the streets, and especially not #i$ ones lie this...6 don = t lie this picture #ecause it is somethin$ pri%ate and should not #e up in  pu#lic. (2espondent <*!"Some +omen don = t prefer to see these ads in the streets #ecause children and men see it, #ut in this ad, it doesn = t affect people here #ecause they don = t epress +hat it is in this ad. Men and children don = t no+ +hat it is a#out, #ut +omen no+. e see this ad on tele%ision, a $irl flyin$...6f they didn = t ad%ertise in the streets, 6 +ouldn = t no+ a#out A @oulou @ . They ha%e to ad%ertise. 6t = s a perfectly natural topic and e%eryone should no+ a#out it. 6t should not #e a ta#oo topic. (2espondent <*0"Ges, of course it = s o. There is no pro#lem +ith ad%ertisin$. 6 +ould also lie to see it ad%ertised in the pharmacy. 6 prefer that #ecause any ad%ertisement must #e for people to see it. here the  people can see it; Someone ha%en = t a t.%. Someone cannot read for any ne+s ma$azines. The street, all of the people $o there. So it must #e in the street. (2espondent <1H" &learly, there is a +ide array of %ie+s amon$st respondents a#out the accepta#ility of discussin$ menstruation, a#out +hether sanitary products should #e ad%ertised, and a#out ho+ they should #e ad%ertised. hile the social ta#oo a$ainst discussin$ this aspect of seuality is still stron$, it is o#%ious from the inter%ie+ data that some E$yptian +omen #elie%e that it is time to 0  re5ect this ta#oo. Those +ho do %iolate this norm, ho+e%er, are still the minority. . Pro!ecting Sexuality Another aspect of #eliefs a#out seuality +hich emer$ed from the inter%ie+s is that E$yptian +omen are not epected to demonstrate any interest in se nor to epress affection in  pu#lic, nor to #e seually pro%ocati%e in pu#lic. Any pose or mo%ement associated +ith se is considered immoral for +omen. E%en holdin$ hands and sho+in$ any ind of affection in pu#lic, +hile #ecomin$ more common, +as not considered accepta#le #y most of the +omen inter%ie+ed. Iissin$, in particular, is not accepta#le in pu#lic. Most of the respondents #elie%ed that issin$ in front of anyone, e%en inside the household, is not accepta#le. 6n fact, any sho+ of affection or emotion +hatsoe%er is socially ta#oo in E$ypt. 6n addition, $irls and +omen are epected to refrain from epressin$ any emotion, +hether positi%e or ne$ati%e. Shyness is epected. Any %iolation of these norms results in a +oman #ein$ considered immoral and 3e%il4. The follo+in$ comments a#out the couple depicted issin$ in a #ill#oard ad (photo <*/" for the mo%ie 3  Lay, Y     Haram ;4 (3hy, Ch yramid;4" are characteristic of the respondents =  #eliefs a#out this pu#lic display of affection) The issin$ couple is not suita#le for children...6t is for#idden. 6t has a #ad effect on children. 6t encoura$es #oys and $irls to #e to$ether. (2espondent <"6t = s not %ery nice to sho+ issin$ in the streets. This is still a reli$ious country and it maes reli$ious people offended. So +hy mae reli$ious people offended, especially no+ +hen +e are so +orried a#out terrorists; e mustn = t offend reli$ious people. Some of them may #ecome %ery a$$ressi%e and +ant to tear these ads apart. (2espondent <1"6 don = t lie the intimacy in pu#lic. >ere in our culture, pu#lic epression of intimate feelin$s is not accepta#le. >us#and and +ife cannot iss each other in pu#lic #ecause it +ould #e pro%ocati%e to others and upset feelin$s of others +ho are not ha%in$ a +ife or a hus#and. So such ?issin$ should #e #ehind closed doors relationships #et+een hus#ands and +i%es. E%en a friendly iss, 6 don = t e%en tal a#out passionate issin$ in pu#lic, #ut e%en a friendly iss #et+een hus#and and +ife +ould #e totally unaccepta#le in E$ypt if it happened in pu#lic. 6t must #e only in pri%ate...6 am not epressin$ my personal %ie+s only, #ut the effect of these pictures on the pu#lic. or me, if 6 see this or anythin$ else, it doesn = t ha%e to affect me. A$e-+ise and status-+ise, it does not affect me. But ased +hat is my opinion as an E$yptian citizen, 6 +ould ad%ise that this is pro%ocati%e and not accepta#le to sho+ it lie this. That = s +hy you +on = t find men and +omen issin$, not e%en passionate, #ut e%en friendly issin$, is not e%en accepta#le in a social contet in pu#lic. This is not an E$yptian ha#it or an E$yptian accepted #eha%ior. The #ottom line is that epression of affection #eyond shain$ hands in pu#lic is not accepta#le in the E$yptian contet, let alone somethin$ that is more than that. 'o you recall +hen &lar and &rystal from A The Bold and The Beautiful @  +ere here on a %isit and it +as the &airo &inema esti%al; &lar spontaneously +anted to $reet the #roadcaster as she +as announcin$ him. >e shoo hands +ith her and issed her spontaneously. 6t +as 5ust a friendly iss, somethin$ that +ould #e %ery spontaneous and nothin$ in America. >e +anted to sho+ ho+ happy he +as to #e in E$ypt and to #e $reetin$ the announcer. This +as li%e on t.%. This +as the tal of the to+nF 6t +as the catastrophe of her life #ecause she +as issed on t.%., in pu#lic, and the  shaykh s of al- = Azhar and the reli$ious people +ere talin$ a#out this. E%eryone in &airo +as upset. As a result, he apolo$ized pu#licly after that, that this +as not his intent to offend anyone. This +as a %ery hot issue. 6t +as the tal of the to+n That = s +hy it is so important to consider the community, the society in +hich +e are li%in$. hat is sho+n must  #e appropriate in this contet. (2espondent <1"H
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