Sunday, 31 August 2014

Perspectives, bubble gum and a3tini ton facebook

Pink and rosy lenses on my glasses

The first external place you'll end up knowing well after you land anywhere urban is the street. Streets are the arteries that pump and tie up all activities, whether you walk them or drive through them.

I have been walking the streets as a woman, I can't escape my gender, but mostly I walk them as a human being. In the streets, among the vast Algerian skies, the ochres of city houses, the dusty whites of metropoleis, palm trees' flamboyant greens, and the pale khakis of olive orchards, there is quite a crowd. But people aren't walking. Pedestrians appear static. While the act of putting one foot after another is visibly unfolding, no movement to speak of is perceptible.

And so, avoiding collision at a very slow rate into a variety of static but not fixed obstacles may have slowed, and toned down, my perception of several events. One such and which has been popping up much in blogs and radio lately is street harassment.

Movement delimits the width of a dimension.

I do walk and travel alone on foot a considerable amount. While I am quite absent-minded, I am not so to the extend of not sensing a threat. So why haven't I paid any attention to street H, why hasn't it bothered me? Reports aren't fake, nor exaggerated. Have I integrated, from before coming to Algeria, that onomatopoeic obscenities shouted by men at women would be an expected common occurrence, like finding street lamp posts on the sidewalk? Yes, I was expecting it, but equally it has been unconsequential in my daily dealings, I have not changed my habits nor switched personalities, I have not felt threatened. I am not sure why that is, other than I find few behaviours disconcerting, as long as they do not involve a physical menace. Perhaps I am just very ugly and frightening and this has lessened the rate of abuse. Add to that a little blind. 

Degrees delimit the depth of a dimension.

I wonder, perhaps, if I'm not guilty of a worse wickedness than theirs: disdain. Maybe n'hggarhom without having realised it until now. I confess I've never found any normally constituted man unable to make a full sentence worthy of my attention. 'Mademoiselle...' 'Madame...' 'Chebbaaaa...', 'pssst pssst pssst...', 'qbayliyaaaa qbayliaaaa...', 'suce...' don't move me in the least, negatively nor positively. In Tizi Ouzou a few months ago, the waiter who had been hovering about our table asked me for my Facebook name as I left. I felt like giving him a hug and congratulating him on making a complex word string but I can't say complex nor word string in Kabyle so I just told him no. 

As is said in this radio talk (in French):  rape, conjugal violence, street harassment carried out against women are subjects that often come up and are treated in the media, they are not taboo and are openly discussed. As auto-antonyms would have it and as per the law of between distinctly we've already discussed, a majority of men deplore street harassment while a majority of men indulge in it... something's afoot, and all is well in the world of auto-contradictions. Where it leaves women, I don't know. 

We are all moved by a different reality.

There is one type of abuse I find very distressing though: it is the repression of, and against, women's expression of their sexual desires. Does that count as sexual abuse? I'd say it does. And I'd also say harassment is a way to attempt severing this desire at the root. 

When I walk around, no matter the place in Algeria, I see coquettish Algerian women all over, carefully, colourfully dressed and make-up-ed, with or without a hijab. They walk with a confident air, not haughtily with a head held high, nor beaten down with their eyes lowered, their gaze is level headed. Their pace is set at their own speed, it is not induced by fear.

And this is what feeds my pink world and sustains my bright bubble. I know that eventually it will pop but I believe that when it does, it will open onto an event better world.


Eva said...

A lot of foreigners visiting Morocco report these cases. Some get angry about these men, and for some is just funny (I guess they wouldn't consider that "funny" in their Western countries).

I don't consider it's funny or it's "part of the culture". I think it's, yes, sexual harassment. Of course there are different levels of obscenities: some men just say "Good morning, dear" (well...). Others say some obscenities I don't understand in darija (maybe that's better for me?). In fact, usually I have the feelings you describe towards those men: indifference (do they deserve my attention?) and disdain (poor caricature of real men, I think).

Sometimes I just stare them out, and a couple of times I've said "Let me say that I don't think the same about you". And they look really frightened, believe me. But I guess it isn't the same for younger girls, or even for some Moroccan women with different backgrounds.

Once I was attending a lecture about equality between women and men, here (in Tetouan, Morocco). Most of the public were teenagers because it was in a (private) high school. I was impressed when one of the girls, about sixteen, asked to the lecturer: "Why Moroccan mums teach their daughters to avoid men who harass women, instead of teaching their male sons not to harass women?".

Sorry for the long comment! I find this matter very interesting!

Nadia Ghanem said...

Hello Eva! Thank you for dropping by and for your comments always welcome :) And no, your comment is not long, it is just a topic on which much can and should be said.

I am sure you are right, depending on one's age and one's past experience, street harassment, however slight, can seem benign or a tough hassle to bear. I have found that it is very localised here. People in the capital are a lot more 'aggressive' - both terms are of course relative, the area where I live for example is quiet and respectful of its women and girls, yet I also know that when guys in my neighbourhood want to mess around, they go in another area then come home to be something close to angels again. In Kabylie, there is none of that nonsense in the streets going on (and that is not to say it is heaven nor that Kabyle men are better than others).

Much like the young girl you heard at the lecture you attended, a friend of mine always says that if men misbehave it is because their mothers let them grow up that way :)

I often find street harassment here barely noticeable, but when I am not sure how to behave, Algerian girls and women's reactions and their confidence are a great source of comfort I find.

The harassment I do find very distressing here though, is sexual harassment in the work place. The stories I've heard are very very ugly.