A couple of months ago, an Egyptian young woman decided to strip and decided to have a picture taken of her totally nude except for a pair of black stockings and a pair of red shoes and decided to post this picture on the blog that bears her real name and decided to put up with with whatever consequences such an “outrageous” action might bring.
A couple of days ago, an unidentified Egyptian female protester was stripped of whatever clothes covered her upper body except for a blue bra, was dragged by the arms through Tahrir Square, was beaten by iron clubs, and was kicked in her bare torso.
In a country struggling with the radical repercussions of a life-changing revolution, swamped with political squabbles, crippled by a failing economy, and cornered between the tyranny of the military and the will of the people, it is hard to expect that a naked picture — also at the time when a zillion nude women and all the world’s x-rated content are just a click away — would be noticed and if it was it would not be stopped at for more than a few minutes and if it was it would definitely not become the talk of the town and if it did there was no way the future of the nation and the dignity of the revolution and the sanctity of religion would be all contingent upon the moment the stripping girl decided to take off her clothes. But in Egypt, everything is possible!
In a country where the basic freedoms for which a revolution erupted are being flagrantly violated, where citizens who are exercising their right to peaceful protest are being mercilessly beaten up and killed in cold blood, where women are still the object of systematic bullying and incessant physical and psychological abuse, and where gender equality seems as far-fetched as establishing a true democracy in Egypt, it would sound quite surrealist to overlook the humiliation the stripped girl had been through and focus instead on wearing an outfit which is easy to strip or going to a place in which it is likely to be stripped. But in Egypt, everything is possible!
Apart from the millions of comments her blog received after her nude picture was posted and which only serve to show how a few inches of bare flesh can turn many people’s lives around in our part of the world, the reactions the stripping girl’s move triggered were of epic proportions so that a few days into the commotion almost the entire population knew beyond doubt that she was part of a cosmic plan to bring down social values, compromise the Islamic faith, undermine Egypt’s national security, and abort the January 25 Revolution. The first two were quite expected, for after all she decided to take off all her clothes in a country where hair is the new genitalia so she would have been really delusional had she thought more than 15 out of the 80 million would support her. The last two are as striking as the evidence that supports them. After the fierce campaign launched against the girl, a group of Israeli women decided to have a nude photo of themselves taken and posted all over the media in solidarity with their Egyptian “sister.” That was it! In no time, she was crowned a sneaky Zionist and a threat to Egyptian sovereignty. At the same time, she was reported to belong to a famous youth movement known for its role in the revolution. Falling into this trap, the movement was quick to announce that it would never accept members who engage in such “indecent” actions and was quicker to accuse her of tarnishing the image of the revolution and slandering the revolutionaries. That was also it! In no time, she was crowned the architect of the counter-revolution.
Apart from the indignation of a few thousand Egyptian women who organized a massive rally to slam the army’s brutality and the condemnation statements by dozens of activists and politicians who called for putting military leaders on trial, the reactions of the majority of Egyptians to the stripped girl’s abuse were shockingly apathetic and even disparaging. Why would any respectable girl put herself in a situation where she is harassed or beaten up? This is what happens to women who leave their homes and do men’s work. How could she be wearing something that can easily be taken off and with nothing underneath? This means she did not care if her body was exposed. And how come she’s not wearing layers in this weather? She must have staged the whole thing then. Is she really veiled or face-veiled? Most probably not. She and those behind her must have spread this rumor to gain sympathy from a predominately-religious society. That was it! In no time, she was robbed of the few rights a victim status entitles and became her own stripper, abuser, and beater.
None of the conspiracy theories hinted at the reason the stripping girl herself stated for doing so and which was made clear in the statement she wrote under the picture about the objectification of women, obsession with sex in male-oriented societies, and equating art with apostasy. But how can we expect otherwise? Will a girl who takes off her clothes be capable of telling the truth? Of course not! Therefore, it goes without saying that her own explanation is nothing but a cover up for her devilish intentions. It also goes without saying that with the clothes she shed, her rights as a human being are automatically annulled so it is not a problem if she is beaten up in Tahrir Square where she makes an appearance in one of the protests following the posting of the picture and it is perfectly alright if she receives death threats.
None of the ruthless judgments took into consideration the real reason for the stripped girl’s presence at the crime scene. The fact that she was in a place where Egyptians were defending the right to protest and protecting the gains of their revolution and that she risked her safety and her life for such a noble cause is totally overlooked and so is the fact that, as a human being, she was humiliated, beaten, and deprived of her citizenship by the institution in charge of making sure none of this happens. It also seemed insignificant for everyone who declared war against her that had she been less lucky, she might have joined the martyrs to which all of us owe the gift of freedom. Or is martyrdom a men-only designation? Add to this the way the testimony of another female revolutionary, and which I vehemently object to in principle, that her friend the stripped girl was, in fact wearing a jumper under the outer loose garment and which was also taken off.
I am confused here! Are the bodies of Egyptian women that precious or that cheap? Does parting with one’s clothes imply a flagrant violation of all morals known to humanity on a personal blog and an en passant occurrence in a public square and all media outlets?
I have no idea what the girl in the blue bra thinks of the girl in the red shoes or vice versa and I am not sure if they realize the similarity between the two of them, but that is not important to know at the moment. What is certain is that both were involved in an act of stripping, one in the active voice and the other in the passive, and that both expose a nauseating hypocrisy in a patriarchal society that obsesses with how much control it can exercise over women’s bodies and with having the exclusive right to undress and cover it as it pleases, a society in which a woman has no power to take clothes off her own body or to complain if those clothes were taken off by a second party against her will.
Maybe I shouldn’t be confused after all. It is much simpler than all those analyses I am tiring myself with. It is not about the value of a woman’s body whether in terms of her freedom to do whatever she wants with it or her right to protect it against invasion. It is about women being the timeless offenders and the source of all vice whether they are the subject or the object. And why am I surprised?
Isn’t this the same logic that blames raped women for seducing their rapists by their sheer existence on the face of earth?
(Sonia Farid teaches English Literature at Cairo University. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)