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March 9, 2011

Feminism and the Mid-East: What Mostly Happened in Tahrir Square Yesterday

“Most of the men on the median were repeating the same argument as that in the square: a female President was forbidden by Islam. But the women were arguing back, and that was important. “It’s like lancing an abscess. What’s coming out is disgusting, but it needs to be done….”

From: Women and Men in Tahrir Square (The New Yorker)


Reading the New Yorker account, it doesn’t sound like the violence against women yesterday in Tahrir Square was that escalated. Moreover, it seems that the media’s emphasis on it misses the larger point.

The AP photo above, which circulated widely, is in fact quite similar to the one in the New Yorker piece. What both show (coupled with the New Yorker account by Jenna Krajeski, who was there) is actually an afternoon of continuous vigorous verbal exchanges taking place between men and women (and women and women) throughout the square following an International Women’s Day march for women’s rights.

Am I saying that women are less susceptible to violence, harassment and intimidation in Egypt than before Mubarak fell, or that some men didn’t attack women or chase them out of the square later in the evening? No, I’m not. As opposed to the idea the photo somehow missed yesterday’s story, however, I think the picture tells the story perfectly. Given that the Mid-East democracy uprising has also been identified by some as a feminist revolution, what we’re seeing in action here (hence, the smile, too) is consciousness-raising — painful and slow as it may be — in full-throated real time.

This video taken of the march also does a good job of capturing the energy and intensity of the participants.

(photo: AP. caption: An Egyptian female protester, second right, argues with a man as hundreds of women marched to Cairo’s central Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women’s Day, Egypt, Tuesday, March 8, 2011. A protest by hundreds of Egyptian women demanding an end to sexual harassment and equal rights has turned violent when men verbally abused and shoved the demonstrators, telling them that they should go home where they belong.)

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