This is my privacy
We all know that feeling, it’s Thursday and the weekend is looming large. You’ve got just a few more achingly tedious classes until you’re free. What do you do? Well, in Jordan, you get your damned fists up and brawl!
Violence erupts in 4 universities , typical Jordanian Thursday—
Mujahed Taharwh (@Mujahed_S) November 29, 2012
29 Nov 12
Fights broke out today at several universities in Jordan, but, as the tweet above indicates, this is by no means a new thing. From March this year: ‘Violence breaks out at University of Jordan’, with one student said to have fired gunshots into the air; and from July, ‘Mutah University brawl gets ugly; guns and knives used’, with the Dean’s deputy being stabbed as “he tried to intervene”.
These fights are described as ‘tribal’, which basically mean that when disagreeable people who originate from one area encounter disagreeable from a different area, and one of them does something that’s even slightly disagreeable, disagreeable shit goes down. Arguments between one or two people quickly escalate as they ‘call their boys’, or ‘Brigades’ as they’re known.
Today, the spark wasn’t so much an argument, but an incident that is depressingly common, not only in Jordan, but across the Middle East. The brawl at University of Zaytuna was reported to have broken out after the harassment of a female student.
A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with Professor Rula Quawas, a feminist professor at the University of Jordan. She was controversially fired from her job as Dean of Foreign Languages last September for, as she claims, helping her students make a video that protested sexual harassment on campus, though the university contests this.
The video, at the top of the article, is called ‘This is my privacy’, and features female students, some from Rula’s Feminist Theory class, holding up signs with obscene comments written on them, the very same obscene comments that they have to endure on a daily basis.
“You know why we have sexual harassment?”, she asks me rhetorically, “Men do not respect women […] they think you’re an object, a commodity, a piece of meat. They see you as if they own you. [As an Arab woman] you don’t own who you are. Arab women are tenants, not owners of their bodies, their minds and their hearts.”
The video was made in December 2011 as the culmination of Rulas’ undergraduate Feminist Theory class. The students interviewed women across campaigns about their experience of sexual harassment, and from ~100 examples, chose the comments shown in the video. (There were far worse ones that were too explicit to use, Rulas tells me).
When the video was released online months later, the reaction was huge (it currently has over 100,000 views on YouTube). Comments ranged from support for the students’ bravery, to vitriolic fury that they would dare to stand up and protest. (Though, that said, vitriolic fury is pretty much the default setting in online discussions).
This blog has a good discussion of the reaction, though it’s called ‘Rana Rants’, so we’re not talking BBC-esque balance here. Other women have since spoke out online about sexual harassment, see for example this moving article by Lama Bashour called ‘The Social Contract I Never Signed‘.
This battle against harassment is being fought across the Middle East, most literally in Egypt. This New York Times article from the beginning of November tells of ‘vigilantes’ in Cairo who attack men who harass women:
CAIRO — The young activists lingered on the streets around Tahrir Square, scrutinizing the crowds of holiday revelers. Suddenly, they charged, pushing people aside and chasing down a young man. As the captive thrashed to get away, the activists pounded his shoulders, flipped him around and spray-painted a message on his back: “I’m a harasser.”
Sadly attacks on women in Tahrir Square continue despite their efforts.
It should be pointed out that sexism, harassment, and sexual assault occurs across the world, depressingly, but that doesn’t make the need to address this problem any less urgent; it doesn’t make Arab attitudes to women any less shameful; and it doesn’t make me any less pissed off to share my ethnicity with sexually repressed, women-hating neanderthals.
“They’re courageous,” Rula says of her students, “they’re breaking the silence. They’re putting the shame where it belongs, on the men. Not on us.”
All too often, as reports of honour killings like this show, the shame is put on the woman.
There’s a whole other story about exactly why Professor Rulas Quawas was fired as Dean, but I don’t have all the information at present so I’m leaving that for another day.
Update 30/11/2012 – Students led by a Sharia professor at University of Jordan protested against the video yesterday. The Jordan Times has these comments from the protest:
Ola Al Haj Ali, a Sharia student, said a mistake must not be tackled in the wrong way.
“We do agree that sexual harassment exists in our society, but not in this way,” the 21-year-old added, claiming that the video “will harm the reputation of female students in the university”.
Deema Lami, another student who took part in the protest, said the video could affect parents’ perceptions of the university.
“Perhaps parents will believe that the university is full of such acts and be reluctant to allow their children to study here,” the 19-year-old added.