Ethnocentrism, Egypt, & women

May 5, 2011

This is a very difficult post to write.

It’s about journalist Lara Logan’s sexual assault by a mob of Egyptian men as she was reporting a story. I think it’s important to see this compelling 60 Minutes interview about the assault first, before you read on. Watch it in its entirety.

So here is the deal. This young, lovely working journalist was simply doing her job, when a mob of crazed men set upon her in a horrific sexual assault.

There is no excuse for this kind of animalistic behavior. Journalists of any race, creed, or gender should be able to do their jobs.

And men should not sexually assault women. It is not justifiable in any way. At all. Period.

And yet, they did.

Ms. Logan had gone into a jubilant, celebrating crowd of mostly men to cover a story. She had with her a cameraman, an Egyptian “fixer” who was there to smooth the way, two Egyptian drivers to serve as bodyguards and a non-Egyptian security man.

She’d done everything right.

Or had she?

There is an even larger issue here than the horrific crime perpetrated upon Ms. Logan. Not more horrific, but overarching.

As a feminist and as a professional woman, it agonizes me to say that I do not think she did everything right. I think she was very, very unwise and unprofessional.

In a country where women are completely covered from head to toe, where not an inch of female skin is ever shown, in a culture well-known for treating women as “less than,” was it wise for an attractive young blonde-haired, light-eyed woman to enter a mob of Egyptian men in Western garb that showed skin and yes, even a hint of cleavage?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think she “got what she deserved.” Not by any means. Do not misunderstand. What happened to her was so very wrong.

I am troubled by her judgment. What looks like denial.

Face it. There’s the way we wish the world were.

And then there’s the way it is. They are not the same.

The way it is in Egypt is that the sight of a gorgeous young woman wearing Western attire showing skin incited an already testosterone-crazed crowd of men to attack her.

Do I wish that weren’t the case? Of course. Do I think she asked for it? No, of course not.

But if we women learn anything from her experience, I hope it is that when entering a volatile situation in a culture so different from ours, we should make every attempt to blend in to the cultural norms.

There is no respect for a “liberated woman” among some people, usually men, in some cultures. In some cultures, Western women are considered loose and up for grabs. Literally.

I am sorry for her suffering. This attack was wrong on every level.

At the same time, what happened to this young professional is what can happen when we are blinded by our ethnocentrism. When we are culturally insensitive.

When we assume we can walk into another culture without taking into account how they might feel about us, our race, our gender, our creed. When we think our values and norms will be adhered to in a culture that doesn’t value them. When we insist on them. Or don’t think about the issue.

It pains me to say this. I am a proud feminist. But I am also a realist.

Women who work in countries with different gender values and mores need to accommodate those in order to get their job done. That’s just the way it is.

This is a very sad lesson.

Your thoughts?

For more information about Western women in Muslim lands, see this excellent piece:

5 comments on “Ethnocentrism, Egypt, & women
  1. Kelly says:

    a very very thought provoking post. fantastic. Her story is horrifying. I think some of the rage set on her was fueled by the “she’s a jew” “she’s an israeli”. and I can’t help but wonder if she would have been attacked even if she had been dressed in such a way as to blend into cultural norms, given those kinds of incendiary claims and the mob mentality.

    It does seem a bit like paiting oneself with peanut butter and walking through the SPCA doesn’t it?

    My mind is still processing your words. We are pretty arrogant. And we do assume far too much…

  2. Her story is a good lesson, if we look at it that way. I believe the odds of her being attacked would’ve been less if she’d had on a headscarf and were more modestly dressed. Of course, I wish that were not the case, we should be free to be who we are. But I always think about Christiane Amanpour. I’ve seen her broadcast from the middle-East with a headscarf and she dresses for the culture. I really do believe media outlets need to provide advice on culturally appropriate dress as activity over there heats up and more journalists go over.

  3. There are definitely laws in specific countries or global ones that are or (if not) must protect women. But in some cases (especially if the country is out of order) you have to take a risk, but be ready for the consequences like that

  4. Discussing incidents of sexual assault is always sensitive and challenging.

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