Last night, a good friend of mine told me a story that is all too familiar to my little feminist ears. She was running late on her way to pick up a friend of hers from Jisr El Moushet at the junction of Dawra and Zalka. When she arrives at the meeting point, she reaches for her cell phone from her bag to find a bunch of missed calls from her friend. Frantic, her friend rushes into the car and tells her that she was just assaulted by a man on the pedestrian bridge. "He followed me and wouldn't go away, no matter how much I ignored him or shouted at him to go away," she said. "Then he grabbed me and tried to kiss me, so I screamed and ran away. He kept following me till I reached the gas station where a bunch of people were standing waiting for buses." Her story was covered up with tears and sobs and my friend got super angry and went back home to get her brother-in-law and his friend to come find the guy. They all arrived back on the spot and looked everywhere for the man but they couldn't find him. "I wanted us to beat him up and then give him to the police," my friend explained.
How do we begin to tackle this problem? Do we start with:
· The lack of safety of our public streets?
· The "I will get away with it" mentality of some men?
· What women should or shouldn't do in these situations?
· How these cases should be reported?
I was thinking about these questions on my way back from Jounieh last night when I passed the pedestrian bridge. How many hundreds of cases like this happen every month? How many women get raped or harassed or assaulted in this very spot? What am I going to do about it? What I imagine the girl and her friends or family did about it was say: "Don't go out after dark alone anymore!" or "Don't go walking on that bridge anymore!" But how much is that really going to solve?
So I started to wonder about strategies to take back the night: empowering women to be less afraid, creating an emergency response unit for these cases, raising awareness among people about guarding their community. holding night walks or vigils. Traditional sorta stuff. And then I thought: if she was strong enough or ready enough, she would have fought him off and pulled out his eyes. Predators fuel up on fear. If she were less afraid and more confident in her physical strength, he would fuck off or lose a piece of his flesh. By that time, I was passing under the Nabaa bridge of Bourj Hammoud and to my right I saw a sign for a gym. Oh, I thought: a feminist gym! We should have a women's gym that's not about losing weight or looking good, but about looking darn nasty and building some muscle. Put in all the un-girly sports: boxing, kicking, iron-pumping, wrestling, mortal combating!
Ok, so maybe a feminist gym won't solve all our problems with public sexual harassment. Maybe it's a symbol of what we women need. Strength. Some biceps wouldn't hurt.