(Not!) Rules for Walking in Egypt

[Trigger warning: This post discusses sexual assault, prevention strategies and includes mentions of specific theoretical situations.] I didn’t have time to write about everything that happened last week in Cairo and so in the middle of the week I started a list of posts I would write after I returned to the states. One of them was on my rules for avoiding street harassment while walking or riding public transportation in Egypt. My tactics, which still didn’t stop me from being harassed everyday, a dozen times a day, for my entire stay in Egypt, include:

  • Never make eye-contact; just stare are men’s shoulders.
  • Keep your eyes down in a crowded metro car, since there’s no way to avoid catching a man’s eye.
  • Look straight forward and march past and away from anyone yelling at you.
  • Walk like you know where you’re going and are too much trouble to hassle.
  • Never smile at any man: not to acknowledge that you awkwardly made eye-contact, not because you’re apologizing for bumping into him, not because he gave good directions and you’re grateful. Just don’t smile.

I was going to write that post, but then I had coffee with one of the co-founders of Egypt’s anti-street harassment grassroots community organization, HarassMap. And I remembered: it’s not my job to prevent men from yelling at me, following me, making my day just a little bit scarier and more tiresome. After our meeting, I sent her my favorite list of sexual assault prevention tips from the SlutWalk movement:


How to Prevent Rape

If a woman is drunk, don’t rape her.
If a woman is walking alone at night, don’t rape her.
If a women is drugged and unconscious, don’t rape her.
If a woman is wearing a short skirt, don’t rape her.
If a woman is jogging in a park at 5 am, don’t rape her.
If a woman looks like your ex-girlfriend you’re still hung up on, don’t rape her.
If a woman is asleep in her bed, don’t rape her.
If a woman is asleep in your bed, don’t rape her.
If a woman is doing her laundry, don’t rape her.
If a woman is in a coma, don’t rape her.
If a woman changes her mind in the middle of or about a particular activity, don’t rape her.
If a woman has repeatedly refused a certain activity, don’t rape her.
If a woman is not yet a woman, but a child, don’t rape her.
If your girlfriend or wife is not in the mood, don’t rape her.
If your step-daughter is watching TV, don’t rape her.
If you break into a house and find a woman there, don’t rape her.
If your friend thinks it’s okay to rape someone, tell him it’s not, and that he’s not your friend.
If your “friend” tells you he raped someone, report him to the police.
If your frat-brother or another guy at the party tells you there’s an unconscious woman upstairs and it’s your turn, don’t rape her, call the police and tell the guy he’s a rapist.
Tell your sons, god-sons, nephews, grandsons, sons of friends it’s not okay to rape someone.
Don’t tell your women friends how to be safe and avoid rape.
Don’t imply that she could have avoided it if she’d only done/not done x.
Don’t imply that it’s in any way her fault.
Don’t let silence imply agreement when someone tells you he “got some” with the drunk girl.

And if you are still confused, try this:

How to Prevent Sexual Assault

1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6. Remember, people go to laundry rooms to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are committing a crime- no matter how “into it” others appear to be.

A simple summary from a memetic cat:

This isn’t to say that I’m going to stop teaching self-defense classes. This is not to say that I will stop being vigilant, aware of my surroundings, doing safety planning and preparing to cause irreparable damage to anyone who makes me afraid for myself. But I will try to remember: the best way to prevent rape is to not rape people.

Inspirational Quote:

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”–Lin Yutang

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