Gender, Social Justice

Arab men, I’m tired of your constant sexual harassment — just because I’m Arab

I couldn’t stop myself from chewing it over the whole day, trying to convince myself that I didn't ask for it.

Dear Arab-American man in the club,

It was a Saturday night in DC. The streets were boiling with party lovers like me. I got into one of those trendy clubs on U St. The atmosphere and the music sent me into an exquisite trance. I was dancing like a happy child until you came in front of me and intruded on my space. You started muttering into my ear unintelligible sentences with a few distinguished words. Here comes the Arab-American man again to spoil all the fun I was having. My nerves started to get tense.

I had to ignore you and leave the dance floor temporarily. I wasn’t in a mood for a tipsy fight.

Delicately, I turned my back to you, heading towards the bar. I was in need of another drink, obviously. All of a sudden, I felt a moist hand caressing my naked back from the top to the bottom. For a few seconds, this invasion of my body got me physically stiff and mentally paralyzed. Did you really dare touch me? I turned back to you with a predatory stare.

You were still wearing this moronic smile — an emoji I was imagining myself destroying just like you destroyed my fun, free moments. You quickly realized that I was far from appreciating what you did, and like all the coward harassers, you were swift to vanish into the crowd.

A million ideas came to my mind at that moment, like finding you and confronting you with what you had done, provoking you and getting into a big, explosive fight so I could ease my anger.

But that would have consumed my fun-dedicated energy and gotten my nerves stimulated. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do about it. Instantly, I needed to get wasted and get back to the fun I planned to have, numbly.

Arab-American man in the club, I hope this open-hearted letter finds you well. I also hope that you are enjoying the land of freedom as I do (or at least I try to). I can guess the multiple reasons why you came to this country in the first place, but let me tell you that mine are strictly socio-political. I left my family, my folk, and the whole life I built back home because I realized that I was tired of fighting alone for who I was born to be: a proud, free woman.

Being a woman in developing countries is tough. Ignorance bullies our emancipation while laws and their enforcers don’t protect us. If we get harassed, abused, or raped, it’s always our fault. A police officer can disregard a complaint simply because the incident happened at night. Why? Good women get home early and don’t stay out late.

It’s an archaic belief that hasn’t disappeared yet, even though we are a generation of women who have been raised to go to school and succeed just like men.

I’ve seen women commit suicide because they were obliged to marry their rapists, others disfigured by their husbands because they filed for divorce. Raped, beaten, and dragged by their hair by police officers. Back in my country, we should be the daughter/the mother/the wife of some important man to get authorities mobilized in the case of a gender-based crime — and still, we would have to bear the society’s heavy stare and shaming wherever we go.

I’ve never been in an extreme abuse situation, but I lived paranoid and afraid of it happening.

Just like millions of women all over the world, I had to carry out my body as a burden in a daily routine of sexual harassment.

I have been touched, catcalled, and insulted by men of all ages, social classes, and intellectual levels, in different settings — from my basketball coach to my executive client.  Sometimes I felt sorry for being a woman. I remember when I was a child, praying to God and asking why was I born a girl, as it was obviously unfair to me how complicated my life was compared to my male peers. Growing up as a grumpy tomboy, I learned to fine-tune this feeling and transform it into attitude and energy. I got labeled unfeminine and big-mouthed, but I didn’t care, as long as having a badass reputation kept the ill-intentioned men away.

But, unfortunately, it also kept away the well-intentioned ones.

The rigid attitude was energy-consuming and frustrating, as I never dropped my guard. I had enough of struggling aimlessly without any hope of change; I wanted to live my life to the fullest and enjoy my womanhood naturally and spontaneously without having to worry about being objectified and sexualized at every move and breath.

So I had to make a choice. The choice of immigrating to the other side of the Atlantic, leaving behind me the anger and the frustration, but also the sweet memories and the love of my kin.

When I moved, I felt like I was reborn again, starting all over from scratch.

I’m filled with a strong will to make it happen and fulfill my own customized American dream: a dream of a suburban house filled with mixed-race kids and loyal dogs.  In the meantime, I am enjoying my late twenties and single years in a free country. I study and work hard. I travel and party harder. I enjoy wearing whatever I want, going wherever I want, and moving however I want without being explicitly sexualized by men in the public spaces I find myself in.

That is until it comes to the Arab men in America. Your type is gifted, somehow, to guess my origins and change your attitudes accordingly. I still have to bear some of your unnecessary flirtations in Halal shops and restaurants. I ignore you because I know for a fact — and from experience — that firing back won’t change a thing. I once thought that I only had to be around you in certain settings. I could just avoid being around you if I wanted, but I wanted to eat my yummy, healthy halal steaks!

But I learned it wasn’t just in those certain settings, the Arab-American man in the club.

The day after you harassed me, I woke up with a heavy hangover and bitter thoughts. I couldn’t stop myself from chewing it over the whole day, trying to convince myself that I shouldn’t give this “incident” that much attention. But unanswered questions kept ringing in my head: Is it going to happen again? How should I respond next time? What’s the best approach for prevention? Trying to understand why it keeps happening to me even here in America, the so-called land of freedom.

One thing is for sure: you don’t dare harass or openly flirt with a western white woman. Not because it’s a wrong thing to do, but because you were culturally programmed to fear her and her immeasurable resentful reaction to it.

Somehow, all your inhibitions vanish when you meet an Arab or Muslim woman and all of a sudden you start exerting your entitlement to the female side’s existence in your world. You grew up thinking that women are to cater to your needs and desires — as if our whole existence is articulated around a male alpha, the one you think you are.

So if you ever meet me again — or another woman sharing the same cultural background as you — please behave yourself and show some pride. Please spare me your false compliments and your lame jokes. Here’s a scoop for you: I am not predisposed to bear your entitlement nor your megalomaniac sexist complexes.

And above all, I beg you to not use the religion we might have in common to prove your indispensability in my life. The argument that I am supposed to get down with a Muslim man and that nobody is better than an Arab man to take care of me is just invalid.

You see, Arab-American man in the club, I hope you would put yourself in my shoes and understand my anger.

Otherwise, you might get yourself in some serious trouble next time you dare harass me.