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 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 wanting for myself. 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 – and all of a sudden, I felt a moist hand caressing my naked back from the top to the bottom. For 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 his 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 got 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 myself back home because I realized that I was tired of fighting every day 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 it had happened at night. Why? Good women get home early and don’t stay out late.

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 case of a gender-based crime and still, we would have to bear the society heavy stare and shaming on us wherever we go.

I’ve never been into 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 age social class and intellectual level, in different settings, from my basketball coach to my executive client.  Sometimes I felt sorry for being a woman, remembering when I was a child praying to God and asking why was I born a girl as it was obviously unfair to me, how my life was complicated compared to the ones of 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.

And, unfortunately, it kept away even 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, single years, in a free country. I study and work hard, travel and party harder. I enjoy wearing whatever I want, going wherever I want, and moving however I want without necessarily 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 are gifted, somehow, to guess my origins and change your attitude accordingly. I still have to bear some of your unnecessary flirtations in Halal shops and restaurants. I usually just give you a side eye and pass my way, I ignore you because I know for a fact and out of experience, that firing back won’t change a thing. And also, I thought that I only get to be around you in those special settings like the ones cited above. So basically I can just avoid being around you if I want, but I still want to eat my yummy healthy halal steaks though!

But I learned it wasn’t just in those special settings when I met you, 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 once again, your entitlement of the female side-existence in your world. Because you grew up thinking that women are to cater for your needs and desires, like 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 with 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 of I am supposed to get down with a Muslim man and 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 just put yourself in my shoes and understand my anger.

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