Spring Summer Internship 2011
(where I don’t enter a fast-track grad scheme, or go on the road with Kerouac)
In this funny ward, we’ll sit together and read the dissidents and listen to Pink Floyd and build dens out of hospital sheets, and we can hide there, us, the crazy diamonds, in our tepee huts, and we’ll call it a literary retreat, or an intellectual hibernation, and not a sickness. We’ll go Oscar fucking Wilde.
It’s a poor excuse for a clinical wasteland. Festering, near-vaporurised girls threaded up with IVs and wasting and sickness, hunched over in wheelchairs with creaking bones and scratchy hospital gowns and tubes pouring out of their noses. I think I’ve joined an extended tea-party of tarnished has-beans. Both juvenile and ancient, a difficult disjunction because the adult expert part doesn’t want to embrace the forced changes (eat, function, live). But as children, we want the attention and the tantrum. An eating disorder ward is full of performatic antics, you know. The coy child and cruel adult. Here. we play with food, chew, spit, puke, moan, groan, and hold our distended stomachs like famished famine children. We talk about defecation, and enemas, and constipation, with glorious abandon, mostly just to shock the Nigerian agency nurses, who ask us for diet advise in exchange for hair braiding. We forget about the normal and become a savage little tribe of ravished Medeas. Social niceties and norms diminish. It’s like a Mallory Towers for the starved.
In Cairo and New Dehli, smart phone apps are being used to map sexual harassment and report sexual assault. Farah Jassat reports. She recently graduated from Newnham College and is currently a freelance journalist who has written for The Guardian and Huffington Post. She regularly blogs at www.farahjassat.com
My friend was once walking down a street in Cairo when a stranger in a nearby bus stuck his head out and shouted: “You’re a pretty girl but take your glasses off!” If that doesn’t provoke a ‘who-the-hell-are-you?!’ reaction I don’t know what does!
Most women who have lived in Cairo will be used to scenes of men hanging about on the streets (sometimes for no apparent reason). And unfortunately, a culture of attempted chat-up lines, catcalls and leers tends to go with it. Although incidents such as my friend’s experience are harmless, not everyone is so fortunate. It is a thin line that separates innocuous interjection from turning into offensive behaviour.
The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights in Cairo called harassment in Egypt a “dangerous social cancer” in a survey in 2008. The survey’s results report that 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women experience sexually harassment throughout Egypt. The recent cases of sexual assault of journalists such asEgyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy have renewed security of the pressing need of increased public safety for women in Egypt.
She is there.
— You must be looking for my sister – sorry. I’m the only one in the house today.
— No, I was looking for you.
— I know it’s odd. But I wanted to talk to you. You seem really – I want to get to know you.
I’ve never talked to anyone about this. It feels like you’re the only one I can trust. It’s just that, sometimes, it gets to me. And it’s hard to speak about.
— It must be pretty lonely
— You understand. I can talk to you. You’d never abandon me, would you? You’d never let go.
People always promise they’re never going to leave. But everyone always leaves. I can’t trust anyone not to leave. You have to promise.
It’s been around 84 years since Virginia Woolf wrote that she was over men running around Oxbridge with ‘trays on their heads’. She thought it was facile and silly. Later she would have a go at judge’s wigs and bishop’s mitres too. According to her, they were basically all in the same costume bag of paternalistic patriarchy. But on the cusp of 2012, we find the same old wardrobe’s alive and well, and the egos therein are just as present. What’s going on? Does the fabric woven slavishly by Ede & Ravenscroft contain a substance bound to endow the wearer with a fragrance irresistible to the executive board of the Wellcome Trust or some such funding organisation? Maybe. Or maybe old Woolfy had a point there, doing dot-to-dot with the other heavily decorated white men on the ruling committees of the world. In the following I’ll be drawing a very boring dot-to-dot picture amounting to one line – from the more recent wardrobe addition, generic white guy politician suit, to the more archaic, but (frankly) fetishized, Cambridge University gown. And when I’m done it’ll just be a line, that’s for sure, but it’ll be a line in the sand for me, and one I won’t be crossing any time soon.