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| by Farida Abdel Malek

Fustany Talks: Why Are Strangers Deciding How I Dress Everyday?

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I remember when the #MeToo movement started and everyone was posting on their facebook page '#MeToo'. I didn't feel that I was deserving of posting it as well. What have I been through that is comparable enough to what these women have survived? The usual catcalls here and there? Being looked at almost once a week like I'm a piece of meat? That's nothing, surely that's not abuse or sexual harassment... right?

No not right. Because first of all, street harassment is first and foremost harassment. Second, comparing yourself to others and saying that what you felt is not justifiable is a form of hurting and abusing yourself. And yes, I'm talking to you... Farida... me. I'm thankful and grateful everyday that I have not been through a traumatic form of abuse or harassment that has harmed me deeply. But I also want to put it out there that as a woman, I still feel violated and hurt everyday by how I'm viewed and looked at and it does seep into my mind and affect how I see myself, how I move, walk and the decisions I make everyday.

So, before I get into this deeper, I want to clarify that I'm writing this so that every woman that is catcalled or exposed to any form of street harassment, like she's an object or a piece of meat, has more than the right to feel abused, violated and has more than the right to say "me too" and here's why:

This movement was about something bigger than all of us, it was a loud powerful cry by woman all over the world, saying "I've had enough" of feeling abused, whatever form that abuse may take.

When I go shopping and try clothes on, I see  myself through the eyes of a man on the street, before I see myself through my own eyes. Is that too revealing? Do I look too provocative? Where can I wear this? Will people think I'm looking for attention? Should I get a bigger size? Oh wait, I might be able to buy this because I can wear it on the beach... it would be acceptable there...

When I wake up in the morning and rummage through my closet to pick something to wear, I think more than once about where I'm going. Is it going to be a long walk to the car? What kind of neighborhood is it? When I get out of the car, I should probably take care not to let the skirt slip upwards. If I put red lipstick on, will it be too much? I will probably grab a lot of men's attention because I look too pretty today.... Maybe I should skip the eyeliner?

That voice, became an automatic recording in my head, to the point where I'm not even aware of it and I'm not even conscious of how problematic it is. It's like because I was born a female in this society, it's completely normal for me to think like that because at the end of the day I'm looking to protect myself. I don't want to be hissed or looked at in a disgusting way and I most definitely don't want to be almost run by a car because the driver wanted to get his head out the window and shout at me that he'd like to "get on that" and yes that has happened more than once. Actually happened last week...

I remember though, significantly, the way a man looked at me in the street for the first time made me cry, almost throw up and feel absolutely violated and I swear at that moment I almost felt naked. I was waiting for my ride to arrive and was standing on the side of the street and he was driving past me. He looked at me for a short second that felt like a year and his eyes pierced through me, to this day I can never forget them. Because for that short second, I felt like I was being abused, violated and I wasn't even human to him. He looked at me like he was hungry and he, like so many others, didn't even look me in the eyes. They start around the breast area, move their way down and maybe, just maybe, if there's some sort of human in him he might look me in the eyes. And believe me sometimes you'll wish he never did.

I know countless of women who choose their outfit everyday according to and in consideration of where they're going, what they're going to be doing, where they're going to park and how long they're going to be walking. Can you imagine? Walking! A basic human right... and 80 percent of the women I know don't feel safe doing it in most streets unless they're accompanied by a man. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a man and just walk without feeling a million eyes on you constantly.

I'm going to end this with a moment that was really pivotal for me. I was leaving the house and walking out the door when my mom told me that maybe I should change my shirt that showed a lot of my arm, so that no one would bother me in the street. I looked at her and said, "what I wear or look like has nothing to do with it, believe me, I've tried."

When I realized that, I decided that every time a guy would say something at me or look at me like that, I would stare them in the eyes powerfully, maybe with a subtle look of disgust, instead of shying away, turning around or looking like a scared delicate flower. And you wouldn't believe the difference that had made! Some of them actually turn around and freak out and I think it's because I remind them that they're human and that I'm human as well, it is almost like a slap on the face to wake them up.

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Tags: Violence against women  Abuse  Women empowerment