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Phallocracia

2014 - Egypt
What the hell were you doing in the street?!
During the Egyptian january 2011 revolution, women were at the frontline equally with their male angry fellows. The players of this historical moment make mention of a period full of magic, when all differences were ironed out for the sake of a greater cause. Euphoria was short-lived. The old patriarchal rules resurfaced. Women became again a traditionnal and easy target. The video footage of « The girl in the blue bra », beaten up by the police in december 2011, became a mediatic landmark of this disenchantment.
The whole world was shocked by the gang rapes which skyrocketed mostly during 2012 and 2013 protests. The words « sexual terrorism » replaced those of sexual harassment. /.../
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/.../ Today this appalling sexual terror wave has fainted out, but the usual harassment, a cocktail of frustrated pulsions and an extremely phallocratic regime are still ruining Egyptian women’s daily life. One cannot say it is like anywhere in the world. There seems to be an Egyptian syndrome. Feminist organizations have worked for years, and are still working, to combat this phenomenon. They are trying to break out of the complexities of the social taboos that blame women for participating in demonstrations, a process that reaches the extent of blaming women for leaving their houses in the first place. Women are also blamed for what they wear, though according to statistics those dressed modestly or islamically correct undergo as much if not more harassment. Such cliches are legion.
My work to condemn this is a photographic essay, which takes from my usual documentary background and mixes up with conceptual thinking and a digital collage technique. I realised this was my best chance at making visible a phenomenon which otherwise would be hardly picturable; a state of mind as well as a political regime totally phallocratic.

To read pictures’ captions click on the images hereunder.

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Ahmad Shokry, 24. Captain of an intervention team of the Tahrir Bodyguards since january 2013.
“The naked truth”. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
On an old Cairo street.
“Only for men”. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
Soraya Bahgat, 30. Founder of the Tahrir Bodyguards. Not from an activist background at all, she works in the corporate and business world. Conscious of the general problem of sexual harassment in the city, then frightened by the increasing gang rapes as she also was taking part to the Tahrir protests, she decided to do something about it. She knows how to mobilize groups and how to raise funds. The Tahrir Bodyguards wore flashy outfits and had to protect, as much as possible, the women taking part to the massive gatherings.
“Make a difference”. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
Zeinab Sabet, 31, founder of Dignity Without Borders (august 2013), a non-partisan group working towards a world free from sexual violence, through women’s empowerment, education and awareness. Zeinab collaborated with other anti sexual harassment organisations, and experienced traumatic situations when working with Tahrir Bodyguards, when girls were assaulted by hords of men. She feels a bit too liberal to live peacefully in Egypt, hence her fight to change the cultural perception of women’s liberty.
“Fight for your rights”. Three historic female activists. Shahenda Maklad, Wedad Mitry, Doria Shafik. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
“What were you doing in the streets?” This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
At a self-defense lesson reserved for women at the Xtreme Academy.
“The man in a polyester suit” (reference to Robert Mapplethorpe). This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
“She was provocative”. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
Myam Mahmoud, 18, is a rapper, and made it to the semi-finals of the talent show Arab’s Got Talent 2013. Her lyrics deal a lot with the women’s sexual harassment issue. At a young age she was writing poetry, and when she came to rap singing, she was put off by the male singers attitudes and lyrics about women, so she plays an opposite stance.
“The girl in the blue bra”. A veiled young woman is dragged and beaten by the police during a protest on Tahrir Square in 2011. The image quickly became a visual symbol of abuse of power by the Egyptian military. It also became the rallying cry for several thousand Egyptian women who marched in the country’s capital demanding the end of military rule. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
Yasmine El Baramawy, 30, musician. An active and involved revolutionnary, she was sexually assaulted in november 2012 on the fringe of anti Morsi protests on Tahrir square. An ordeal that lasted more than an hour, by dozens of men. Appalled by the society’s disregard and authorities’s passivity, she courageously spoke out on an Egyptian TV show. That act inspired other victims to dare publicly expose their personal tragedy.
Egypt Awakening. Sculpture by Mahmoud Mukhtar made in 1928. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
Ghaidaa Sabry, 21, has set up and coordinates self-defense lessons reserved for women at the Xtreme Academy. She moreover created a facebook page on which girls and women can express themselves about female rights in the Egyptian society.
“The Circle of Hell”. A mural by artists Mira Shihadeh and Zeft. Mira is known for her street art related to sexual harassment. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
Nurah Farahat, 27, film maker of documentaries, art and music videos. A few months ago a change occured in her life: she stopped running from a place to another in the city, constantly on the alert mode about potential harassment. She found out a more subtle and efficient way, contrary to former times when she was reacting violently by chasing the guys down and even beating them up sometimes. Now she walks slowly, stop and look at them silently when harassment occurs, and walk on. Or she gives a slight eye contact showing she clearly sees their dirty intention. Speaks a certain way. She’s no longer on threat and survival mode, and thus become disarming to the nuisances.
“You should not have been here”. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
“No to harassment”. A mural by Palestinian artist Mira Shihadeh, known for her street art related to sexual harassment. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
At a self-defense lesson reserved for women at the Xtreme Academy.
“Aliaa Magda Elmahdy”. “Brain Damage” (men in line and their brains in red), by Mohamed Khaled. In october 2011, while the country is dipped into chaos, Aliaa posts on her blog a nude self-portrait on which she wears stockings with flowers, red shoes and a flower in her hair. A battering of hate or admiration follows, attracting over 8 million visits to the website. Later in an interview she declared: I am not shy or shameful of being a woman in a society dominated by men, who know nothing about sex, and who harass women on a daily basis, seeing them as nothing but sex objects. She is now a refugee in Sweden. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
Young boys hanging out in downtown streets.
Noha Ghabrial, 21, volunteers in the logistics team at HarassMap, a volunteer-based initiative with the mission of ending the social acceptability of sexual harassment and assault in Egypt. She is an outreach captain and a trainer for new volunteers. She joined to find ways to defend herself and then spread around her knowledge, against the generally accepted idea that women are responsible for harassment that ruins their social life. Since she started working with them, she noticed a change in the way she addresses the street environment: she no longer has to walk fast, closing her shoulders and bowing her head down.
“Why don’t you go back home, bitch !!” This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
Farah Barqawi, 28, Palestinian, co-founder of the movement Uprising of the Women in the Arab World. Feeling the need of sharing knowledge and data about the women status in the region, a facebook page is created, that reaches 100.000 followers over 4 months. Their activity since has widened to actions to advocate the cause and publishing of testimonies. She now lives in Cairo.
The National Council for Women. It was burnt down during january 2011 unrest. The National Council for Women, a governmental institution that was presided by Susanne Mubarak, was in competition with the vibrant women’s civil society. On paper, the institution was devoted to promote women’s issues, but in fact recruited professionals only through the regime s co-optation. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
“The Slave Market”, Otto Pilny, 1910. This image is the result of a digital collage and layering process.
Lingerie store front, downtown Cairo.
Hussein El Shafei, 29, has got a bachelor degree in medecine but then turned to a masters in international human rights law. He now is the community mobilization unit head at HarassMap, a volunteer-based initiative with the mission of ending the social acceptability of sexual harassment and assault in Egypt.

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  1. Pingback: Johann Rousselot: Phallocracia | Photo-Essay | Emaho Magazine

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