A few evenings ago I received
another unsolicited flirtatious text message. Here’s how it happened: I
picked up a phone call from a phone number I didn’t recognize. “Miss
Catlin? Miss Catlin?”
“Yes? Who is this?”
“Miss Catlin? Are you
“Who is calling?”
They hung up. About
ten minutes later I got a text message saying “Sry I jok with u. I need
will be friend to u. I’M Mustafa. If u want know me more u can call
me. Any Time. Bye Dear.”
This time I decided to
respond, requesting that Mustafa never, ever call me again and threatening to
call the police. I wanted to ask how Jokey Mustafa had gotten my number
bur I couldn’t bring myself to ask because I didn’t want to satisfy him by
getting into a conversation. He did text message me back anyway, once.
I cannot describe how badly
I wanted to squash this person like a bug. And even more so whatever
jerkoff is handing out my phone number. I try to be careful about who I
let have my number, but even a legitimate situation like filling in a form at
the doctor’s office can still result in the presumption that you are available
for good times. A girl in our building told us the other day that she got
a booty call from a guy who works at the bank because her phone number is on
her paychecks. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do.
The page in my journal from
that day ends with: “I can’t wait to leave Cairo again and feel CLEAN. All the way
clean, body and soul.”
I woke up the next morning
feeling a little more detached. It’s them that should feel dirty, not
me. But there is still something I feel guilty about: the gruesome and
violent revenge fantasies that I play out in my head every time it
If our situations were
reversed and I had all the power and they had none, I wiould behave ruthlessly,
mercilessly, causing them pain until they cried and whimpered. And I
And then I think about the
kind of empathy I am describing. Here I am saying that I would gleefully
and cheerfully cause distress to others were it in my power to do so. My
position as a self-righteous person calling the harassment unjust (or its
perpetration by handing out my phone number against my wishes) is then
insupportable. Either that or I have to feel empathy for the dehumanizing
behavior of the harassers.
This is what I really don’t
like. After I get over the initial feelings of shame and guilt of each
incident, I find myself entertaining thoughts of violence that would make me
just as bad as they are.
Because I would, if I
could. I would hurt them. I would hurt them until they didn’t
believe it was possible to hurt me.
In actual fact I could
enact these thoughts with the help of the Egyptian police. Wouldn’t take
The brutality of the police
and secret government spies is feared by Egyptians. When I designed my
fieldwork program I was advised not to bother using release forms for
interviews, something absolutely routine in similar American and British
studies, because if Egyptians thought for a moment I was a government agent they
would never speak to me. They would be afraid, and scornful.
So. Enacting my
threefold revenge would not be too difficult. And after these things
happen I am always tempted to deny the humanity of the individuals perpetrating
the acts and objectify them in the way they have objectified me.
But the truest revenge of
all is not an eye for an eye. No. It is THINKING about doing
something like that, thinking about how justified I would feel in doing it, and
then not doing it. Because in not doing it, in refusing to treat others
as I myself would NOT like to be treated, I retain my humanity.