:: An editorial ::
When I first heard about Lara Logan's ordeal in Egypt, I had just dropped off Maddy at the high school.The rising sun streamed through the bare exposed trees, creating a flickering strobe-like effect of light and dark across the car's windshield as I drove through the trees' shadows. Lightdark, lightdark. Stuttering sunlight. I wept, my sudden tears taking me by surprise.
In the days since, I've listened to interviews of Egyptian women and foreign women who live in Egypt relating their own experiences with harassment and sexual assaults. It's not rare (83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women living in Egypt report being sexually harassed). They poignantly express their delight that their time in Tahrir Square made them feel as equals, that most men left them alone in that crowded public square, that they had their place in that space. As democracy crept forward that week, so did the hopes of women. The news of the actions of that group of assailants (and who knows how many women experience this on a daily basis?) marred some of that hope, or at least reminded, Whoa there. Not so fast in your celebrating. There's much more distance to cross. A stuttering start to hopeful things, lightdark.
But it's unfair to hint that this kind of thing happens only in Cairo, the Middle East, elsewhere. For example, I've been remembering an experience I had while traveling in Europe as a student. In 1989, I was on a semester abroad in England. In May we took a terrific 10-day trip through Europe with certain structured meeting points for the whole group scattered throughout a largely flexible itinerary. We had eurail passes and the requirement of being in groups of at least 3 people and meeting at the appointed inns and times for group activities and lectures in Paris, Salzburg, Rome, Florence.
Late in the rotation, I was walking around Rome with two or three friends. Picture me: blond, optimistic 19-year-old Mormon girl from Utah, friendly but not untraveled or unaware. We had learned lessons along the way (don't hold eye contact or you have an uninvited follower, for instance) and felt confident in our navigating and empowered by our adventure. Suddenly, while we were walking up a crowded side street, I got separated from the others. We had been warned about groups of "gypsy children" so at first that's what I thought was happening. But then I noticed it was a group of young men who were shuffling me over towards a storefront. They shoved me into the narrow entryway to the store. I was trapped, groped and frightened. A couple of minutes later I managed to get away and found my friends. I didn't know how to talk about what had just happened nor what to call it.
I was traumatized but inexplicably ashamed, too. If I ever talked about it, it was just in sidelong, hazy references. Today I feel differently and know to call it the assault it was. Although my experience was minor compared to the extreme and violent assault in Egypt that lasted a dozen times longer, the similarities evoke complicated emotions: empathy for Ms. Logan, solidarity with women who experience this kind of ugliness, dismay that it still exists and that it is yet another area of disproportionate burden on women in already challenging circumstances, and defiant determination to make it better for my daughters. And yours. And theirs. This is me, raising my hand and saying this will not do and how can I help it get better?
Speaking of determination, one lovely and powerful spark of hope in that whole story: According to news reports, Ms. Logan was saved by a group of women who came to her aid. Oh, and Italy? Women are speaking up there as well. Go, light.
*The title that almost was: The (unfortunate) Sisterhood of the Traveling Hands. Too irreverent? I thought so.