Archives for category: Cairo Contingent

Annie Rebekah Gardner and Hanaa Safwat live in Cairo, Egypt. They both had a very disappointing International Women’s Day.

Annie: Between the clashes at the Ministry of the Interior on Sunday and over ten being killed in Moqattam on Tuesday night, my optimism about the revolution (especially after an amazing Saturday night) has been on a steady decline, and in fact the counter-revolutionary currents presently going down have quite turned my speculation about changing masculinity on its head. Today, I’m having a feminist pizza party with Hanaa Safwat, a student, artist and revolutionary, to discuss the abysmal events of International Women’s Day, even as the inimitable Nawal el Sadawi is named in The Guardian‘s list of top 100 feminists (along with… Oprah?). Hanaa, you want to give us a rundown of what happened on March 8th?

Hanaa: Last week, there was a call for a protest by a group of NGOs and activists for women’s rights to protest on Tuesday, though the response online was not very big. I have several thoughts about this. First of all, a lot of people believe its not a good time to protest right now because things are sort of at a standstill, there’s a lot of confusion, and people want to give the interim government time to do something, and it’s kind of seen as a sectarian demand. I completely disagree with that. The other reasons given are bad timing, bad organization and of course the eternal reason: pure sexism, and people who just don’t think its legitimate for women to protest for their rights. They don’t even see what the problem is.

Annie and I both got to Tahrir at the same time. We made signs, and the organizers were distributing flyers and signs, which all had the same demands, like the fact that the committee to make amendments on the constitution didn’t have any women in it. There were demands for more representation of women in the cabinet and parliament, and that women should have a bigger role in helping to shape the changes that are happening in Egypt right now. One problem was that most of the women there were not veiled, which honestly isn’t representative of the general demographic of Egyptian women. They were mostly from upper-middle class backgrounds. There was a high percentage of foreigners, and there were a good amount of men, but it seems like some of them were just hanging out to watch.

Annie: We all do love spectacle! While we were there, stuff had started to get a little tense already, with lots of scuffles here and there and noisy old dudes saying that a woman couldn’t possibly be president.

Hanaa: Also that if women wanted equal rights, they should join the army. It’s not our fault that we live in a sexist state that doesn’t allow women to join the military!

Annie: Anyway, the vibe was getting bad, so we left to go get drunk at our preferred watering hole.

Hanaa: Which, if you think about it, was in and of itself an act of rebellion, because we’re not supposed to be sitting there, and we’re not supposed to be drinking.

Annie: Or smoking. Or laughing loudly.

Hanaa: Talking to boys.

Annie: Remember when the dude walked in to the bar with a “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt and we all started clapping?

Hanaa: The poor guy just looked so distressed. Which is probably how most of the male allies at the protest felt, as they were being mocked and shamed. One guy was standing in front of me having a discussion and he wasn’t necessarily against us, but to some extent he was just a typical guy who thinks he’s pro-feminism and pro-women’s rights. He was like, “But you already have some really good rights. Our laws are still really good.” But that same guy and his friends were goofing around and they dared him to stand up with a sign. He stood up for five seconds and said, “See? I can do it,” and then stepped down again. He said something like, “Mayehemenish,” which basically means, “I don’t care.” Anyway, we heard later on – as we were at the bar – that women were chased out of the square. Women were chased out, molested, roughed up by people, mostly by men.

Annie: Even while we were there, shit started to go down. My friend’s five-year-old daughter was handing out flyers and watched as a group of both dudes and ladies ripped them out of her hands and threw them on the ground. Traumatic when you’re five. Seeing her cry, that frustration, made me livid. Perhaps in the heat of the moment I sent some tweets that alluded to castration! Who could know! I don’t remember, because I was seeing red. I think the fact that there were women complicit in these misogynist acts just made me even angrier.

Hanaa: Yes. Two days before the march, I was sitting with my cousin and mentioned that there was a march for women’s rights on Tuesday, and she asked, “Why? Do women not have rights?” I was in shock and asked her, “Are you making a joke?” and she said, “I’m serious, I just don’t see the need.” I was completely baffled, and pointed out that, for example, there’s no law against sexual harassment in this country. Later, she brought up one particular law, Khol’a, which is a woman’s right to divorce her husband. The problem with that is that to get divorced, women have to give up everything: your house, your dowry, your engagement ring, because women don’t pay dowry, men do. So her husband gives her that money, she has to give it back. It was ridiculous that she even brought it up because the law only helps women who are financially comfortable. It doesn’t help lower class women. It puts women in a situation where they can divorce a man and be destitute, or stay with him just because they need money. This woman, in fact, recently went through a divorce. She’s educated. But she doesn’t get it. This cousin, by the way, is the same woman who wanted to live in the 19th ventury after watching Pride and Prejudice.

Annie: BBC Version?

Hanaa: No, it was the feature film with Kiera Knightley.

Annie: For shame! BBC Pride and Prejudice, khalas. That’s the only one.

Hanaa: We should talk more about why people were against the protest. As I said, there’s a lot of confusion right now. There’s all these issues with the secret police, and theories are that secret police and salafis are trying to work to divide people. People are using this to explain the widespread opposition to the march, but a lot of those who opposed it were regular men. In their mind, women do have rights, and these extra demands – a say in their political future – are irrational and unrealistic and excessive.

Annie: We should also talk a little bit about sexual harassment, I think. We’ve discussed this on the blog before, but I think one of the really traumatic facts of Tuesday’s march was that by the end, many women had been violently sexually assaulted, and in several instances by men who they had camped in Tahrir with for the entirety of the uprising. I guess for me I’m just baffled that there was such a complete 180 in attitude. As we all know, women were integral to this revolution, and to see their desire to be part of a political future be laughed off was incredibly demoralizing.

Hanaa: Sexual harassment is just this topic that needs an encyclopedia, or an army of psychologists to dissect. There’s this general method of thought – I made a sign for the protest about it, in fact – that women are like these precious jewels, they’re supposed to be guarded, nobody should touch them, they should be protected and so on. When this jewel goes out in public, they have chosen to put themselves in danger, so they get what they ask for. The other problem with this thought is that a jewel is an object. It doesn’t have consciousness or desires or aspirations. It’s a thing, not a human being. So this whole method of thought, and add to that debates where people are blaming the victim, just like Lara Logan being blamed for her assault because she was an attractive woman. In this case, it’s that she wasn’t dressed modestly enough. She’s not covered up as she should be. The problem with that is that it has been proven time and time again that a man who sexually harasses a woman does not care what she’s wearing. It’s just a female on the street. They market wearing the veil as some kind of protection against these wolves on the street, and that’s a lie. Sexual harassment is not something you should be protected from, it’s something that should be battled, something that should be faced.

Annie: So do you think this event has radicalized your personal brand of feminism?

Hanaa: I think it was already radicalized. I walk in the street every day. This is something I had seen before, just in this case it was more theatrical. I hear sexism every day from anybody who talks about anything related to feminism. For example you sit with a random guy, you’re talking about a career, and he suddenly mentions he doesn’t want his future wife to work because he thinks it would put her in harms way. That conversation happens every day. So what I saw on Tuesday wasn’t new.

Annie: It was just much more of a stark example.

Hanaa: It was like a performance. An instructional video on how it is to be a woman in Egypt.

Annie Rebekah Gardner lives and studies in Cairo, Egypt and is a frequent Canonball contributor.

During the Great Communications Blackout of 2011- I’m reluctant to call it that, because in these days, anything is possible, including more blockages, and in fact I have yet to send or receive text messages, save pro-regime propaganda- my dear friend Max Strasser was able to fill readers in a little bit about the large role that women have played in Egypt’s uprising, and indeed, many media and blogs have followed suit.

Having attended the demonstrations intermittently since the Day of Rage on January 25th, and knowing and following women activists on the ground who have devoted themselves to occupying Tahrir Square (Liberation Square, for those whose media seems to be allergic to pronouncing “Tahrir,” which, really, isn’t that hard to pronounce, BUT I DIGRESS), I will vouch for this fact (also the fact that Nawal el-Sadawi is 80 years old and still a bad-ass), and instead of elaborating on something that ought to be more or less well-known at this point (if I hear one more person bemoan a “lack of women,” I will personally break their fingers), I’d like to consider the role that masculinities have played in the uprising, and how a revolution, should it ever come to pass (as we all more or less know, any transitional government that is US-brokered is highly unlikely to radically shift the status quo of governance here), could hold a potential for re-imagining masculinity in a new order.

Sexual harassment

As we’ve noted on Canonball before, Egypt’s endemic levels of sexual harassment are not exactly unknown. On a popular listserv that caters to ex-pats in Cairo, warnings were sent out prior to the demonstration on January 25th: women are liable to be harassed in greater numbers in such settings, stay away. I’ve been to enough soccer rallies and gotten my ass grabbed enough times to know that this warning isn’t just hysterical posturing, but aside from a few rogue ass-grabbers (and only on the initial day of demonstrations, at that), the level of sexual harassment within spaces of demonstration has been a steady zero. Exit Tahrir square, and in a few blocks, you’ll be greeted by familiar cat-calls, but in Tahrir proper, politeness (and truthfully, not just politeness, but genuine friendliness) remains the modus operandi, to the point where many opposition figures have taken it on as a boasting point, as well they should.

Some sociological theory suggests that Egypt’s rash of sexual harassment stems from a high population of young, frustrated, unemployed ineligible bachelors (ineligible because of myriad social and financial obstacles to marriage). Now that a popular uprising is afoot, acts of frustration have been transferred to their rightful objects: a repressive regime, a stagnant economy.

“Come down, be a man!”

On January 26th, I marched with protesters on their way to the high court (until we got rerouted by tear gas and I pansied out). I have never seen Downtown’s streets so empty, and as we marched, demonstrators beckoned those watching from their balconies to join the movement, shouting, “Come down, be a man!” There’s something about these words that is potentially problematic, but I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that this beckoning, led for the most part by young women around my age, heralds a call for new forms of masculinity in the wake of the dying regime’s thuggish paternalism.

In a police state, the greatest act of bravery is risking bodily harm and detention by taking to the streets en masse. That young men, shabaab, have persistently maintained their energy in spite of looming threats, is testament to a rejection of an aging and obsolete hierarchy (this in spite of Omar Suleiman’s positing that Egyptians have always needed a ruler).

Thug Life
While positive, productive kinds of masculinity are being enacted by the youth, the strains of the regime’s old-school masculine tropes linger. I can’t speak to how expansive Mubarak’s security apparatus really is, but for as long as I can remember, Mukhabarat and Baltageyya– secret police and state security- have remained steadfast figures in the fabric of the Egyptian landscape (anecdote: one particular thug, sent to report on an expatriate church, was the butt of my dad’s jokes on more than one occasion. Also one time he tried to kiss my mom, but that’s another story for another time). As Yasmin has said, these figures embody a distinct masculinity that has traditionally been the status quo- the sa3ey dude embodied. Rather than represent a positive brand of man-hood (fatherliness, youthful energy), state security proffers a fearsome, threatening man.

On the second day of demonstrations, outside the journalist’s syndicate I watched as protesters faced off against a row of heavily armed riot police (all of whom are young conscripts performing their mandatory military service). A group off five or six amin al-dowl (state security) emerged from behind the riot cops, and the protesters, about 100 or 200- strong, booked it. Later that day, I watched them drag and beat an elderly journalist. On more than one occasion, I’ve come upon an empty square where they sit with rods and chains, ready for the call to go beat the shit out of protesters. During the aptly named Battle of Tahrir a few days ago, they were merciless, taking extra special care to target women in their beatings.

Mubarak’s thugs and the police go hand-in-hand, naturally. As noted above, the lowest ranking officers are young conscripts, and so while they do the dirty work, their superiors look on and tell them that they aren’t beating people hard enough. More than one source has observed that if circumstances were different, they’d be on the other side of the lines, and in fact most protesters are sympathetic to this. More than one photo has surfaced of protesters tending to injured conscripts, and in mourning the fallen, no less respect is paid to them. Like state security, the police embody a tired, hierarchical kind of manliness that soon may have no place in the order of things. In their absence, rather than entering a state of panic, many neighborhoods grouped together and established popular committees to protect their streets and direct traffic, something that the police have never been very good at, even on the best of days.

Respect Your Father
A curious addition to state security and the police is the seemingly neutral military, which was greeted with elation on Friday the 28th, or Friday of Rage. Released Wikileaks show that, though the military’s loyalties lie with the regime, there is a degree of division and in-fighting, which could very well prove positive. In my personal experience, the military has been much nicer and much more professional than the police, with minimal sexual harassment on the part of soldiers (take note that even the police in Egypt maintain notoriety for harassing women), but even so, represents the fragments of a regimented regime, which does nothing but reflect the paternalism of its high commanders. Newly appointed VP Omar Suleiman chided protesters in the streets, urging their parents to tell them to go home (never mind the fact that many of them actually are parents. This may be a youth-lead movement, but never doubt the multi-generational support it has garnered), asking them to respect their father, Baba Hosni.

Boy’s Don’t Cry (Men Do)
The regime is tiring. It has become a curmudgeonly figure of traditional patriarchy, while the opposition movement’s figureheads like Wael Ghonim cry openly for their people, calling for them to rally against the NDP’s hackneyed politics. Contrast Ghonim’s tearful interview (I dare you not to cry) with anti-protest and old-masculine Tamer Hosny, and you have everything you need to know: the old order of masculinity in Egypt is slowly but surely crumbling, and a new order- one that demands equality and rejects hierarchy- is emergent. While I can’t say for sure whether or not sexist norms, especially sexual harassment, will fade (per usual, I remain skeptical, due to the maddening Patriarchy), I think it fairly undeniable that a new masculine imagination is coming out at a grassroots level. If that isn’t revolutionary, then I don’t know what is.

Max Strasser is a journalist based in Istanbul and a former associate editor at Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition in Cairo.

I have not been on the streets of Cairo with my friends and colleagues over the last week, but to make up for it I have been obsessively monitoring Al Jazeera International’s livestream, my Twitter feed and – when the Mubarak regime’s restrictions on technology allow – talking to people I know on the ground in Cairo. The recurring point that I hear, see and read is that this is a genuine popular uprising that includes Egyptians of all religious, social and economic backgrounds. That in itself is an amazing feat and an inspiring one in a country where the government has systematically impeded organizing and fostered sectarianism and class conflict.

Part of this inspiring trend is seeing the number of women who are being represented in the demonstrations. It is inherently complicated for me, an American, non-Muslim man to discuss the status of women in the Arab world. There are too many familiar neo-Orientalist tropes about Arab and Muslim women as abused and cloistered, and I realize that I may be treading dangerously close to that territory. But I have spent enough time in Egypt to be familiar with the country and to notice when something seems different.

It is no secret that Egypt is a conservative country when it comes to gender relations. Men and women generally, though not exclusively, adhere to traditional gender roles where women stay at home. As a result, many public spaces are heavily male dominated. Moreover, sexual harassment is frustratingly common and affects woman regardless of their religion or social class. This further helps to keep women off the streets. Big crowds, like soccer rallies, are usually the least hospitable for women.

Since this uprising began, the typical gender dynamic in Egypt’s public space seems to have been thrown out with the regime. Some have said that as many as half of the protesters are women. Moreover, as I have watched Al Jazeera it seems clear that women of all walks of life, from young girls in jeans to older women wearing niqab, are taking part.  All are chanting, pumping their fists and, at times, battling with the riot police. Last Wednesday, after the initial day of demonstrations that triggered the current uprising, I had a G-chat conversation with a (religious and conservative) friend in Cairo. “You can find cooperation between youth with beards and girls wearing foreign clothes,” he told me of the solidarity he had witnessed the day before. Other people I have talked to report that sexual harassment, an extremely common problem in Cairo, especially when crowded, has barely existed during the demonstrations, a result, I believe, of people taking a sense of ownership over public space that couldn’t exist under the Mubarak regime.

Nawal El Saadawi, an octogenarian legendary Egyptian feminist, has been out in the streets protesting along side everyone else. “Women and girls are beside boys in the streets,” she said while speaking to Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!. Even she seems impressed by the gender equality in the streets of Cairo today, which she hopes will continue.

Much of the U.S. media’s coverage of the ongoing uprising in Egypt has been pretty alarmist and ignorant, in particular with regard to the “Islamist threat” posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. (See, for example, this astoundingly tone-deaf article in Slate by someone I suspect has little experience in Egypt.) But it has pleased me to see that the role of women has not gone completely ignored. While CNN may be focused on the Muslim Brotherhood (an issue for another day), even Newsweek has noted the important role that women that women are playing in the uprising, as has PBS.

In new media, too, we are seeing women represented. A powerful Facebook album of photographs of Egyptian women protesters has been widely circulated. Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian feminist and dissident, has been one of the most active and visible people on Twitter. People are posting audio clips of women and girls leading protest chants.

There is a danger in making too much of the role of women in the uprising, a threat of turning it into a spectacle that – imagine! – Arab women, too, can be powerful advocates for change. (We saw a bit of this in Tunisia, to a certain extent.) Furthermore, we should remember that seeing women take to the streets in Cairo, Suez and elsewhere does not represent some kind of fundamental restructuring of gender relations in Egypt. What it demonstrates, though, is the depth and breadth of this movement in which all people, galvanized by the promise of a better life, are taking part, rich and poor, Muslims and Christians, liberals, leftists and Islamists, and, yes, men and women.

As we wrap up our week here at Canonball, our thoughts and well-wishes go out to our contributors – and friends! – in Cairo, who we’ve been unable to communicate with since the Egyptian government blocked nearly all of the country’s Internet access Thursday night. We’ll be writing about the protests next week, but until then, we recommend keeping up with the news across Egypt by watching live video coverage from Al Jazeera English and reading updates from The Guardian‘s live blog. On Twitter, search for #Egypt and #Jan25.

As always, we’ll be on Twitter too. And if you’d like to get in touch (perhaps there’s a post you just can’t wait to contribute – new writers are always welcome!), send us an e-mail. Have a safe weekend, all.

Today, Cairo Contingent captains Kelsy and Annie have a pizza party with fellow feminists Lissie, Kristina and Yasmin to discuss the film 678, currently showing (with subtitles) in Egypt and hopefully gaining a wider showing soon. A warning: this discussion – and this film – are primarily about sexual assault. It’s important to us at Canonball to discuss sexual assault frankly because, as Kelsy explains, “Sexual harassment happens everywhere, and that’s one thing I took from the movie, that we can’t blame ‘culture.’ This is not Egyptian ‘culture.’ Yes, it happens a lot in Egyptian society, but it’s not something that’s ingrained in the ethnic identity…this is a global thing and it happens everywhere and could happen to anyone.”

Below is the official trailer to 678 with a translated transcription, courtesy of Kristina.

Voice over (Seba): Whoever wants to defend themself must make a decision. Whoever lays a hand on me, I will cut it off.

Adel: Who eats onions at night?

Fayza: You married me just for that [sex]?

Adel: Yes, I married you just for that! Did you think I married you to play backgammon?

Rashid: Every time I see you, I remember what they did to you.

Nelly: Do you know any woman needs the most from a man? Safety…and I don’t feel safe.

Fayza: Every day I ride the bus and every day shit happens to me. How do you expect me to stay sane? If a man does that to a woman, he deserves it. Answer me! Does he deserve it or doesn’t he deserve it?

Seba: He deserves it!

(License plate 1: كبت “frustration/repression”)

Omar: File a report, like she told you to!

(License plate 2: عنف “violence”)

Adel: Who do you think you are to take taxis?

(License plate 3: فقر “poverty”)

Magid: I want an agent in all of the buses.

(License plate 4: جهل “ignorance”)

Seba: Say, “I was harassed!”

Fayza: No, it didn’t happen to me!

(License plate 5: صمت “silence”)

Seba: Rashid !!

(License plate 6: تحرش “harassment”)

Nelly: Now, everywhere in Egypt there is harassment.

Boss: What are you doing!

Announcer: Truly today there is a topic of great importance…

Seba: People don’t want us to do what she did, there is no other solution in front of us other than to do what she did.

Magda: I went to the hospital and had a sonogram.

Magid: Did you ride the bus to push up against people?

Fayza: Wearing revealing clothing reduces chastity!

Seba, Nelly, Fayza: Zambia, Zambia!

Nelly: To hell with people!

Seba: I don’t want anyone to tell him I’m pregnant!

(License plate: Film 678)

Shadow: The thing I love most about you is this, oh this is it…

Voice over (Seba): I will ask you all three questions: Have you been harassed before? How many times? How did you react?

After the break: our ladies in Cairo talk about the film and how it reflects their own experiences. Spoilers abound. Read the rest of this entry »

Today, Kelsy is ill (send get-well thoughts her way!), so Annie is discussing poet and all-around sassy lady Dorothy Parker with none other than herself, at age 16.

Annie: Well! Look who it is!

16-Year-Old-Annie: Whoa. I got sort of pretty!

Annie: Yeah, well. Enjoy that perfect skin while it lasts. BECAUSE IT WON’T.

16-Year-Old-Annie: Red is still our preferred color, I guess?

Annie: Always and forever, babe. In more ways than one! Anyway, let’s kick things off. Usually I like to start these things by talking about how I discovered them, but since I’m talking to YOU, I’ll let you explain how you came to know and love Dorothy Parker.

16-Year-Old-Annie: Wait, you can tell me some future things, right?

Annie: Well. I can give you hints, I guess, but I feel like this raises a lot of moral and ethical questions that don’t pertain to FEMINISM and POETRY. But okay, what’s up?

16-Year-Old-Annie: This is relevant! Who the hell has my copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker!??

Annie: Ha. I can’t possibly begin to answer that question in an ethical, privacy-protecting manner, so I will just tell you that you lent it to your best friend recently, and he’ll give it back to you in a few years, oh and also by the way you two will date in the future and – oh, man, never mind. LIFE IS FUNNY! Anyway, you can probably see that you still have ADHD well into adulthood. So, where were you when you discovered Dorothy Parker?

16-Year-Old-Annie: Well, I can’t remember. Well, actually, I can. I was in the library at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School where I used to go to skip Algebra II and read poetry.

Annie: You fancy yourself a poet?

16-Year-Old-Annie: Are you kidding me? I opened my journal from freshman year the other day and it was literally the worst thing I have ever seen.

Annie: Man, I am just itching to tell you your career trajectory! (You don’t become a poet, that’s for sure!)

16-Year-Old-Annie: I get to live in the Middle East, right?

Annie: Well, yes.

16-Year-Old-Annie: SCORE!

Annie: But you don’t join the foreign service and you definitely aren’t the forerunner of the Middle East Peace Process (unlike Baba Hosni), though you do deconstruct it a lot of the time!

16-Year-Old-Annie: Deconstruct it?

Annie: Oh, never mind. THE ISSUE AT HAND, PLEASE.

16-Year-Old-Annie: Yeah, well I just found it in the poetry section of the library. It was right next to Edna St. Vincent Millay, who I found and loved after I was reading Ariel, because Sylvia Plath is my favorite writer.

Annie: Oh I am AWARE. And you were blown away by this clever woman, right?

16-Year-Old-Annie: This poem “Résumé” is what blew my mind. I read it and was just, Yes:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Annie: Oh man. I forgot how morbid you were. And yet you liked knitting and Hello Kitty and Lizzie McGuire so much! The mind boggles. But yes, I will say that I know this poem by heart and like to recite it to myself with a wry smile on particularly crappy days. I just think her tongue-in-cheek treatment of that, as that RENOWNED WIT, is just the best thing and has probably somehow subconsciously seeped its way into my own sense of humor. I also find, and likely you do too, Ms. Popular, that I really relate to Ms. Parker’s role as a sort of leader in this group of clever, saucy writers. Also she helped found The New Yorker, which we have been reading since we were nine years old, and was blacklisted in Hollywood for being a leftist.

16-Year-Old-Annie: Yeah, well, whatever. I just feel like she Gets It, you know? Life is so sucky but Death is too complicated! But also her poems about love are really on-point. Hey, do you have a boyfriend?

Annie: Oh my god, 16-Year-Old-Me on LOVE. HOO BOY! Let me counter that question with my favorite line of poetry, like, ever, from “A Fairly Sad Tale”: “A heart in half is chaste, archaic/ but mine resembles a mosaic.” I like that line so much that I put it on my Tumblr!

16-Year-Old-Annie: What’s a Tumblr?

Annie: It’s like LiveJournal but better. If I recall correctly, “A Fairly Sad Tale” was one of your favorite poems, too. Let’s review and discuss:

I think that I shall never know
Why I am thus, and I am so.
Around me, other girls inspire
In men the rush and roar of fire,
The sweet transparency of glass,
The tenderness of April grass,
The durability of granite;
But me- I don’t know how to plan it.
The lads I’ve met in Cupid’s deadlock
Were- shall we say?- born out of wedlock.
They broke my heart, they stilled my song,
And said they had to run along,
Explaining, so to sop my tears,
First came their parents or careers.
But ever does experience
Deny me wisdom, calm, and sense!
Though she’s a fool who seeks to capture
The twenty-first fine, careless rapture,
I must go on, till ends my rope,
Who from my birth was cursed with hope.
A heart in half is chaste, archaic;
But mine resembles a mosaic-
The thing’s become ridiculous!
Why am I so? Why am I thus?

16-Year-Old-Annie: No but really. Why don’t boys like me?

Annie: Ah! The gripes of a teen in the Friend Zone! I just want you to know that the dude you’re pining for right now is a compulsive liar and will later end up in the porn industry in Prague. Anyway, I guess I like this poem, and most all of Dorothy’s poems, in fact, because it’s cynical without being hard-hearted. Dorothy Parker’s long had this reputation of being brash and sharp-tongued, which is one reason why we liked her so much, both now and then, but what’s great is this vulnerability she also has.

16-Year-Old-Annie: Kind of this big old statement of, “You hurt me, but who gives a crap!”

Annie: Oh my gosh, your language is so much better than mine. I want to implore you not to curse like a sailor, although you certainly will. Also, I just want to point out that reading Dorothy Parker in the Age of the Internet Overshare and Internet Snark is a total trip. Because she does overshare, about her feelings and sadness, and then almost undermines that by her bitchy undertones. And oh my god, I just love it. Also I just want to say that I’m glad you got your Internet Oversharing woes over at an early age, because, well, it’s just good, that’s all.

16-Year-Old-Annie: How about one more poem? I have to go to A Cappella rehearsal and then I have a Model UN meeting.

Annie: Fine. You choose.

16-Year-Old-Annie: How about “Men”?

Annie: Oh my god. There are just fundamental things about your persona that cannot and will not change and that frightens me. Carry on!

16-Year-Old-Annie: Here we go:

They hail you as their morning star
Because you are the way you are.
If you return the sentiment,
They’ll try to make you different;
And once they have you, safe and sound,
They want to change you all around.
Your moods and ways they put a curse on;
They’d make of you another person.
They cannot let you go your gait;
They influence and educate.
They’d alter all that they admired.
They make me sick, they make me tired.

Annie: What point are we trying to make? I really need the blogosphere to know that I don’t want to castrate everyone.

16-Year-Old-Annie: Well, I’m like Dorothy! I’m just sick and tired of men! Also we are similar because we both were romantically involved with gay men.

Annie: Wait a few more years before you say that. Also I would hardly call holding hands with a closet-case for a month “romantically involved”, but I digress! We really need to close with another poem. We need to speak of Dorothy’s dazzling wit! The Algonquin round-tables!

16-Year-Old-Annie: Her three marriages? Her alcoholism?

Annie: Good God. I forgot you don’t drink yet. Touché! Let’s close with the classic “News Item”: “Men seldom make passes/ At girls who wear glasses.”

16-Year-Old-Annie: Well, is that true? Don’t think I didn’t notice your new specs.

Annie: No, but it is true that people make a lot of dumb Harry Potter jokes when really you were just going for the Ruth Madoff look.

One more question. Did you cut your hair to look like Dorothy Parker’s?

Annie: Not consciously, no. I actually did it to look like Anna Karina. But most awesome women have bangs, which reminds me to tell you not to grow yours out, because it will look stupid.

Mom thinks I should!

Annie: Mom is rarely wrong, except in matters of your hair. Trust.

Our favorite correspondents from Egypt are back! And they’re got a new name for their new recurring feature on Canonball. Without further ado, we present The Cairo Contingent: Conversations with Kelsy and Annie. Today they order a pizza and discuss Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.

Annie: I want to kick this off by talking contextually about who and where I was, and you were, when we first started this mammoth, because I think it’s important, this being something of a seminal (oof.) book. I was in a period of upheaval, poised to make the greatest decision of my life, and I was unemployed and in love with two (not one, two!) dudes who were both Very Wrong for me. I picked it up from my local branch of the BPL and sat on my back deck and drank whiskey and chain-smoked and read the first chapter and was like, “DOY BOMB. DID SOMEBODY TAPE RECORD MY BEST FRIEND AND I GOSSIPING IN MY KITCHEN?” Then I got distracted (like I said, two dudes.) and didn’t pick it up again until this summer when I was in Istanbul by my lonesome, and much more emotionally stable might I add.

Kelsy: I was also traveling alone when I read it. I was in Morocco during the off-season and I would go days without talking to anyone who spoke English, but I did have Doris!

Annie: Doris! What a woman. You know she’s a total internet curmudgeon? She’ll likely never read this!

Kelsy: Probably for the best. Zing!

Annie: Would you classify this as a feminist coming-of-age book? Obviously, 25 (how old we are) is a very different age to come into then, say, 15, when I was reading stuff like Mrs. Dalloway and The Bell Jar. There’s also Lessing’s whole assertion that it’s not a feminist book, but we can get to her and her head-butting with The Feminists later.

Kelsy: Yeah. You’re never too old to come of age! Different periods are spearheaded by different things, so I really do think this book represents a certain time of my life that I’m currently going through. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it at another point, but it’s particularly relevant right now.

Annie: I mean, I definitely agree, though I won’t get into more detail about how freakishly relevant this book got at times when I was reading it. Whole pages with “YES” and “DUH” written in the margins!

Kelsy: So, Canonball readers, do you want to know what this is about?

Annie: Surely they do. No spoilers! Well, maybe some small ones. Basically this book is about a novelist struggling with writer’s block and the related struggles with mental illness, with conflicts in the Communist party, and with the men in her life. So, basically, the novel I’ve always wanted to write.

Kelsy: The book is in six parts and details the four notebooks Anna keeps about the different aspects of her life and her writing. The black, the red, the yellow, and the blue.

Annie: Guess which color red refers to!

Kelsy: And black. Haha, Africa.

Annie: Tricky, Doris!

Kelsy: The yellow is more like a diary, with short, daily entries, which later revert to just newspaper clippings, because that’s when Anna starts going mad.

Annie: Spoiler! Sidenote: is there any great feminist work that doesn’t involve mental illness? The Patriarchy! It’s maddening!

Kelsy: Far from the madding patriarchy. Anyway, the blue is a story about Ella and Paul, aka Anna and her lover Michael who has caused her so much angst and heartache.

Annie: And! All of them together make THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK.

Kelsy: So, why do you think Anna stayed with Michael for so long? And Ella with Paul, by extension.

Annie: I think she stayed with him for the same reasons you stay with anyone. You’ve been together for such a long time and you’re so ingrained in this routine that even if you despise this person the thought of this element of your every day missing is unbearable. I also think that this particular element is one reason why Lessing claims that it isn’t a feminist novel.

Kelsy: Yeah, I was going to say that. But it also is a feminist novel, because Anna is always attempting to grapple with her being a feminist, her being a socialist and her personal life sometimes conflicting with this. This really resonates with me because trying to be a feminist is not easy. By very nature we’re going against the norm, so it is a battle. I’ve definitely made some of the same mistakes as Anna when it comes to men. Because if it was easy to be a feminist I wouldn’t need to be one!

Annie: Preach! You see the same thing too with Anna’s socialism. Dealing with her socialist ideology and the fact that at the heart of it, she’s still from the middle class. She’s not a worker, she’s a novelist, which is a luxury. It’s sort of a story about reconciling your ideals and your daily life and how thinking about the two can make you totally crazy.

Kelsy: We’ve all been there! Maybe not to that extent. This is really evidenced in her being in South Africa as a socialist activist, but she was really leading such a bourgeouis existence there, hanging out with all these young hedonistic leftists with nothing to do.

Annie: Which really hit a nerve! Being that we are both living like princesses in a country with a colonial legacy and miniscule cost of living with nothing to do but read books!

Kelsy: Books about inequality! Getting drunk and ranting about the ills of the world.

Annie: And all because of our privilege. I think if I had read this prior to moving to Egypt, it wouldn’t have struck me the same way, though I do feel that this has the type of timelessness where I’ll be able to pick it up at different times in my life and pick up on different themes.

Kelsy: For example, trying to be a single mother!

Annie: Whoa now! Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here! But, yes. Lessing’s whole theme of “Free Women,” embodied by Anna and her best friend Molly, really reflects kind of a second-wave legacy where the ladies are definitely all about putting their careers first. Children second. And men! Where do the dudes fall in?

Kelsy: Yeah, I think that reflects one of the major conflicts, which is devoting one’s self to the career. A capitalist endeavor which, regardless of good intent, is still a patriarchal endeavor at best. And where do men fit in? Because Anna and Molly certainly did not put men last.

Annie: And we certainly do not either! (Caveat! Queer readers, please note that this is a reflection of two hetero feminists, and thereby provides a limited lens.)

Kelsy: Do you feel that Molly and Anna’s obsession with men distracts from their feminism?

Annie: A hard question!

Kelsy: And one I ask myself all the time!

Annie: Because here’s the thing: Even if I actively resort to putting men last on the “Annie Agenda” (ha ha ha.) the fact that they’re last and not worth my time or whatever still bubbles up. In my active endeavors to Not Think About Men, I think about them all the time!

Kelsy: Preach! But yeah, I don’t know the answer. There’s this one great quote, early in the book, that sums this up so well:

“Free women,” said Anna, wryly. She added, with an anger new to Molly, so that she earned another quick scrutinizing glance from her friend: “They still define us in terms of relationships with men, even the best of them.”

Annie: Hold up. I think our pizza just arrived.


Kelsy: So, do you think you define yourself by your relationships with men? Or worse, do we obsess about men because we have the very non-feminist desire to feel worth through them?

Annie: Real talk! Hard questions! I’d like to say that I don’t define myself in that way. The bulk of my relationships with men throughout my lifetime have been largely platonic, and I think having good relationships with my brothers and my dad (my dad who, by the way, goes out of his way to affirm me and my career path and never says anything about how I’m not married) helped with that.

Kelsy: I mean, I don’t think I define my life by men or relationships, though my upbringing was not as supportive. But, I would be naive to say that those relationships, real or not, didn’t have some sway over me or my decisions. Is that crazy?

Annie: Hell no. I have wasted a few years of my life being defined by whomever my other half was at the time, and I think that just speaks to this whole notion of needing men. It’s a man’s world, y’know?

Kelsy: Mmmmmhmmmmm. This is great pizza!

Annie: So, in sum! For me, in spite of Doris’ assertion that this novel is about mental illness, as opposed to feminism, I do think it is a feminist piece. Here’s the thing: I think it was ahead of its time. This isn’t a second-wave thing. This is like the literary first horse(wo)man of the third wave. Right?

Kelsy: Right. It’s so intersectional. The failures of identity politics, and the difficulty of living a feminist life.

Annie: What privilege has wrought, and mental illness, which definitely isn’t up my literary alley right now, but if I had read this when I was seventeen and in the Bell Jar? HOOO, BOY.

Kelsy: I read Anaïs Nin when I was seventeen.

Annie: And doesn’t that just sum our persons up so well!

Kelsy: Readers: If you haven’t read this book, you should, regardless of self-identified gender. If you’re largely dissatisfied with the Left, or in general, this will resonate.

Welcome to our second day of Halloween Week, for which we begged some of our best lady friends to write about the holiday.

Annie Rebekah Gardner is currently having a nervous breakdown over her Master’s thesis in Cairo, Egypt. She dabbles in Critical Migration Theory, fashion, menstruation and the Internet. Kelsy Yeargain is bongo.

The sexy costume and male gaze has been more or less overdone (and, plus, Dan Savage says to stop being a prude and embrace it, so!), and talking about Halloween’s transgressive origins and the feminist pagans of yore and Samhain and the Moon will make my internet persona exponentially weirder. So, rather than bitch about sexy-fill-in-the-blanks or talk about how I’m really into The Mists of Avalon right now, I thought I’d reflect a little on masculinity and Halloween, or, what’s up with dudes and costumes? To do so, I solicited the participation of my housemate and hetero life partner Kelsy.

Annie: Girl! Let’s talk about some ish!

Kelsy: Woop woop!

Annie: First I want to start with some lighthearted matters. What will you be going as this Hallow’s Eve?

Kelsy: Well, Annie, you are part of my group costume.

Annie: Oh yeah! I love group costumes! I haven’t gone solo since 2003!

Kelsy: Yes. If you recall, last May I had the idea that we go as Chomsky and Foucault, respectively.

Annie: It was a great idea! I was to wear a turtleneck and rimless glasses!

Kelsy: Yeah, and we were going to memorize the debates and you were going to talk in French and I was going to respond in English.

Annie: Hilarious.

Kelsy: And pretentious. However, the opportunity arose for the four of us who live together to do one group costume, which, after four hours at a Chili’s on the Nile, we decided to be Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Merrit will be Papa Bear, I will be Mama Bear, you will be Baby Bear, and Matthew will be Goldilocks.

Annie: A dude in drag! Transgressive!

Kelsy: Gender trouble!

Annie: So, straight dudes in drag. I think that’s a good jumping off point to talk about. I feel as though there’s a pretty vocal portion of the dudely populace that likes to dress in drag, and I don’t think it’s always for the reasons that we’d like it to be, e.g. performativity, gender bending, and what-have-you.

Kelsy: When we were going to dress in male drag it was to play a character. But sometimes it feels like dudes do it to mock femininity. Like losing a bet and having to dress up like a lady kind of thing.

Annie: Word. And I can think of some funny times where some great dudes I know dressed as ladies, and we all laughed. My favorite was when my friend Drew went as Mrs. Doubtfire, which we all know is one of my favorite flicks. But I guess that was a man dressed as a dude lookin’ like a lady, so it has a different dimension. Have you ever been to Bridge’s restaurant?

Kelsy: No.

Annie: Well! Neither have I. Speaking of dudes and Halloween, though, what about that one particular breed of killjoy who Just. Won’t. Dress. Up. That drives me crazy!

Kelsy: I hate people who get embarrassed easily.

Annie: I mean, yeah.

Kelsy: But there is something to be said about not being a creative, expressive person, and that’s okay. It’s not for everyone. But I do feel like there’s a larger proportion of men who hate dressing up.

Annie: Oh, I know. I dated one.

Kelsy: What? You?

Annie: Hell yeah, girl. Funny enough, when I was brainstorming for this piece I looked up some old Gmails because I thought it might be pertinent. I had a boyf who utterly despised theme parties, and I think a lot of the world wide web, or at least my Facebook friend contingent, knows how important that is to me. In, fact, I found an email to one of my besties bemoaning this fact and whether or not I should DTMFA because of this, and I quote, “IRRECONCILEABLE DIFFERENCE.”

Kelsy: Why do you think he didn’t like to dress up in costumes? Was it because he was shy?

Annie: I think he was just contrary. He was a little fruitcake so there’s no way he was worried about keeping his manliness in check. But I don’t know, maybe that played into it a little bit.

Kelsy: So do we think that part of this dislike of dressing up relates to men wanting to seem stoic and emotionless? There is something vulnerable about dressing up in a costume, to getting out of yourself. HOW AM I NOT MYSELF?

Annie: To which I say: Wear a sheet and go as a ghost, dummy! But, I mean, yeah, I think you’re right there. There’s something to be said for this typical association with costumes, theatricality as a non-masculine thing.

Kelsy: It’s kind of the same as dancing. A lot of dudes hate dancing, until they get drunk. And they’ll even say that.

Annie: Sidenote: why do I keep dating men who hate dancing?

Kelsy: Because finding men that love dancing is difficult!

Annie: As is finding men who love to wear costume. Noted! I have so many hilarious Halloween stories of dude friends who were so furious with me because I was so bossy about them getting their costume shit together. Fortunately, the costumes still turned out successfully, but not without some pulling of teeth. (Sven, Dan Longino, David Angel, Adam Patch, Andrew Gardner, ex-boyfriend Kevin, this certainly is not applicable to you!)

Kelsy: Can I veer the conversation a little? I think we should talk about how it’s not as big of a deal for women to dress up, it kind of gets more normalized. I feel like I’m dressing up every day, especially when I’m dressing down. It’s almost harder for me to dress down then it is to dress up, because I feel like I need to portray a certain image of myself. That image is so tied to clothing.

Annie: Oh, amen girl. I have a few friends who always joke that every day is Halloween for me. One of them even said that my secret superpower is my ability to change outfits every five minutes. And even though not all women dress as ridiculously as we do, every day, I do think that point is pretty salient. Ladies do think about how they’re portraying themselves every day.

Kelsy: But men do too. It’s just more tied to this stoic, masculine, I don’t-give-a-shit kind of thing.

Annie: And costumes are anything but! Or so they say. Hey, I know I said it gets overdone, but can we talk about the male gaze anyway?

Kelsy: Sure. I have to deal with it everyday, anyway.

Annie: Ok. First I am going to share a favorite Hallow’s Eve anecdote about this time that my cousin and I were at a Halloween party dressed as Persephone and Artemis, respectively (girls, take note! I think Virgin Goddess of the Hunt is a very feminist costume, personally).  What we were wearing doesn’t really matter. It wasn’t skanky or anything. Anyway, one of those classic party creepers was at this party (which was so crazy and so fun, by the by, even though Boyfriend took off his toga within five minutes of arrival, BUT I DIGRESS.) and I tried to throw him off by putting my arm around Cuz (I know, I know, it never works, and I never learn) and creeper is all, “YEEEEEEEAAAAHHH,” and so in typical Annie form I screamed, “STOP SUBJECTING US TO THE MALE GAZE!”

Kelsy: To which he replies, “I’M NOT GAY!” and storms off. You’ve told me this story at least ten times.

Annie: Well it’s a funny story! I’m not going to dwell on Halloween and the Male Gaze too much because it’s been done to death, but that whole sexy-fill-in-the-blank thing sort of embodies this very hetero, very sexist vision of the Feminine Ideal as this booby, subservient thing. Which, whatever. Dress sexy if you wanna. Personally I see no problem dressing sexy any day of the year.

Kelsy: But the problem with it’s such an obvious and kind of desperate attempt of women to be in the Male Gaze. I mean, I’ve worn some short skirts in my lifetime, but on Halloween it’s more pronounced, especially with everyone talking about the dress-as-Sexy-Blah-Blah.

Annie: Which can be hilarious. Off the top of my head, I can think of some brilliant friends (both male and female) whose costumes involved Sexy Jesus, Sexy Lumberjacks, Sexy Lobster, Sexy Hitler. My aforementioned beloved cousin is going as a Sexy Mop this year. Hey, I was wondering if you could share your Batman anecdote.

Kelsy: Why yes I can! The year I turned twenty I drunkenly broke my foot dancing to Kris Kross’ “Jump” song. I was on crutches for about six months, which included Halloween.

Annie: Broken foot on Halloween! Noooo! I was sick one Halloween and I vowed I would Robotrip through it if I had to.

Kelsy: I brought out my party crutches and wore the outfit that I had found earlier that summer, which was a boys’ size 14 Batman costume. It was a tad bit small, and there was some pronounced cameltoe, so I was a fourteen-year-old boy, with cameltoe, on crutches. I got hit on more in that one night than I have ever been hit on in my entire life.

Annie: Creepy! Why does one always get hit on most when one is dressed as a child, is my query.

Kelsy: Actually, I think it was the crutches. Throughout that six months I had too many men tell me they had a crutch fetish. I think it was the increased vulnerability.

Annie: Uh. Ew.

Kelsy: Maybe the cameltoe.

Annie: Possibly. Well, shall we wrap up?

Kelsy: On that note! I think cameltoe is always a good place to end on.

Annie: I couldn’t agree more. If you’re in Cairo, come to our Halloween party! Costume Contest! DJ! Photobooth!

Kelsy: Cameltoe.