Sunday, 18 March 2012

Teaching in Egypt (1): ‘Women are superficial and stupid’

For the past few weeks I have been teaching English conversation classes. It’s a lot of fun, especially when you get to teach the higher levels, with students that can actually partake in a discussion.

Of course, the more controversial the topic, the more interesting it gets. This week I discussed women’s rights.

(for those of you not in the know, sexual harassment of women is rampant in Egypt, as you can read here, here, here and here).

A male student made the opening statement:

‘Women’s rights in Egypt are a myth. Women are superficial and stupid, they shouldn’t have any rights.’

When I asked him what he based this opinion on, he got up out of his chair and pointed at one of the girls in class. ‘Her!’

‘Women only care about shopping and make-up, she is the perfect example of that.’

Well, that certainly got the class going.


After asserting that insulting your opponents is not part of any form of civilised debate, I subtly pointed out to him that his mother and sister were also women. Were they also superficial and stupid? He brushed that off as them being from ‘another generation’ and subsequently couldn’t explain how that made a difference.

The fact that the girl he accused of only caring about shopping and make-up is one of the brightest students in the class and has a steady job to support herself also fell on deaf ears.

(One of these days I’ll dedicate a full post to the utter incompetence of Egyptian university graduates to formulate a proper argument. For now let’s just say it’s not their biggest strength.)


In another, higher level, class, one guy stated that he could understand why some men would sexually harass women, because ‘some girls would smile at them and make small-talk with them on the streets’. His only defense to the barrage of critique he received from all the girls in the class was that it was ‘his opinion’.

Did I mention the guy had a Salafi beard?

In yet another class the consensus among males seemed to be that women at least had some part in it, the victims must be bringing it on with their revealing clothes and provocative behaviour.

I was expecting the men's comments to be crude, but I had no idea it would be this bad. Egypt certainly has a long way to go in the emancipation of women. I'll be sure to keep bringing it up in class. 

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