UN Women ad displaying genuine Google searches dated March 9 reveals widespread sexism, 2013 – Official UN Women website
CAIRO – 6 December 2017: The daily media consumption, for information and entertainment, plays a powerful role in shaping people’s lives, especially children and youths. Often manipulated to spread a specific culture and tradition, films, series, TV shows and songs are influential tools, oftentimes altering or shaping people’s views.
Focusing on the issue of inciting violence against women (VAW), a lot of entertainment media that is more often than not presenting women in outdated roles would easily cause one to unintentionally stereotype women and men into specific boxes, hindering the fight for gender equality.
Although there are some great films, songs and series that usually present powerful stories, inspiring people to improve and become more tolerant, both classical and modern filmmaking and songwriting have often presented men again and again as superior to women. These depictions help cause inequality norms and act to become so deeply entrenched within our society, such that they are often difficult to recognize and separate from the actual Egyptian culture.
Mass media inciting violence against women
All Egyptians are familiar with the movie “Bein El Qasrein” (Palace Walk) made in 1962, having embedded in our society an immortal idea that manliness means violence and domination. The movie reflects the morals of the conservative “Eastern” man, who has the right to discipline his woman in a highly patriarchal social hierarchy and to make her obey him no matter what.
At the same time, Ameena, the wife in the film, should accept Si al-Sayed’s maltreatment just because her society’s traditions oblige her to listen to him, tolerating it all to avoid breaking the family norms.
Si al-Sayed (Yehia Shahin) has become a role model for many men in Egypt throughout the ages, although the renowned novelist Naguib Mafouz meant to fight those bad habits throughthe original novel.
Tamer Hosny’s song “Sial Sayed” (2013)is one typical example to how the influence of the movie has extended to our modern art, enforcing the idea that men have the right to lock women up when they annoy them, tell them what to wear, and control them in their everyday lives. The song emphasizes the idea that “real men” have to excessively control women’s life choices and lifestyles.
Too many of our modern songs incite violence and discrimination against women; some are even made and sung by famous female artists. In her song “Wahda Tania Khalis” (A Totally Different Woman) released in2013, Donia Samir Ghanem happily describes how her partner controls everything she does, from what she wears to who she can be friends with, a typical example of how women can sometimes hurt their own fight by advocating male control over themselves.
Violence against women is not solely carried out by husbands; brothers and fathers can also be complicit in the crime, which has also been portrayed in the cinema, quite too often.
The 1970s movie “Ekhwato El Banat” (His Sisters) revolves around an unfair brother who could do whatever he wanted, simply because he is a boy. When one of his sisters fell in love, he disciplined her with a slap on the face, urged by his mother to act like a “real man”. Although many find the movie an entertaining comedy, it has had a very powerful effect on the psychology of men in Egyptian society.
Mass media empowering women
On the other hand, some films, songs and TV series recognize the role that the media should play in positively influencing people. Acknowledging that media is meant to make us think, broaden our horizons and help us fight wrong ideas about gender and other controversial topics, some remarkable movies and songs in the history of Egyptian media have focused on women in leading roles and inspired females as a way to face social challenges and reassure the right of every girl to pursue her dream.
One of the most inspiring songs that every Egyptian has probably listened to and fell fond of is Soad Hosny’s “Girls…Girls” (1985).The song tackles the critical issue of gender equality between men and women, praising families that give birth to girls and help them develop themselves and earn their living like any “boy”.The song stresses that girls are disciplined and are able to run for high positions and to protect themselves, deconstructing the idea that women and girls are fragile.
Another inspiring Egyptian movie is “Al Bab Al Maftouh” (The Open Door) released in 1963. It is a revolutionary movie where Laila, played by the great actress Faten Hamama, challenges the outdated norms in society, dictating that girls are destined to be housewives, while men are free to manage their lives the way they please.
The movie also shows how a loving and caring brother can lead a positive and powerful role in helping a woman pursue her dreams and aspirations. Laila, the girl who follows her passion and succeeds in life, opened the door for many Egyptian women to call for freedom and empowerment.
Another film reflecting some of the main hurdles faced by Egyptian women, including gender-based discrimination and stereotypes, is “Al Ostaza Fatma” (Mrs Fatma) from 1952. The film focuses on a young woman who graduated from the Faculty of Law and then opened an office in the same building with Adel, another lawyer who graduated with her.
Most people tended to go to her male counterpart for legal consultations, believing that he is more professional than Fatma because he is a man. But when he is falsely accused of murder, Fatma steps in as his lawyer and uses her knowledge, intelligence and resourcefulness to prove his innocence. The movie aims to turn over people’s views on women, making them realize that women are as competent as men.
In “678”, released in 2010, we see three strong female characters from different social classes combating sexual harassment. The film was adapted based on real stories of women who suffered sexual harassment.
One of the three women decided not to be afraid of speaking up, and she filed a court case for being sexually harassed, unlike the acknowledged norm of keeping silent.
The other character’s husband did not support her when she was assaulted. Consequently, she decided to get a divorce and to establish an organization aiming to stand against harassment.
The third woman, who cannot afford any other means of transportation except public bus 678, continues to face harassers on a daily basis.
The three women decided to stand united and fight sexual harassment by raising people’s awareness about the struggles they face and demand justice for their offenders.
The movie is an eye-opener to many men and women who think that sexual harassment is not as prevalent as it really is.
The growing trend of portraying violence against women as normal, as a way to amuse people and make the audience laugh, needs to stop now. To push women’s fight for equality forward, the media needs to get with the program and condemn outdated traditions that reduce women to passive watchers, as opposed to active participants. It is one of the main responsibilities of entertainment media to better society and correct its perspective about women.
This article is part of Egypt Today’s campaign “Break the Silence ... Say No to Violence” marking the 16-day campaign of activism against gender-based violence GBV from November 25 to December 10.