The Predatory Male Body in Sexual Violence Activism in Egypt

By Angie Abdelmonem
Submitted to Session P4938 (Gendering the Body in the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
Gender/Women's Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The Egyptian anti-sexual harassment initiatives, HarassMap and Tahrir Bodyguard, and civil society organizations, Nazra for Feminist Studies and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), in November and December 2013 undertook a campaign called “salahha fi dimaghak” (Get it Right) to “correct” what local activists felt were widespread misperceptions of the problem of sexual violence in Egypt. The campaign’s purpose was, in part, to challenge victim blaming rhetoric that effectively undermined women’s human rights and denied them access to public space. Activists designed and disseminated roughly eighteen posters that visually and discursively framed the problem of sexual violence in particular ways. The male body is a central figure in this framing. Exhibiting animal-like qualities or transforming from human to animal, both wolf and dog, the visual representations of this body render it as both hyper-sexualized and predatory. This framing stands alongside other visual imagery in these posters showing the threatening physical prowess of the oversized male body, as well as discursive messages emphasizing male foolishness in denying the sexual violence they perpetrate and their criminal nature in violating women’s human rights.

This paper argues that the physical rendering of the male body in these campaign posters as animal naturalizes male predatory sexuality and, therefore, acts of sexual violence. The visual and discursive portrayal of men as both fools and criminals concomitantly challenges ideas that men can overcome this presumed natural inclination toward predatory sexuality. Drawing on Foucauldian notions of the body as discursively constructed and building on debates about nature/culture, in which the female body is theorized as natural vis-à-vis the cultural male body, this paper also argues that a visual and discursive reversal is visible in the “salahha fi dimaghak” campaign posters. Here the male body is constructed as an entity outside the realm of culture, which cannot be “enculturated” toward a non-violent predisposition. Sexual violence activism in Egypt has constructed a self-defeating narrative that seeks to promote change by shaming the unruly male body while simultaneously consigning this unruliness to the realm of nature, where culture may have no effect. Moreover, this narrative runs counter to activists’ own notions that sexual violence is grounded in patriarchal control of the female body and renders it an instinctual act that potentially has no resolution.