Laurie Penny went to Dublin to report on women fighting to legalize abortion in Ireland, then she went to Cairo to report on women fighting sexual harassment in Tahrir Square. In both places, women told her they were sick of feeling ashamed.
From India to Ireland to Egypt, women are on the streets, on the airwaves, on the internet, getting organised and getting angry. They’re co-ordinating in their communities to combat sexual violence and taking a stand against archaic sexist legislation; they’re challenging harassment and rape culture. Across the world, women who are sick and tired of shame and fear are fighting back in unprecedented ways.
And because of the internet, we know about each other, we’re in contact with each other.
Sexism often functions as a pressure-release valve in times of social unrest – and when it does, it takes different forms, depending on local values. Right now, in Egypt, it’s groping, heckling and mob attacks; in Ireland, it’s rape apologism and a backlash against abortion and sexual equality; on the internet, it’s vicious slut-shaming and “revenge porn“. But this time, women are refusing to take it any more.
Like the Arab spring and Occupy in 2011, local movements with no apparent connection to one another are exchanging information and taking courage from one another’s struggles. The fight against misogyny is spreading online and via networks of solidarity and trust that develop rapidly, outside the traditional channels. I met Swedish and Iranian feminist activists in Dublin, and British feminist activists in Cairo, and have seen live information about the women’s marches in Egypt spread quickly through chains of activists from South Africa to the American Deep South.
What I’m saying. We’re linked up.
It’s too early to say whether the mood of mutiny will last. When people fight misogyny, they aren’t just fighting governments and police forces, religious organisations and strangers in the streets – they also have to deal with intolerance from their loved ones, from their colleagues, from friends and family members who can’t or won’t understand. Over the last few weeks I have been humbled by the bravery of the activists I’ve met, particularly the women. It takes a special sort of courage to cast off shame, to risk not just violence but also intimate rejection for the sake of a better future. And the thing about courage is that it’s contagious.
Dealing with friends who can’t or won’t understand is a tough one. Courage isn’t really even relevant to that. I’m not sure what is, other than resilience. At any rate, it’s a long game, to say the least.