CBS Journalist Lara Logan was physically and sexually assaulted in Egypt this week (trigger warning for this whole post):
In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers. She reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently home recovering.
This story has been discussed extensively, and the coverage has been… disturbing, to say the least. Take, for example, this LA Weekly article, which calls Logan a “Warzone ‘It’ Girl,” a “firecracker” and a journalist “known for her shocking good looks” — and that’s just in the headline, lead and photo caption. There’s emphasis on the fact that she’s a “blonde reporter,” and that she has made a career of “using her Hollywood good looks” for advancement. Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon has covered what she aptly calls “the victim-blaming machine” that seems to kick in as a response to every high-profile rape case. New York University Center for Law & Security (now former) fellow Nir Rosen, another journalist, made a series of stunningly offensive remarks on Twitter about how Logan was trying “out-do” Anderson Cooper. Cooper, for those who weren’t following, was punched in the head while covering the Cairo protests; notably, the coverage of Cooper’s assault didn’t focus on his light hair color or his stunning good looks. (Rosen, to his credit, has given an extensive apology and explanation, which should serve as a model for anyone reacting to a major public fuck-up).
Unsurprisingly, our favorite local rape apologist, Robert Stacy “How can I be pro-rape when I think you shouldn’t even heavy-pet before marriage?” McCain has jumped in to emphasize that this isn’t about an act of violence against a reporter, it’s about brown Muslim savages being so overcome by desire for a hot blonde that they just have to rape her. Never mind that women in the West are raped all the time, by other people who are also from Western countries. Never mind that women who aren’t hot and blonde are also raped. Never mind that if you are hot and blonde and you’re raped, the immediate response is that something about you as a person brought the assault on. Never mind that it was a group of Egyptian women and 20 soldiers who helped Logan escape the assault. “Brown people are savages who will go after pretty white women” is too convenient a narrative (and RS McCain isn’t the only right-winger going this route).
None of which is to say that assault and public harassment aren’t big problems in Egypt. Eighty-three percent of Egyptian women report being sexually harassed on the street, and 62 percent of men admit engaging in harassment. In the brief amount of time I spent in Egypt, I was harassed and followed and cat-called extensively. That viewpoint — that women in public are public property — was pervasive particularly in Cairo, but is hardly exclusive to Egypt and certainly doesn’t correlate with the prominence of Islam in any particular country. We can address the fact that Logan’s assault didn’t happen in a bubble — that assault and harassment and groping are part of a continuum of sexualized attacks that women face in Egypt regularly (including, yes, Egyptian women!) — without going the intellectually lazy route of concluding, “So Muslims.” I would hope that, similarly, visitors to New York who are harassed on the street — and street harassment is very common here as well — wouldn’t be so ignorant as to blame, say, Christians for their experiences. Point being, we should recognize that assaults on women for having the audacity to move through public space are widespread, and are part of a greater, systematic misogyny that impacts all women (not just the ones that you want to fuck) and that doesn’t tie to any particular religion or ethnic background or location. Certainly culture is a factor, insofar as cultures which restrict women’s rights and see women’s bodies as public property are probably going to have greater problems with women in public space. (Welcome, also, to the United States.)
There’s also been a lot of talk about how Logan “put herself in harm’s way,” and how maybe we should be reconsidering the deployment of female journalists, because they are particularly vulnerable — as if it’s not possible for men to be assaulted (and sexually assaulted). Right-wing blogs are saying that it’s Logan’s “liberal mentality” — her audacity in believing that as an attractive blonde woman, she could ever possibly be able to do her job, or even go out in public gatherings — that got her assaulted. The blame is on her, not on the men who actually assaulted her. There’s even a poll asking, “Is Lara Logan to blame for her own sexual assault?” When male journalists are harmed or even killed on the job — and I’d be willing to bet that male journalists are assaulted and killed more often than female journalists — the media narrative is, basically, “He was brave and this is a tragedy.” But when it happens to a woman, the narrative shifts to, “Should women be doing this?”
The same conversation happens about “normal” sexual assault — the kind that doesn’t happen to prominent media figures. Women are lectured about how to keep ourselves safe and out of harm’s way — don’t get too drunk, don’t walk home alone at night, don’t talk to strange men, don’t wear provocative clothing. The message is to be careful while you’re alone or among strangers, when in fact women are much more likely to be assaulted by someone they know, and are most likely to be sexually assaulted in their own home or in the home of someone they know. When women are sexually assaulted, there’s a backward-looking guessing game at what she could have done to prevent the assault — she shouldn’t have gone to that bar, or worn that, or drank so much, or been out that late. The implication is that women are safest if they remain inside. Men are much more likely than women to be physically assaulted in public, but they aren’t repeatedly warned to stay home.
When women do transgress those boundaries — when we do interact in public — some men use that as an excuse for punishment, through harassment or groping or sexualized insult or, as here, assault. That’s what we should be talking about: Cultural and structural misogyny, including hostility towards women moving freely through public space, and pinning the blame on women when men assault them. Blaming Logan, or casting her attackers simply as brown savages who couldn’t help themselves, feeds into the same system that enabled this attack.
The Logan story, of course, is barreling down the usual path. It’s a shame to see it used as a lecture for women everywhere (and female journalists in particular) to be afraid, and as a mechanism to further demonize Muslims.
I hope Logan is able to find a peaceful recovery.
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