Libya: sexual harassment and the crisis of masculinity

In a city where the red, yellow, and green traffic lights are usually perceived equally as a “GO!” signal, there are many oddly accepted social standards that one can’t just give implausible excuses to. Like, “Oh, maybe they’re just colourblind!”

In Libya, we’ve been living a mediocre life for too long, which leaves me wondering: why are they in a hurry in the first place? What is this thing that they’re planning on doing that can’t even wait for, literally, seconds?

So let’s layout some truths that many Libyans have been sugar-coating for so long. Most of these impatient drivers are actually showing up at faculties of universities to jam-pack their parking lots. Others park in front of high schools. Long story short, they’re just showing up at a place where there happens to be girls walking by so they can treat themselves to hours of “eye-candy”.





Yes, there are Libyan “men” of various ages and social and educational standards who spend their afternoons going out just so they can stand in their favourite spots for catcalling and harassing fellow Libyan women as they walk home after a long day at school or as they inevitably stroll and rush down the hallways of whatever faculty they choose to struggle at.

***

Whatever the weather, they stare and stare, objectifying and undressing women with their laser beam scans. They never get enough of it. Some of their perverted stares leave you with disgust and make you question whether the males in your own family behave in such a manner whenever they are alone or with close friends.

These men would shout things at you until you disappear into the distance; without ever giving up hope that you’ll helplessly fall in love with them right there and then and give up everything that you can to be with them from that very moment. Maybe, they’re not really hoping for anything at all. Maybe unemployment is to blame.

On the other hand, some of these men come from privileged background; so maybe their actions are nothing but a function of the most impulsive, animalistic instincts human can possess. Are we still in a post-revolution, Hobbesian “state of nature”?

What makes an adult beg for the attention of a complete stranger and completely shrug it off seconds later after that stranger rolls their eyes as they hasten their pace. Is this an expression of frustration, or a deeper, underlying issue at the heart of Libyan and North African society?

Libya is a Muslim society, and their actions contradict guidance from the Qur’an, especially in Surat al-Nur:

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.”

Very often, as they fail to lower their gaze, these men hear the Adhaan, skip prayers and waste time whilst harassing women at various university faculties. Did they even hear the Adhaan?

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There’s a saying in my country that has a literal translation of: “[so and so] fell from my eyes”. Those many men standing in rows and groups smirking at girls and tilting their heads like owls just to get a glimpse made me realise where that saying came from.

You’d think that these men are nobodies, but they’re not. That’s the problem. Many are educated people. Scientifically educated, I should clarify, because that matters in Arab society – but they are bored. There is little work and they lack adequate male role models.

With the exception of Omar Mukhtar, most famous or notable men in Libyan society have had a “machismo” personality. Some of their traits may be acceptable or even admirable; but their toxic traits have infected our society and have multiplied. King Idris, Muammar Gaddafi, Haftar, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Friend or foe, they all share the similar characteristics of dominance and exertion at the cost of the wellbeing of others… even when they believe their behaviour is beneficial.

On more than one instance, I’d see a post about a guy on Facebook celebrating his graduation alongside respected colleagues. Then, just a few days later, I find myself observing that same guy in the hallways of the university he just graduated from staring and participating in a loathsome manner that somehow becomes a normal part of day-to-day life in Libya.

“He’s looking for a bride!” is the most mind-boggling excuse I’ve seen women spread around. There are many similar excuses that are distributed like, “oh, it’s just an hour or two of getting their mind off things”. This excuse side-steps reality and makes us lose focus of the deeper, underlying issues in Libyan society and its current crisis of masculinity.

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