The day I wore a hijab

Check out my collaborative piece with Stop Street Harassment: Brazil: the hijab and the concept of oppression

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Cold Saturday in Berlin. I believe the idea did not come from me, but from my friend, who had been through the experience herself. I guess I was asking too many questions about it, so she just wrapped one around my head, “Iranian style”, with some hair showing, just so I would feel how it is to go out as a Muslim.

veu3_Fotor_Collage What I first realised is that, in a western country, when a Muslim woman goes out in public, she is always making a statement. The hijab became a stigma of a faith that has been questioned and misinterpreted by so many that are not involved.

My first sensation was fear. I am living in the country of Pegida, an anti-Islamic movement that has been growing since the economic crisis hit Europe right in the core and, after Charlie Hebdo, things could get ugly, we never know. But since this is Berlin and not Dresden, the feeling was gone quite fast.

Some of the assumptions I had made before were also rapidly dismissed. I thought, for example, that I would be getting more glimpses in the street than normal. Maybe in Brazil I would, since there’s not as many Muslims there as there is in Europe. A reporter in Sao Paulo recorded her experience going out dressed as a Muslim, showing how people often disrespects Muslim women, harassing them or filming them as if they are some kind of exotic animal. In Berlin there was nothing of the kind.


Something that really messed with my head was the feeling of looking older than normal. I felt like I was about five years older and had three kids – which says a lot about the stigma Muslim women carry. My friend cleverly got the idea beneath that feeling: “do you feel older or just less attractive?” This was very interesting: the hijab is a symbol of modesty, of not relying on your looks to be noted, and I completely felt that, even though I’m not a fan of make-up and wear sports clothes most of my time. The fact that I didn’t have my hair to show really made a difference in my self-esteem.

I compare the use of the veil with something else that bothers me, in the other extreme: nudity unrelated to sex. Living in Europe, I have received invitation from friends to join them in saunas: “but… you’re gonna see me naked, I can’t”. Brazilians can show everything during Carnaval and might be very straightforward when it comes to sex, but when we are just there, naked, we simply feel exposed. At least that’s how I feel.

I bet Muslim women would feel like that if they would go out without the hijab.


The perception of sexism – or the lack of it

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I just came across a clever joke made on Buzzfeed about Hermione and how the plot would be like if she was the main character of the Harry Potter movies/books. They even came up with an interesting title: Hermione Granger and the Goddamn Patriarchy.


I loved it! The humorous new plot shows the story of Harry Potter in a way that we can perceive how Hermione always finds a way to save her two friends and, not to push it, but she actually does that quite often in the movie, and doesn’t really get the credit for it. Does that sound familiar?

hermione 3

What really interested me in the new plot was how difficult it is for people to perceive sexism and gender privileges.

Of course, it is obvious to see when Draco plays the part of the disrespectful male that throws punchlines like “Hey, wanna see my wand?”. But there are more hidden prejudice towards women than we care to admit.

hermione 6

“It was a compliment, I swear. It was just a compliment.”

For example, they place Ron, who is so obviously in love with Hermione both in the original and also the made up plot, trying to protect her by saying she wants attention when she is dressed up.

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Yep, she doesn’t look happy. We are all educated in such a sexist way that women are seen as a prize, and for that reason they should cover themselves, because otherwise they’re looking for trouble. Well… sexism right there.

And then the funny dialog between Harry and Hermione about Ron and other wizards showing that, yes, all women suffer from sexism:

“He said he’s sorry. Ron’s a nice guy, not like Draco. He didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“That’s the problem, Harry. He didn’t think what he was saying was wrong. And it’s not just Ron and Draco I have to worry about. It’s all wizards.”

“Not all wizards, though. Right?”

“Yes all wizards, Harry.”

“Not all witches feel that way though, surely.”

“Yes all witches. All witches have had to put up with comments like that, and worse.”

That’s something I see men debating a lot, but also women: if the intention was not to hurt someone, does it make it ok?

Sexism is exactly that: having a gender gap that is perceived by society as the status quo. Women should be submissive, take care of their family, while men are supposed to be though and provide for their family.

This normative arrangement puts pressure in both genders as women are encouraged to depend on their husbands and dedicate all their time to raising kids and taking care of the house, while men grow distant from their children because they need to use all time they have to provide for the family. There’s a huge lack of balance in this equation.

When women fought for their right to vote, to work and to be independent, slowly they were earning their place in the spotlight. The problem is that their independence was seen as a threat to men instead of a more collaborative status. Because of that, women are accused of abandoning their children in order to pursue career opportunities.

No one ever accuses men of that.

Quite the contrary, to be exact: when a father decides to get a part-time job and split the house obligations with his wife, he is seen as weak. And that’s sexism, right there, again.

Back to Hermione.

Awesome moment when Harry Potter finally realises that patriarchy is real. And then, something very spooky happens:

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“I see sexism”

“How often?”

“All the time. It’s everywhere”

Later on, Ron sees it too:

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“Once you see it, you can’t help but see it. It’s like we’re living in a patriarchal dystopia. Surrounded by prejudice and oppression. And trees.”

This is the turning point of the fight over sexism: it is hidden in all small gestures, decisions, acts and looks. It is so inserted in our everyday life that we never perceive it. Until it screams in our face. And when that happens, you simply can’t turn it off.

To me, it was exactly that. Coming from such a sexist society that Brazil is, it took me a long time to understand the privileges of men and our own sexist minds.

Coming to Germany, I had a Brazilian friend commenting on how weak German men can be and how German women are aggressive as men. The lens of sexism simply cannot deal with independent women as equal to independent men. Instead, it places women as sexism perceives men: aggressive and, therefore, powerful. This is not, and it should never be, a competition between genders. An independent woman doesn’t make a man weak, it simply combines forces and creates more opportunities for both.

The awesome plot of Hermione against the patriarchy goes on!

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Now she gets Neville to cut the head of the snake, the source of power from patriarchy. Or, Voldemort, whatever.

“Good leadership is about good delegation!”

And finally, it’s over. They defeated patriarchy! Or did they?

Loving the end, when Hermione continues to fight sexism in both the magic and Muggle world.

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I have seen it quite often: we perceive a problem, we try to solve it, we start a movement, we create creative solutions, we then come back on fighting the problem all over again. It has been like that on feminism for over 100 years. So even if the speech has been delivered before, even if the idea has been done before – and believe me, it has – it is still worth to continue in the path of ending sexism. There will always be someone listening.

No extremism is positive

The attack on Charlie Hebdo today brought me light to a subject that can affect any kind of movement or cause: the radical ones.

Just as terrorists have been for decades killing in the name of a god or a nation, radical speeches are also on the borderline of hate. Here’s one example of what we can expect to happen after the attack.

Lately I have been observing a lot of radicalism in the feminist movement.

That’s why I believe the #HeForShe campaign is so relevant. Having men participating in the feminist movement only reinforces the idea of equality.

When you are passionate enough to fight for a cause, things can get heated up so easily that it is safe to say that every activist needs to watch her/his actions not to become too radical. Especially in our modern world, with the internet being the perfect place to poison-spreading.

When talking about equality and opportunities and fighting for more space, activists often see themselves under fire by men who feel personally attacked.

That happens quite a lot when it comes to street harassment: defensive men try not to acknowledge their – brainwashed – mistake of catcalling a woman thinking that’s a compliment. Instead of apologizing they react as if they were the ones being offended. After that, our tendency is to simply shut down any counter-argument that can come from men. If we go on radical-mode too much, the aggressive response will only bring more aggressive actions.

The borderline

As I said before, when we are dedicated to a cause, we can turn into radical mode very easily, but that is far from being a bad thing. If is wasn’t for the radical feminists, nothing would ever change. Calling for action, going on the streets and taking the lead of a movement takes a lot of energy and radicals are prepared to face the counter-attacks. The problem with this is when the speech turns from defending a cause to attacking someone.

Every time a radical idea turns into an attack, it backlashes.

If you rule out every men from feminists movements, you are basically saying that half of the world’s population are against you. Think is not just untrue, but also a major setback to the movement. Besides, those men that are sympathetic to the cause may simply feel under attack as well, undermining the whole idea of equality.

Diplomacy is the key (or… al you need is love)

In the end, when we get involved with such a crucial cause, like fighting violence against women, in my case, there is no better way than diplomacy. From catcalls to rapes and femicides, we have men on the attackers bench and women on the victims. But there are also much more men defending women than attacking and by acknowledging that we create a bridge of discussion so necessary to end this behavior.

Let’s stop feeding the trolls.

Egypt: the epidemic street harassment

Bad news coming from Egypt this week. According to Morocco World News, a 19-year-old woman has jumped off a bridge into the Nile river after being constantly harassed. The incident occurred over a week ago, but it seems the authorities were trying to report it as a suicide over family issues and the Egyptian media did not report on it. Middle East Eye has also reported the case earlier in which the group I Saw Harassment informed that this is the third case documented in Egypt of a woman losing her life over the same subject: in 2012 a woman was shot by her harasser after standing up to him and in 2013 another harasser ran over the victim.

During the Arab Spring, many women reported being sexually assaulted in the demonstrations. Here’s a video about that:

The country appears in a report done in 2013 from the United Nations in which 99 percent of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment.The report was a powerful weapon to make authorities take action and, earlier this year, the country has issued a new anti-sexual harassment law.

It is a huge step in Egyptian society and it means that the authorities are addressing a problem that has been long ignored, but we also know that laws do not help if the mindset is still untouchable. Daily News Egypt reported that, despite the new law, sexual harassment remains as a grave problem.

Efforts to raise awareness of this problem in the country have been done through many different channels. One of the most prominent ones is the HarassMap. This initiative gives power to women themselves report the incidents, pinning the time, place and type of harassment suffered.

An interesting project called The People’s Girls had a successful crowdfunding campaign and will be producing a documentary about street harassment in the country. They caught the attention of the public with a viral video called Creepers on the Bridge:

Also, the famous social experiment of walking in the streets of New York, made by Hollaback, was replicated in Cairo. check out the results:

Our hope is to see that these activities help to change the mindset of Egyptian culture and make way for women to be respected and end this epidemic behavior.

Great initiatives: the catcall-ending revolution in South America


Ocac Chile

It has been said that Latin countries are famous for being sexists. Coming from one of them makes me bias on the subject. I have experienced a lot of sexism in Brazil, but I tend to believe that it is not worse than other countries like US, Egypt or Japan, for example. In fact, my perception is that they are all simply bad, so let’s not measure how disrespectful a country can be.

What interests me at the moment is that it is possible to see a growing movement in South America towards ending a very common behavior such as street harassment. Different initiatives have been raising awareness in those countries and women can finally speak up about it. Here are some of the main examples:

Brazil – Chega de Fiu Fiu

A research made by the feminist website Think Olga showed that over 99 percent of the respondents have suffered with street harassment in some point of their lives. The campaign brings up the problem women faces in most cities in Brazil and also features a map in which women can post their experiences, marking where in the city they were harassed. They are now with a crowdfunding campaign to produce a documentary about street harassment.


Acción Respeto – Argentina

Argentina – Acción Respeto

The Facebook page has featured many stories from women being harassed on the streets. The movement got stronger after the mayor of Buenos Aires declared that women actually like to be catcalled. The strong words in their images are explained by the punch line: “if it’s disturbing to read it, just imagine hearing it”.


Ecuador – Quiero Andar Tranquila

The Facebook page uses data and videos to inform about street harassment in the country.

Paraguay – Por una Calle Libre de Acosonoacosoparaguay

A recent movement launched a Facebook page to start a campaign in the country


Observatorio Contra el Acoso Callejero (Ocac)

One project has reached three countries so far and plans to spread through the whole region. The Observatorios create local campaigns and reinforce them by creating an international link.

Peru – Paremos el Acoso Callejero

The Peruvian feminist collective went viral last week with a video about their campaign “Sílbale a tu Madre”, in which harassers are seen catcalling their mothers in disguise.

Chile – Ocac Chile

The website brings news, stories and also the actual campaigns the collective has been doing.


Ocac Colombia

Colombia – Ocac Colombia

The Facebook page has been denouncing street harassment in the country and featuring successful stories of their local campaigns.


Bystanders: don’t just stand there, let’s get to it

The problem of violence against women, especially on public places, is that a catcall or a hurtful disagreement between two strangers might just not be our problem. Many cases of harassment have been reported with the unfortunate mention: “many people saw it, but nobody did anything”.

The classical “bystander effect” is perfectly visible in cases like these: with no sense of responsibility towards what they see and the fact that it doesn’t seem to be an emergency, people tend to avoid any kind of uncomfortable situation.

But this can get a bit extreme.

A Swedish organization called STHLM Panda created a social experiment inside of an elevator to show how people react when someone is suffering from violence close to them. Out of 53 people, only one stood up for the victim:

The fact is that bystanders tend not to get involved to avoid becoming a victim themselves. In extreme cases like these, it’s important to get more people involved in order to avoid that. But in the majority of cases, people just take harassment as a normal part of their everyday life.

The ugliness of our society

Just last night, the memorial of 23-year-old Tugce Albayrak, killed by harassers outside of a Mc Donald’s parking lot in a town near Frankfurt, was marked by tributes around the whole country. But Tugce was not a typical victim of harassment: she was a bystander who decided to intervene when she saw two girls being harassed in the bathroom. After the incident, when she was leaving the restaurant, she was hit and was in coma for two weeks before her parents decided to turn off the life support equipment.

In San Francisco, a man was stabbed by a harasser that kept provoking him and his girlfriend into a fight after catcalling her. According to Schwartz, “it turned violent very quickly”.

The brutality of the crimes is just as big as the banality of them. A group of young men decide to attack women, get called on it and violently beat the one who stoop up for the girls. When did it become so normal to take on a violent rage against a person who doesn’t agree with one’s behavior?

Another video, this time from India, shows two girls reacting to harassment inside of a bus while bystanders either did nothing or even laughed at the scene:

The video went viral and the two sisters have been celebrated in the country for their courage. The man who harassed them has been caught by the police.

What can we do?

There are many different ways bystanders can help the ones being attacked without getting hurt themselves. A simple “are you ok?” to the victim can go a long way.

A very helpful collection of tips for bystanders was made by Stop Street Harassment organization. According to the text, “many of the suggestions that do not directly challenge a harasser, such as asking the woman if she wants help or asking the harasser what time it is, are excellent to use when one is not sure if it is harassment that is occurring, if they do not want to dis-empower the woman, or if they fear becoming the target of the harasser’s inappropriate behavior themselves. Something as simple as clearing one’s throat or coughing can help defuse a situation too, particularly if a harasser does not notice other people are around (such as on a dark street).”

In the case things get ugly, make sure you reach for support from others around you and call the police right away.