While once upon a time Egyptian men and women could walk carefree along the Nile River and on the bustling streets of Egypt, today women walking along the same paths often feel objectified: from the heavy eyes of men lingering around them and the misogynistic catcalls to the ‘accidental’ brushing of men’s hands on their bosoms.
For many fortunate people, this is a reality they cannot imagine. Yet the ‘Creepers on the Bridge’ video by Tinne Van Loon and Colette Ghunim from one of Cairo’s busiest public streets accurately depicts the harsh realities that women in Egypt face each time they step out the door, no matter the colour of their skin, their religion, or what they are wearing.
To learn more about the video, which was paired by a popular song that tells the story of the sexual harassment epidemic in Egypt, Egyptian Streets spoke with both Tinne and Colette regarding their filming of the video and the experiences they faced.
What motivated you to film this video?
Personal experience. After constantly hearing stories of both foreign and Egyptian women who face sexual harassment in Cairo, as well as walking on the street ourselves, we wanted to capture the persistent feeling of anxiety every time we walk alone.
The fact is that every time a woman walks outside, no matter what she’s wearing, a large majority of men stare, unabashedly. They scan her entire body as if she is a mere object, not a valued human being. The high frequency of stares makes it the most common form of sexual harassment, violating women’s ability to feel safe while walking in the streets.
We are currently working on a half hour documentary about sexual harassment in Cairo, and we were looking to film the typical stares. After we secretly recorded the video and cut the parts together, we felt it was powerful enough as a stand-alone piece.
Could you tell us how the video was recorded?
Colette walked down the Kasr El-Nil bridge, secretly recording with an iPhone. She held it by her mouth with headphones plugged in and pretended to talk on the phone. She pretended to be deep in conversation, looking straight ahead of her. Whenever she felt eyes on her, she turned the phone slightly towards them. The clip was filmed in a single 5 minute walk around sunset, as people often gather on the bridge after the temperature cools down.
We made sure to record Colette beforehand in order to show her appearance. Because she is of Arab descent, she fits in with Egyptian society more easily. She wore a long skirt, a t-shirt, and a cardigan to prevent any dismissals of the footage, such as having worn something to provoke them.
As groups of men often stare together, we decided to slow down the video for viewers to view all their intimidating expressions at once.
We also recorded catcalls while filming, but because Colette was pretending to be on the phone, we couldn’t include them without hearing her speak in Arabic. Instead, we decided to pair the footage with the song “A3akes Ah At7rash La2” by Sadat & Fifty, translating to “Flirting, Yes, Harassment, No.” We thought it was particularly fitting since most young men listen to popular Electro Sh3abi music.
Were you worried you would run into any problems while filming?
Before we went to film, we practised holding the phone to make it look as unsuspicious as possible. We know that in Egypt, filming in public is risky due to political conspiracy, and we did not want to face any accusations.
How did you feel during the walk, which in the video seemed to last forever? Were you ever scared?
On that day, there was an especially large amount of men, because it was both Friday and the ending of an Ultras (football fans) gathering. All the young men were walking down the bridge in large groups, which made it even more intimidating to walk amongst them. While each of us took turns walking across the bridge alone, the groups of stares were so intimidating that we felt extremely defensive, ready to react if necessary. We both felt the same nervousness of receiving physical harassment.
What do you think you learned from this experience?
Regarding our walk on the bridge, we didn’t necessarily learn anything new. We knew before we started that we would receive looks and comments, seeing as this is a daily occurrence for women on the street. The intimidation we felt reinforced the fact that harassment exists in a variety of forms. Unfortunately, unrelenting stares are only the beginning.
When we shared the video online, it rapidly gained popularity with over 1000 views in one day. It prompted Facebook users from around the world to engage in complex discussions on sexual harassment. This helped us confirm that the issue resonates beyond just Egypt, even though it is one of the countries most affected.
Do you have any future projects related to the issue of sexual harassment in Egypt?
We are in the process of producing a half hour narrative documentary about sexual harassment in Cairo. We will weave together compelling stories, such as how one determined girl challenges her harasser, as well as how a lawyer prepares for a ground-breaking court case. Get updates about the film by liking our Facebook page! (facebook.com/benaatelnas).
We also just launched our Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign! We’re currently financing it ourselves, but to tell the stories of these women the way they deserve to be told, we are asking for your support! Check out the Kickstarter page for rewards and more!