Responding to 678

There is this movie, 678, which is set in Cairo. Like every film that does something different, its release was controversial. I found it really raised the idea of class differences in situations of sexual harassment.

In 678, I think that class differences were shown to really impact the reception of sexual harassment. I don’t know how accurate the idea of middle class morality is considered today, but I think this makes sense in terms of the movie which is set in Egypt. When I use the term, it is based on my repeated viewing of My Fair Lady and readings of a few Victorian works of literature (naturally including Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion). Seba Sami represents the wealthy, powerful (her father is an important man in the city) upper-class, Nelly Roushdy is a girl who has been brought up in what appears to be a very forward-thinking, middle-class family and Fayza Abdel Maksoud is a typical Egyptian woman, who works and struggles to make ends meet. Of the three women, she is the only one that has two children, which might also indicate a class difference, since Seba, who appears to be around the same age, was pregnant for the first time when she faces the harassment that changes her life.

Seba is restricted from filing any complaint by her family’s position in society, as is Nelly to some extent, because of reputation and attention. On the other hand, for Fayza it is more about her daily harassment, and the fact that she can’t escape it as easily as the other two women; she depends on buses for transport, while Seba has her own car, and Nelly can at least get rides from her fiance or family.

Seba’s response to the harassment is very different from that of Fayza’s. Seba uses her resources to educate others about self-defense, which seems to me like something only a person with free time and resources could do the way she does. Fayza seeks help from Seba, and that leads her to take matters into her own hands, probably because she has absolutely no other supportive female or family member who would understand and help her. In contrast to both of the other women, Nelly is fully committed to standing up for herself and her values, she not only chases down her harasser, she also refuses to back down from the lawsuit until she absolutely has to, because she would lose too much.

As far as I could tell, all three women take action against sexual harassment, but the way they go about it is interesting to see. Seba tries to educate more women, Nelly fearlessly yells at those who wrong her (filing the suit, not letting men on the phone get away with anything), while Fayza becomes a frightened vigilante. She is so afraid of what will happen to her if she is caught, it seems like she feels more unsafe than when she was being harassed and she had no defense. This is sad, since she is basically just defending herself, but it suggests that her way of dealing with the harassment is not at all working for her.

There are clear differences in how the three women view the sexual harassment they face. Seba sees it as a complete violation that she must combat by prevention of the same happening to others. Nelly has grown up with a mother who encourages her to fight against harassment, and being a female comedian, she seems more willing to face other people’s judgments. Fayza’s reaction, when she finds out her husband was one of the men on the buses who harass women, shows how she sees the harassment. She can’t deal with it any longer, she doesn’t have anyone else to trust to protect her, and she takes matters into her own hands. She is familiar with the behavior of harassers, as we see at the stadium. She sees physically harming the harassers as the only way to get them to stop, Nelly sees publicity and the law as a good way, and Seba sees arming women and educating them about it as the best recourse.

There are clear differences between the women, in the way they dress and their attitudes to harassment. I don’t know how much other factors play into the differences in their behavior toward sexual harassment, but class differences certainly are important. Class shouldn’t influence how people react to sexual harassment, or even what constitutes it, but it does.

This assignment from one of my classes became something to think about, not to be completed and forgotten, unlike countless others.