Elites' practice? Ethnography of self-defense classes for women in Cairo (Egypt): sex, class belonging and vulnerability
Perrine Lachenal (Philipps Universitat Marburg)
Paper short abstract:
In class of self-defense, Egyptian girls strengthen their upper middle-class belonging by exchanging about their urban practices and social representations. The experience of vulnerability is at the top of their shared identity.
Paper long abstract:
Classes of self-defense for women are multiplying in Cairo. This practice appears as a solution to fight against "sexual harassment" which is identified as a social disease in Egyptian cities. All women are invited to join classes in order to "fight back", to "take action" and to "empower" themselves in front of men. At first sight, this training seems to offer an opportunity to perform sex belonging and to challenge gender hierarchy. What it actually does, but not only. Ethnography of different classes of self-defense for women in Cairo, based on actors' narratives, clearly highlights mechanisms of social marginalization and distinction at work in contemporary Egyptian urban society. In class, participants express feelings of vulnerability and anxiety linked to their daily practice of a mixed urban space - both sexually and socially. Those girls define their city together: shaping territories which are threatening, as public transportations and streets, and those which are not, as coffee-shops and malls - their leisure spaces disclose a certain familiarity with Western urban repertoires. They reveal their fear-driven daily trajectories and strategies, contributing to draw urban lines of inclusion and exclusion. Their words also outline the figure of the "enemy": a guy from poor social background, who does not share with them the same social codes. In classes of self-defense, Egyptian girls strengthen their upper middle-class and cosmopolitan belonging by revealing their urban practices and social representations. The experience of vulnerability and anxiety is at the first place of their shared identity.
Anxiety at the top (EN)