We live in a hostile space. It’s a space particularly hostile to creativity, difference, dissent and freedom.
I don’t need to tell you that people are unhappy, censored, repressed or oppressed – you know all this. The sad fact is, very rarely do we come across genuinely good news and worthwhile projects. Very rarely do we come across initiatives that make you sit up and take notice – they’re often shut-down before they can shake you, or anyone else, up.
The BuSSy Project, however, is one such initiative. Described by many as ‘Egypt’s answer to the Vagina Monologues, the Cairo-based art movement seeks to empower women from all walks of life by providing them a space to share stories often considered ‘too taboo’ to privately discuss in Egyptian society, let alone share publicly.
Having been brought to life by two plucky AUC students back in 2005, the BuSSy Project has taken its radical concept across Egypt. But performances have been sporadic at best and the group was recently forced out of a venue that they had initially been invited to perform at, because the performance contained elements deemed too ‘immoral’ for public debate – sexual education and masturbation. This has seemingly been the straw that broke the camel’s back and, in the same spirit that gave the initiative life, the BuSSy Project has taken to crowdfunding in order to secure a space of its own – a space free of the oppression that has continued to suffocate what is one of the most daring projects in Egypt.
Actors perform ’500s’ at the Greek Campus in April of this year. (BuSSy Website)
The group’s troubles have only gone on to prove their importance. There is a disturbing stigma surrounding the epidemics of rape, sexual and domestic violence & abuse, female genital mutilation, harassment, honour killings, forced marriages and many more issues. Abusers and rapists often get off scot-free, with the lion’s share of shame & blame leveled at women for having the audacity to be survivors of sexual abuse. For women, the shame, dishonor and social ostracism associated with having been sexually violated – and then being indecent enough to talk about it – far outweighs any consequences faced by the perpetrator.
The BuSSy Project allows women to share their narratives anonymously or using their own names, although, unsurprisingly, most women will choose the former. They hold workshops in cities all over Egypt and invite women to participate by telling their stories. The project then integrates the stories to create a performance, and the participating women can go on stage and perform their stories, although most do not.
An extract from a BuSSy Project performance at Festival Sens Interdits in Lyon, France in 2013.
In the more developed world, in cultures that – on the whole – understand that art is controversial and eschew censorship, a similar project would court endless condemnations and criticisms from political and religious conservatives. Picture the state of affairs here.
I’m not talking about us, the 1%; I’m talking about real Egypt – the Egypt we so readily dissociate from. As part of the ‘educated’ 1%, I have still been informed that female masturbation is a sure-fire way to land myself in hell. I have been part of discussions with ‘intellectuals’ that blame women for being raped, and society has embedded within me the notion that my ‘worth’ as a human being, as a woman, is based on how intact my hymen is. Deeming yourself an unmarried,‘sexually liberated’ woman is the Middle Eastern equivalent of announcing that you like to touch children in the West.
Now imagine the rest of the country – where some people beat their wives, not because they want to, but because they believe it to be religious duty, where marital rape is legally impossible because ‘how can you steal something you already own?’ It’s broken, and the BuSSy Project bears the brunt of internalised social conservatism.
Imagine the community backlash to performances like this. Imagine the heckling and the abuse that some women are subject to for their participation in these projects. The BuSSy Project is crippled by the exact same social stigmas that they are trying to tackle. Imagine the government censorship.
The continued oppression of the BuSSy Project is another case of, ‘This is why we can’t have nice things’, but it doesn’t have to be. We can help by giving censorship the finger and contributing to their crowd-funding campaign.
Find out more about the BuSSy Project here.
By Noor Salama