Lara Logan, a CBS correspondent who bravely reported on the uprising in Cairo over the past few weeks, is now at home recovering from “sustained sexual assault and a beating” she suffered in Tahrir Square on February 11, as the frenzied mob around her was “celebrating” former-president Mubarak’s stepping down. Separated from her crew by the jubilant crowd, she found herself surrounded by a cadre of people who apparently aren’t so much into celebration as rape, and was at their (lack of) mercy until a group of women and soldiers saved her and returned her to her crew.
Since CBS reported briefly on the incident, the news world has been on fire with name-calling, victim-blaming, and general excitement. What a story, huh? A beautiful, fiery-spirited female reporter in a Muslim country getting brutally attacked by a celebratory mob! Gee willickers, it’s what every anti-Muslim fear-monger could possibly want, and a chance to place blame squarely on the shoulders of an incredibly courageous and independent woman: a dream story to scare the Western world even more about the consequences of being blond, pretty, outspoken, female, and anywhere near a bunch of men. Muslim men, at that.
Of course, not everyone is ululating over this; most news outlets and bloggers and journalists have been respectful, and Nir Rosen, journalist and teacher at NYU, actually resigned his position in shame after making some victim-blaming statements about Logan’s looks after being shamed for several abysmally disgusting tweets on the subject, in which he made light of her assault by comparing it to Anderson Cooper’s almost-violent experience. So it’s not that the whole world is out to get Lara Logan, exactly.
But the way in which this story is being handled so far points to a serious failing on the part of our general sensibility. As much as one wants to blame the media for focusing on the most incendiary bits of information (Rape! Mob brutality! Beautiful blonde!), and one certainly can and should blame irresponsible journalists for doing so, it’s important to keep in mind that: A) they’re trying to sell papers and get reads online–headlines including words like the above attract readers, plain and simple, and B) they are writing about what they think we want to read. And are they wrong for thinking we want to read about sexual assault? Mad-eyed Muslims in a frenzy of excitement savaging an American woman? No, they’re probably not wrong. And that’s the sad part.
Because here are the other parts of the story they could be highlighting: in Egypt, a country in which the rights of women have been steadily broken down and spirited away for the past several decades, a group of women came to Lara’s aid to save her from the men assaulting her. Rallying the efforts of 20 or so Egyptian soldiers to back them up with weapons and force, these women swooped in to save Lara Logan from the most terrifying and horrible experience of her life. These women saw what was going on and probably had to risk their safety and the approval of the people around them to help her, but they did it anyway. If that’s not a beautiful story (borne of violence, yes, but beautiful nonetheless for the power of human conviction it shows) of courage and female empowerment, I don’t know what is.
But is anyone focusing on that? I haven’t seen a single story highlighting this aspect of the tale. Of course, the details are spotty. CBS has declined any further comment and Lara Logan is, as she should be, recovering in silence from her ordeal. So there’s not a lot of information on who these women were or exactly how they went about saving her. But there are still plenty of reporters in Cairo–couldn’t we find out more about these women? Tell more about the story of Egyptian women caught up in the frenzy of protests, civil unrest, and triumph? Hear more about what it means to be a woman in Egypt right now, with the possibilities of a more free, more equal life opening up rather than closing down for the first time in over a quarter century?
And where are the indictments of sexual violence in what was supposed to be a celebration? Sure, we don’t know exactly what happened or who these men were, and sure, they’re from an entirely different culture from our own, but rather than commenting on how “hot” Lara Logan is and how “she put herself in a dangerous situation,” maybe the comments should be on how, no matter what the situation or where in the world it’s happening, this kind of behavior is never ok. What happened to these men? Were they arrested by the police who saved her? If not, why? Are the police doing anything to try to find and punish them? If Egypt is to find a new order based on freedom and justice, then these men who used the cover of a jubilant crowd celebrating its freedom to brutally attack a woman who was there to report on their victory should be the first to be rounded up and put through the justice system for their violent crime.
And, lastly, where is the concern and appreciation for Lara Logan herself? Where is the outpouring of sympathy? This woman, some have said, did indeed put herself in a dangerous situation on purpose. There she was, a beautiful young blonde in the midst of an all-out mob frenzy… because she was a fearless, intelligent, and daring journalist. Lara Logan saw herself as an essential part of the world’s understanding of what was happening in Cairo, and I am personally so fucking proud that we’re finally at a place in our human history where a woman can be the front-line reporter on dangerous and semi-violent situations like this. Women have been held back from the front lines of everything from education to civil rights to war to reporting, and it is not and indictment of her character that she was willing to put herself in danger to report back to the rest of us; it is an indictment of the world we live in that she could stand proudly at the forefront of American journalism abroad and end up suffering for it at the hands of brutal criminals who saw her as nothing more than a “hot blonde.” It is an indictment of all the rest of us for clicking our tongues and saying “She should have known better,” as if what happened to her was in any way a necessary consequence of her doing her job–her difficult, probably sometimes terrifying job, which, even ten years ago or less, would have been done by a man. Just like when a young woman goes out with her friends in a short skirt and walks home alone, only to be assaulted by a man who thinks he has a right to her body because he can see her thighs, Lara Logan is being treated as if her courage and independence are bad qualities only because she is a woman, and it is an indictment of all of us that we are not holding silent vigils for her recovery and the swift bringing of justice onto the heads of those who hurt her.
Personally, I hope that Lara Logan takes as much time as she needs to recover, and immediately goes back out to report on important stories around the world and never feels the need to tell anyone, if she doesn’t want to, the details of her story (unless that “anyone,” of course, is a doctor or a prosecutor aiming to put those men behind bars). I hope she goes on to have a full, exciting, successful career as a journalist, not as “the journalist who got raped in Cairo.” And I hope, against all understanding of the world we live in, that she is respected as the brave and professional woman she is.