AUC Discusses the Portrayal of Gender in Media and Film in The Second Session of AUC SpeakUp Dialog Series

The American University in Cairo (AUC) held yesterday a debate and live online poll on whether media and film portrayals of gender are harming women, as part of the AUC SpeakUp Dialog series. Titled "Do Portrayals of Gender in Media and Film Reflect Reality or Shape it?", the debate's participants were Tamer Habib, scriptwriter; Ahmed Dash, actor, and integrated marketing communication junior student at AUC; Amel Fahmy (MA '10), managing director of Tadwein gender research center; and Mervat Abou Oaf ('88, '02), professor of practice of journalism and mass communication. TV presenter and actor Mourad Makram moderated the debate, and Youssef Hashem, economics junior and president of AUC's Debate Society, moderated the student debate.

Participants focused on the portrayal of gender and harassment in films. Amel Fahmy stressed the importance of cinema as a cultural product that infiltrates society, especially that around 25 % of the population is illiterate. Fahmy shared statistics on harassment and violence against women in society, "More than 90% of women are subjected to harassment, and 1 in 3 women are subjected to violence perpetrated by a spouse." Fahmy also shared statistics from the research done by Tadwein center on the portrayal of women in Ramadan TV series in 2018/2019. "We found that 24% of the series portrayed violence against women, 10% discussed harassment, and 3% featured institutional violence." She said that films also reflect violence against women; however, "the problem is the context in which violence against women is presented in movies or TV series. There isn't a movie or a TV series that presents the legal ramifications for harassment despite the institutional discourse and the existing laws punishing harassment."

Fahmy added: "We're not asking film makers not to reflect reality but to set a framework that rejects violence, "there is tolerance for harassment in the streets, and films portray harassers as cool men. Films indeed reflect the reality of violence against women, but that leads to more acceptance of violence because the behavior is not denounced."

Tamer Habib discussed films' role in shaping children’s minds, especially regarding the portrayal of violence and harassment against women. Habib explained that, "Throughout the history of films in Egypt, harassment has been portrayed in indirect and humorous ways, which is toxic and more dangerous." He stressed the need to address harassment and combat it through schools, universities, and institutions, "though we can't fix the problem right away, but we need to start and continue to fight sexual harassment." 

On the other hand, Mervat Abou Oaf believes that it is unfair to group the media and the films when discussing harassment, especially since films have a more vital role as they reach all households. "Generally, the recipient's culture is key, so it is important to question how we tackle harassment and violence against women. We need to raise awareness and show in films that harassment is shameful and punishable by law."

Abou Oaf believes that "we live in a masculine society, despite all women's achievements, the current political will and the laws that punish harassers. Changing culture takes time, and unfortunately, harassment is normalized, and films reflect that."

Ahmed Dash argued that speaking up against harassment isn't enough, "We need to revisit our past, delve into our education and culture. Girls and women are sometimes even harassed by children – when did that become acceptable, and how do children view harassment?” Dash believes that films reflect and also lead to harassment; however, films reflect reality because sexual harassment in Egyptian streets is prevalent. This is a deeply rooted issue in culture, and social media campaigns aren't enough, so schools and parents need to come together to combat harassment and raise youth awareness."

The debate concluded with the results of a live online poll on whether media and film portrayals of gender harm women, revealing that around 60% percent believe media and film portrayals of gender are harming women. In comparison, 40% think it reflects reality.

AUC recently launched the "AUC SpeakUp Dialog Series" to raise awareness about sexual harassment as an important social issue and support national and global efforts related to college campuses. As a leading university in Egypt and as part of its SpeakUp initiative, AUC is partnering with other institutions and prominent influencers to create a dialog series designed to raise awareness and advance this critical conversation.

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Founded in 1919, The American University in Cairo (AUC) is a leading English-language, American-accredited institution of higher education and center of the intellectual, social, and cultural life of the Arab world. It is a vital bridge between East and West, linking Egypt and the region to the world through scholarly research, partnerships with academic and research institutions and study abroad programs. 

The University offers 40 undergraduate, 52 master’s and two PhD programs rooted in a liberal arts education that encourages students to think critically and find creative solutions to conflicts and challenges facing both the region and the world. 

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