'I'm sick of being ashamed." Three days ago, an anti-harassment activist said those words to me in a flat above Cairo's Tahrir square, as she pulled on her makeshift uniform ready to protect women on the protest lines from being raped in the street. Only days before, I'd heard exactly the same words from pro-choice organisers in Dublin, where I travelled to report on the feminist fight to legalise abortion in Ireland. I had thought that I was covering two separate stories – so why were two women from different countries and backgrounds repeating the same mantra against fear, and against shame?
The mood of hope that so recently swept Europe, America, the Middle East and cyberspace is collapsing into confusion and social tension, and social tension is being channelled, in part, into suspicion of minorities, immigrants, people of colour, and women and girls. Sexism often functions as a pressure-release valve in times of social unrest – and when it does, it takes different forms, depending on local values. Right now, in Egypt, it's groping, heckling and mob attacks; in Ireland, it's rape apologism and a backlash against abortion and sexual equality; on the internet, it's vicious slut-shaming and "revenge porn". But this time, women are refusing to take it any more.
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