A letter to Lara

2011-02-19 11:22

I am so angry I have no words.

But I am a writer and words are my weapons, and I will sharpen them and hone them until they can pierce and puncture.

This week I found out that a woman I know was beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob of angry men.

That woman is a journalist called Lara Logan.

She comes from Durban, and is now the chief foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News.

She was attacked in Egypt last Friday, separated from her camera crew in Cairo and beaten and assaulted until she was rescued by a group of women and soldiers.

There are no further details. I don’t think I want to know any further details.

Lara is the mother of two small children.

You should know this because, when she was ­attacked last week, it was not because she was a journalist or even because she was a foreigner.

She was attacked because she was a woman.She was also, by all reports, not the only woman assaulted on or near Tahrir Square that day; but this is my message to Lara, to Lara alone. Lara would have been alone when this happened.

Lara Logan, I salute you.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a war reporter like Christiane Amanpour.

I wanted to be brave enough to stand on the rooftop of a building, while missiles were being fired, while wars were being fought. I wanted to be fearless.

In my first few years as a journalist, I learnt that fear was the easy part to conquer: being in a hostile or volatile environment gives you an adrenaline rush that’s hard to explain to someone who’s never been in a similar situation. You exist in the moment; you narrate your own life story; you are the story, in your head.

What’s harder is what comes next, the aftermath.

The memories of the events you witness – because that is your job, to bear witness – the humanity, the inhumanity.

The weight of expectation that comes when someone vulnerable shares their story with you and they dream that the story you write will change their world.

I can deal with the fear, but not the disappointment.

Perhaps that is why so few women choose to become, or at least continue as, hard news or conflict correspondents.

We are not soft in the field.

We are ruthless, strong, assertive – no different to our male colleagues, although perhaps less indifferent.

At home we are, usually, not so unbreakable. We are daughters and sisters; some of us are wives, or mothers.

These are very different, disparate worlds to reconcile.

Over the years, Lara has been criticised by the media – targeted by her colleagues, to be blunt – for exploiting her “considerable physical charms”.

 Lara is blonde, she is very attractive. She’s also a fine journalist.

Lara is a veteran war correspondent who has worked on the frontlines for well over a decade; she’s been in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She was captured and detained in Cairo the week before her assault.

Lara returned to the US with her crew, then travelled back to Egypt to continue covering the story. Because that’s her job.

 And because she’s good at it.

Lara Logan, I salute you.

In my life, I have been called many things.

I have been called a f******g Jew, which provokes an anger that is white and cold, and makes me want to stand up and be counted. I have also been called a f******g bitch.

I have had strange men grope my breasts as I walked through the crowds at a music concert.

I have had men shout comments from their cars as they drove past, about my breasts, my arse…

These comments make me want to be smaller, to disappear, to shrivel up like a dead flower, to be not me, not there.

There is a Jewish saying, “bli ayin hora”.

It means “without the evil eye”. You say it to ward off bad fortune.

My daughter is beautiful, bli ayin hora. My business is doing well, bli ayin hora.

In South Africa, when we hear about a crime that has happened to someone else, we say many things, like: “At least it wasn’t worse…”

And, secretly, “At least it wasn’t me.”

When a woman hears of another woman who has been sexually assaulted, she thinks: “At least it wasn’t me. Yet.” I have not been sexually assaulted.

Bli ayin hora.

In the aftermath of Lara’s attack, in addition to an outpouring of support for Lara herself – from journalists, from citizens – there have also been those who, predictably (this is so sad), have commented that she provoked or even deserved the attack.

Because she was too beautiful – “I would totally rape her,” read one stunningly f**k-witted earlier post on mofopolitics.com – or because she was a “warmonger”; or because she was trying to “outdo” CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who had been harmed by a mob in Cairo the previous week.

I don’t know if any of us can fully understand what a brave decision it was, for Lara to allow news of her sexual assault to be made public – in an environment where backs are targets for daggers and all women ask for it and victims’ rights must accommodate those of the perpetrators.

I cannot fight for Lara, I cannot help her heal, I cannot offer words of wisdom that will be better or wiser than those that her excellent family will proffer.

But I can stand up against those who continue to attack Lara, those bilious, soft people who type from the safety of their living rooms.

I can stand up and say that the fight for freedom in Egypt is only half won if women continue to be treated like this.

I can stand up and say that the systemic sexual assault of women around the world is an abomination.

And I can say: Lara Logan, I salute you.

» Brodie is a Johannesburg-based ­journalist, and the author of The Joburg Book and Inside Joburg.

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