Tag Archives: feminism

Book Club, Episode 3!

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Yeah, because I haven’t published Episode 2 yet. It’s decomposing in the pile of half-baked drafts and ideas that I haven’t gotten back to, so I’ll probably just publish these all out of order. WOO!

Anyway, if you’re into gender studies, feminism, Islamism, or anything to do with gender discourses in Morocco, you should TOTALLY read Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco by Zakia Salime. It’s a fairly new book and Zakia Salime’s first, but it’s great. The following is what I have to say about it, and a rather detailed summary of what’s in the book. It’s no substitute for reading it, but it’ll sound pretty impressive because I got into Academic Writing mode. Here we go!

Introduction

Morocco’s triumph in achieving independence in 1956 seemed to herald a new era for women: girls were permitted to attend French schools, women were seen walking around the streets of Moroccan cities, and the secular, liberal feminist movement gained popularity and legitimacy in the public eye. Princess Lalla Aisha’s public removal of her veil during her controversial speech in 1947, the prevalence of what would become the liberal feminist movement even among sequestered women, and the gradual decline of the segregation of the sexes all pointed to a more open society for women. Moroccan women looked on as Tunisia revolutionized their family law in one fell swoop, guaranteeing rights for Tunisian women that would take another fifty years for Moroccan women to achieve.

Since then, however, the movement to liberate Morocco’s women has accrued a formidable set of political, social, and religious complexities that must all be taken into account in any discussion about gender equality in Morocco (and, indeed, Tunisia, though I use Tunisia merely as an example to set the stage, and will not further explore that particular episode in the history of gender equality in North Africa). Women’s issues, let’s just say, informed every aspect of Moroccan society.

In contemporary Morocco, particularly in the recent years following the second major revision to the family law, these issues have become all the more complicated and inflammatory. Controversy still surrounds the reaction of Morocco’s only female minister to the story of Amina Filali, who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist; the minister voiced the opinion that the law allowing that marriage is a just and viable solution to the problem of rape. The fate of disowned single mothers throughout Morocco remains the arena of NGOs willing to stray from societal traditions and laws that would leave these mothers uncared for. Unbiased discussion of gender issues in Morocco is next to impossible, while heated partisan debate on the subject permeates every facet of society, from everyday talks about catcalling to public forums on abortion. It is into this rapidly changing, clamoring throng of opinions and scholarship that Zakia Salime has cast her first book: Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco.

General Information, Reviews, and About the Author

Salime, Zakia. Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis/London: 2011.

This book presents an insightful examination of the relationship between the two major discourses concerning gender equality in Morocco: the liberal feminist and the Islamist movements. Salime uses in-depth ethnographical analyses of three “movement moments,” or benchmark events in these movements’ mutual history, to illustrate what she calls their “interdependent trajectories.” Rather than rely on the default binary interpretation of these two discourses, which hinges on the polarization of the two movements’ ideologies, Salime argues that the two are mutually influential. Ultimately, her book aims to show how the movements’ interaction over the past twenty years has resulted in dramatic changes in both Moroccan Islamism and Moroccan feminism.

Salime’s methodology is central to understanding her thesis. She uses an ethnographical approach, which is a qualitative research method that aims to explore cultural phenomena through the perspective of the cultural group in which it occurs. Thus, Salime avoids the common pitfalls of postcolonial, Western, or Islamist biases in her approach to writing this book. Furthermore, she investigates with great depth and detail three specific movement moments, which makes her book a focused and incisive study, rather than a generalization of women’s issues or a survey of feminism in Morocco.

This book is recently published, so there are few reviews to be found on it. However, I predict that it will make a lasting impact on the way that gender equality in Morocco is studied, because it challenges conventional ways of interpreting and understanding the relationship between the liberal feminist and Islamist movements. The few reviews I found on the University of Minnesota Press website echoed my own sentiments about the book, including positive reviews from Saba Mahmood, author of Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject and Lila Abu-Lughod, author of Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East. Salime’s approach to writing this book is academic and methodical, and maintains an at-once professional and personal engagement with the issues addressed. Between Feminism and Islam is an altogether formidable first publication, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.

Zakia Salime is a Moroccan sociology professor at Rutgers State University in New Jersey, and received her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2005.

Thesis & Content: Movement Moments and the Gendered Lens

Introduction: Struggles over Political Power: Entangled Feminist and Islamist Movements.

In the introduction, Salime identifies the major issues and events that characterize the liberal feminist and Islamist mobilization through a gendered lens. She introduces the traditional, binary approach to talking about these movements, and then moves into a discussion of her own methodology, which reverses the conventional method and studies the enmeshing ideologies that shape these movements.

She introduces also the three movement moments that will form the body of her work. The first is the One Million Signature Campaign that took place in 1992, which marked the first mass mobilization of feminist groups to reform the mudawwana, or family law. The second is the Islamist mass rally of 2000, which marked the decisive entrance of Islamist women into the political arena. The third and final movement moment, a momentous one for both groups, is the terrorist attack on Casablanca in 2003, which she uses to discuss the centrality of gender in Morocco’s changing position in the wake of 9/11 and the War on Terror.

Salime also addresses the problematic terms “feminism” and “Islamism,” and the colonial, post-colonial, and identity politics informing that terminology throughout the history of North Africa and the Middle East. Liberal feminism carries the added stigma of encroaching Westernization, while Islamism carries the stigma of the wholesale oppression of women. Vilifying Islam and its perceived subjugation of women was central to justifying the colonial agenda. In recent years, scholarship has also addressed these connotations of a “monolithic, ahistorical Islam and a normative Western modernity” (Salime, xxiii), recognizing their problematic etymologies and the way those etymologies inform the identities that surround those terms. This is not a major focus of Salime’s work, but an important side-note as we delve into her scholarship.

The rest of the introduction she spends summarizing her chapters, and then begins her study in earnest.

Chapter 1: Gender and the Nation State: Family Law, Scholars, Activists, and Dissidents

In this chapter, Salime outlines the major players in the movements: the monarchy, the ‘ulama, the Islamists, women’s groups, and political parties. She talks about how questions of political legitimacy, democracy, and access to political clout are all part of the gendered space of social discourse. The patriarchal hierarchies that inform the political system of Morocco limited the range of freedoms afforded women both in the public and private spheres, and Salime identifies the political parties and women’s groups that both challenge and propagate these structures.

Chapter 2: Feminization of the Islamist Movements: The One Million Signature Campaign

Chapter two explores the One Million Signature Campaign of 1992, which mobilized women’s groups and liberal feminists across Morocco in favor of the reform of the mudawwena. Salime identifies the global economic shift, the focus on state liberalization in the wake of the Years of Lead, and the rise of Islamist radicals as a political force in Algeria as important forces influencing the One Million Signature Campaign, and talks about the opposite effect of the campaign in setting the stage for the 1995 Beijing Conference. In this way, the campaign marked strides for both the liberal feminist movement and the Islamist movement with regard to women’s issues.

Salime also talks about the “feminization of the Islamist women” in this chapter, examining how Islamist women endorsed a discourse of women’s rights and repositioned themselves within the feminist movement, and began to take decision-making positions in Islamist groups.

Chapter 3: Reversing the Feminist Gains: The Islamist Mass Rally of 2000

The second movement moment that Salime discusses is the Islamist Mass Rally of 2000, in which the Islamists in Casablanca put forth an overwhelming show of force in response to the liberal feminist march in Rabat on that same day.  This chapter challenges the reader especially to reexamine the way the march is conventionally interpreted; rather than a march against women’s rights, Salime points out the other vested interests and motives behind the liberal feminist agenda, and talks about how the march decidedly marked Islamist women’s entry into the political arena. Islamist women had easy access to grassroots activism, were effective organizers and demonstrators, and formed a formidable political force hitherto unseen.

As a result of such a strong showing of Islamist women, Salime argues, one can see an Islamization of the liberal feminists developing in the wake of the march.  The liberal feminist movement was forced to adjust their discourse in order to keep their movement alive, and this included an adoption of both feminist and Islamist policies within feminist groups. This included redefining Sharia to fit feminist ideals, incorporating the ‘ulama in feminist activities in order to legitimize their ideals, increased interaction with the male-dominated political parties, and a greater role of grassroots organizing.  Though the liberal feminist movement remained grounded in the secular UN basis for human rights, this movement moment was important in legitimizing both the liberal feminist and Islamist discourses for the future.

Chapter 4: Feminism and Islamism Redefined: In Light of the 2003 Terror Attack on Casablanca

Chapter 4 identifies the major challenges set before both movements in the wake of the 2003 terror attack on Casablanca, particularly in light of 9/11 and the War on Terror. Though these are not normally events one associates with gender issues, Salime talks about the way these events shaped gendered discourse, particularly as (since the rally of 2000) feminist movements were seen to have lost steam. The Casablanca attack “undermined the legitimacy of political Islam…and provided feminist groups with their missed opportunity to reposition themselves as the agents for the new era of fighting ‘terrorism’ through ‘state feminism’” (Salime, xxix). Thus, feminists were able to associate themselves with democracy and modernity when contrasted with radical, old-fashioned Islamic extremists.  In response to this, the Islamist groups also had to redefine their movement, and attempted to position themselves as the moderate group between religious extremists and liberal feminists.

The position of Morocco in the global arena is important in this chapter as well; the close friendship between the United States and Morocco put Morocco in a precarious position during the War on Terror. On the one had, Morocco was a member of the Arab-Muslim world; on the other, Morocco provided a doorway into that world for the United States. Salime explores what happens to the formulation of Moroccan identity in such an explosive situation through a gendered lens.

Chapter 5: Subversive Veiling: Beyond the Binary of the Secular and the Religious

The final chapter identifies how the traditional binary is now blurred, and uses veiling as her main example. Moroccan women today choose to wear or leave off the veil independent of their political or religious identities; thus, veiling has become a gendered area of Moroccan life in which the secular and the religious overlap. In this chapter, Salime points out that these two movements are indeed intertwined, and yet still divided along ideological lines.

Conclusion

The book is heavily academic and rich in detail, and so if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s a great introduction to many themes that I’ve been studying this semester: the politics of liberation, the interplay of religion, gender, and politics, the significance of the veil, the gendered space in all areas of Moroccan society.  Salime is a Moroccan author with a personal interest in the issues researched as well, and I believe that this lends her writing credibility and authenticity.  She is able to apply a personal familiarity to an apersonal qualitative research method, which makes the book altogether more readable.

On the whole, I would recommend reading this book. I believe it should become a standard text for anyone wishing to study and understand the dynamics of contemporary gender issues in Morocco, and even as time passes, the book will serve as a valuable historical resource, an important methodological study, and an excellent exploration of the varying discourses that inform the debates surrounding gender issues.  I think this is an important book, rich in detail, factual evidence, testimony from many of the major leaders of these movements; the book is well written, and will hopefully have a positive influence on these movements and the scholarship surrounding them in years to come.

IF YOU READ ALL THE WAY TO HERE, YOU ARE A MACHINE.

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Gender Talk, Episode…2?!?

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Okay. okay ok ok ok ok so finally I am back with some substantive BOLG posts for you all. I’m in my bed in Rabat with the covers pulled up to my chin, typing voraciously despite Mr. MacBook’s decision to crash a few minutes ago. I MUST POST ON BLOG, I keep telling myself, as I re-type the bits that didn’t auto-save. Allie is watching a movie and murdering mosquitoes with the accuracy and dexterity of a professional Halo player. I have lots of Georgia and Toubkal stories for you, and so will do my best to catch you up on those before my *EEP* parents and little brother arrive on Wednesday. Yeah, what?! I didn’t expect that either, but cool. Anyway, till then, here’s some more Gender Talk!

Also, speaking of gender issues: this is such a big part of my everyday experience here, but I’m not sure that I’ve written much about it for awhile. I don’t know, I don’t read this blog. I hope I don’t sound too contrived or repetitive, but if I do, forgive me.

Please note: though I’ll censor the language, this post does recognize that sexual harassment and profanity happens, and the narrative may get a bit intense. I’ll rate it PG-13, for mature audiences. YOP YOP!

Your granddaughters, your sisters, your mothers

Something has changed for the better in the way I experience my day-to-day life here. I’m not sure what it is or what caused it, but I seem to have awoken some recent morning afflicted by this strange peace of mind that seeps into everything I do, say, and experience. I’ll probably write you a story about it sometime. Anyway, it is through this contented, well-adjusted, and level-headed sort of lens that I’m going to recount the story of my walk home an evening sometime last week.

After Angela and I parted a little ways from Bab El Had (a square just outside the Medina, also our bus stop), I began the trek home to the kasbah by myself. It was around 8:30pm, so not particularly late; I wasn’t far from home, and I started down my familiar path thinking about the origin of this strange new Peace of Mind that had made my recent days so pleasant. As I crossed the bustling square, though, I heard a call. “Hey! Hey! I want you to f**k me! HEY! F**K ME!”

Normally, I’d have ignored it despite a deep, visceral urge to rip his face off. This time, beneath my impermeable fortress of a poker face, I felt only sadness that they were perpetuating this form of objectification and violence against women. Like water off a duck’s back, the yell rolled off my catcall-proof shell and splooshed, like an off-target water balloon, on the ground.

A little ways further, I saw two more men out of the corner of my eye. “How long have you been having sex??!” one yelled at me. “How’s the masturbating going?!” They both laughed, and yelled a lot more profanity and stuff about sex and masturbating. It wasn’t difficult to betray nothing; in fact, I felt nothing but disappointment. I kept walking, thinking about how people with English that advanced are hard to come by in Morocco, and how I wish they would put it to better use.

As I turned right onto the street that led straight to the entrance of the kasbah, another man yelled, “my sweetie! My honey! My baby! Will you come to bed with me, my sweetie? Do you not wish to speak with me, my baby? Hey! HEY! SWEETIE!”

(The policy of non-reaction might seem counter-intuitive to some readers, so allow me to elaborate. Why not flip ’em the bird? Yell a few curses back at them? Remind them of their granddaughters, their sisters, their mothers?  Because a reaction, any reaction, is exactly what these men want, and will only make them yell louder, follow farther, walk closer. Why not throw a punch if they touch you, slap them if they slap you? Why not threaten with the police, as we were told we could? Because oftentimes, the police are among the most vulgar catcallers and wolf-whistlers. I cannot trust that law enforcement has my best interests or safety at heart when it comes to sexual harassment, which also means that any physical or violent reaction on my part is out of the question.)

Some guy grabbed my ass in the medina a week or two ago, and it was the filthiest feeling I’ve ever had. I felt violated, humiliated, angry, and dirty. And do you know what the worst part is? Knowing that I shouldn’t feel embarrassed, but I DO. I shouldn’t feel dirty, but I DO. I shouldn’t feel as though I’ve done something wrong, because I haven’t, BUT I DO.
It’s a difficult feeling to describe, but I can attest that it’s one of the worst. It’s a quick and nasty way of stripping the dignity and confidence from a beautiful and self-assured woman. Punch him right in the throat, Heather said in an e-mail. It made me laugh. F**k that guy.

The powerlessness of my position in those situations used to infuriate me. I hate it, I’d rant to anyone who would listen, I hate it I hate it I HATE it! I hated feeling as though I’d been stripped of my agency and reduced to a humiliated and sexualized object, forced to pretend I couldn’t hear or see, wearing my face like the bolted doors of a castle under siege.

Rise Above It

Yes, I still experience these things on a daily basis, and I still give myself pep talks before I leave the house, walk in the street, or step onto public transportation.  Yes, the situation still sucks. Yet none of this makes me unhappy, nor does it detract from the wonder and beauty I still find in Morocco, its culture, and its vivacity. Would I discourage others against coming here to study or work because of this? Nope. Come anyway! Learn! Experience! Live! This is all part of the big, messy process.

We sacrifice no dignity by maintaining our grace through catcalls and unwanted grabbing. We empower ourselves through our ability to let it go, to move on, or, as my grandma always used to say: riiiiise above it.  We validate one another through sharing our feelings of frustration and humiliation, and bond through our determination to laugh through it, in spite of it. Go us!

It’s a strange feeling, to have come to terms with this particular experience of Morocco; I thought I’d never get used to it. 9 weeks here and I am a Roman fortress of indifference, and you know what? I’m going to laugh about it, too.

Tonight, Allie and I grew quickly weary of the usual leers and comments, and discovered the perfect defense. They’re a*******, I said conversationally to Allie, as we speed-walked past a pack of sneering twenty-somethings. We giggled.
S*********s, I called them. We giggled a little more.
F*******s, Allie called them. We started to laugh in earnest.

Recognizing that we had hit on something both hilarious and effective, we kept going.
C** D*******S! C*** S*****S!
F*******S! A*****S! C*******S!
C****** W****S! M*******S!
I chuckle imagining what any English speaker would’ve thought of us just then. There we were, walking merrily through the medina, while the vulgarest profanities English has to offer spilled from our mouths between bursts of raucous giggles. So there, I wanted to yell, as our laughs warded off the catcalls like a patronus repels dementors. So there. We can laugh too!

That’s what we need: a patronus that wards off ignorance. Expecto patronum! we could yell, and watch the ignorance flee. If only, if only, the woodpecker sighs. I’d write a better conclusion–neatly wrap all of this in some eloquent finish lines, but I’m tired. I wonder if this got less coherent the tired-er I got. I don’t know, I don’t read this blog. WOO!

Wow, that was long. Thanks for reading. Pax, y’all.

Gender Talk, Part I

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Gender is a pretty touchy issue in Morocco, even today, which is why I’m starting a series entitled Gender Talk. Welcome to Gender Talk! Today, we’re going to talk about the Moudawana, and learn a little bit about sexual harassment. Stay tuned!

Let’s hop in, then. CANNONBAAALLLLLL!!!!!

Until 2004, women did not enjoy the same marital rights or citizenship privileges as men. Since the enactment (2000) and enforcement (so, really 2004) of the Moroccan Family Code, or Moudawana, the lot of Moroccan women has improved a great deal. However, they don’t enjoy those legal privileges free of the traditional and societal stigmas still surrounding women and women’s issues in Morocco, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

From Independence in 1956 until the enforcement of the moudawana, women were legally considered minors in Morocco, always subordinate to a father, brother, or husband. The moudawana made significant changes to women’s rights, though it’s difficult to bridge the many culturally ingrained views about femininity with these new laws.

Here are a few significant changes that have been effected during the past eight years:

  • legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women; originally, it was 18 for men and 15 for women. This was met with dismay and anger by many Moroccans living in the country, where covert arranged marriages still occur with younger women.
  • a woman may now initiate a marriage of her own free will, without the consent of a male relation; many women still choose to have a male relative sign the marriage papers, though. A Moroccan woman may not marry a non-muslim man, though a man can marry a non-muslim woman.
  • Polygamy is legal but rarely practiced; under the moudawana, the husband must obtain his first wife’s permission before entering into a second (or, very rarely, up to 4) marriage. Furthermore, the husband is required to specify how many wives he plans on having on his first marriage license, though he’s not required to fulfill it.
  • both the man and the woman can initiate divorce, for equal reasons.
  • citizenship is passed both paternally and maternally (originally it was only passed paternally, which made paternity tests a nightmare for an unmarried, divorced, or widowed woman. 12 witnesses are no longer required to prove the paternity of a child, either.)
  • overall, Morocco is a pretty good country for women’s rights, out of North Africa and the Middle East. Women enjoy equal status as men, and most of their rights are protected by law.

If you’re interested in reading the full, unofficial English translation of the Moudawana, you can find it here: Moudawana – English. More installments of Moroccan Gender Issues to follow in future posts. And now, for something nearly completely different!

The main issue I face here: sexual harassment.

Despite a culture that preaches conservatism when it comes to relations between men and women, there is a prevalent tendency to catcall both Moroccan and foreign women alike. On my first day in Morocco, a man called out to me, “fifty camels for you!” It was pretty hilarious, but I can also attest that I have been catcalled every day since coming here. “Oh, easily,” says Alexandra, when I said that aloud just now. At the very least, catcalled every day. As a matter of course, catcalled every day. We were briefed by a representative from the American Embassy upon our arrival, and that was a large part of the talk.

Sometimes it’s harmless whoops, sometimes it makes me laugh, and sometimes it makes me want to flip them off, march over to them and kick their faces in. Sometimes they follow me, saying I’m beautiful in French, asking for my number in broken English. Sometimes it’s impossible to ignore. It doesn’t always bother me, but sometimes I wish I could walk down a street without parrying a come-on, without fearing eye contact. I wish I could figure out their intentions (do they just want to hang out? my pants? marriage? WHAT DO YOU WANT?!), or at least discern a sort of middle ground between blatantly ignoring it (that feels rude) and reacting (that only encourages it).

Part of it, I think, is a function of where we live: our commute is a walk from school to the tram or bus, and then a much longer walk through the bustling medina, through the kasbah, and finally home. There aren’t too many tourists around this time of year, or maybe they don’t hang out in the souk (they hang out in the baazar, which is also cool); either way, we stand out as foreigners in the liveliest part of town, and foreigners are (I guess) attractive. Lighter-skinned, I guess. New looking. Different.

Moroccan women ignore it, sometimes see it as an ego boost. I’ve been doing my best to emulate them, and I’m getting great at looking everywhere but into someone’s eyes.

Thus far, though, I’ve only been followed and catcalled. Sometimes the catcalling can get nasty and the following can get creepy, but nothing really awful has happened; no kids throwing rocks (apparently that happens), no grabbing or slapping or attempted kidnapping or anything. I’ve reached the two-week mark, and only been proposed to once!

However, I’m used to the safety of anonymity often granted by life in the city in the U.S., and that just doesn’t carry over here. I’m getting used to the staring, I’m no longer jumpy at car horns, to the whiffs of the sewers and piles (and piles and piles and piles and piles) of garbage (oh but it’s not all bad smells, just wait till I tell you about street food), I’m slowly learning which buses to take, where the tram goes, how to be a woman in Morocco. Schwiya, schwiya.

Coming up next…

Secret boyfriends in Spain?

Virginity: turning a blind eye?

Sex: double standards?

Dating: taboo?

To be continued.

C’est baasl

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Or, Katie uses Rage Faces to talk about Uncomfortable Subjects

BAASL. That means YUCKY. It’s a very important word.

Not everything in Morocco is wonderful. For example, they drink this stuff that I thought was milk. Took a gulp…

The taste most closely resembles liquified sour cream, but really it’s sorta just spoiled milk. I suppose I could develop a taste for it, but I’m not sure I want to try.

Today, one of our host sisters played a very unsettling game of make-believe: Alexandra and I were her wives, and she our husband. I mean, that’s fine, except for the frequent pretend wife-beating and I’m-angry-with-you-because-you-won’t-obey-me sort of things. UUUUUHHHHHHHHHH

I masked my discomfort, because a harmless child’s game is just that, and she plays games modeled from what she knows—but internally, my discomfort quickly evolved into anger. Gender issues in this country are delicate, and have been in flux for decades, but it infuriated the little-incredible-hulk-feminist inside me that explodes every so often. I WILL NOT PLAY THIS GAME AND I WISH—I WISH—

The men tend to order around the women, and will raise a hand-just in play-against them (it’s still uncomfortable). ijust-don’t- I need to get used to it? I don’t really know how to handle that.

Other yucky things: if you make eye contact with a guy, it means you want to sleep with him. I guess. That’s pretty dumb. I was followed by multiple men multiple times today, and there’s not much I can do about it except tell them to leave me alone. The catcalling I can deal with (Moroccan women often see it as a confidence boost, oh I look good today), but I think foreign women get the short straw. I suppose I’ll have to get used to it, though it’s a bit weird that so many men seemed to have nothing better to do today than follow us around.

Me: laissez-moi tranquille, s’il vous plaît. (and other such things, eye rolling, etc)

Group of 2 or more men: ton numéro téléphone? Ooh la la! (Follows around for 30 more minutes)

Me:

Less important things don’t make sense here, too: walking in sandals outside makes you sick. Not having slippers/sandals on inside on the tile makes you sick. Having uncovered wet hair outside makes you sick. Not eating enough makes you sick AND ugly. All of that is charming, actually, but it can get overwhelming trying to remember when to take off and put on shoes, having to say schvet! schvet! shokran! Schvet! —I’m done eating! I’m done! No, really, thank you, I’m done!—and nobody hugs here. I miss hugs.

Random fact, nobody really drinks water here, so we all got super dehydrated during the first week. What?

Public transit: PUSHING. SO MUCH PUSHING. AAAAAH!

Well, I don’t want this to be a completely downer post or anything. I’m happy, and this is all part of the Experience, the Journey, the Growth, right? There’s all sorts of other uncomfortable things, too, so now imma write about a funny one, in this blog post.

Just Like a Woman

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Womanhood in Morocco: holy crap, where to begin? How about with something you won’t expect: the Hammam. I feel as though womanhood, feminism, etc, will be a theme throughout my stay here, so let’s start with something empowering and awesome, yes? Yes. l’Hammam.

Today, one of our host moms took Alexandra and I to the traditional public baths, and I learned Many Things during those two hot, steamy hours. Let’s start with how it works…

1. Prepare for departure: get towel, flip flops other clothes, all things you could possibly ever use in the shower. put in big plastic bucket with other stuff.

2. Stop at hanout, buy super scritchy glove thingies to be used at hammam, also buy goopy stuff that smells like cloves (yum) and some brown powder, wonder wtf they’ll be used for

3. Get to place, pay to get in, get in Room #1, immediately get naked in front of many other Moroccan women except for underwear (no bra). At this point, I’m half terrified, half excited. CULTURAL THINGS ARE HAPPENING TO ME WHAAAT IS THIS

4. Give bags with towel and clothes to lady. Go through magical door to rooms 2 and 3, the warmest and steamiest rooms I have ever been in, full of chatting, splashing, wet, soapy women and children. what is this strange and wonderful place feel moisture on skin, probably a combination of sweat and condensation.

5. Find spot, always ritually rinse everything, put down stool, sit, get wet, cover self with henna (the brown powder mixed with water. COOL. No, it’s not the same as tattoo stuff, there’s a lot of different kinds of henna apparently!) and sit for a long time. The henna has something in it that makes your skin really hot, and combined with the hot and steamy room, it puts American saunas to shame.  Rinse off henna, cover self with traditional soap (the goopy brown stuff), are thoroughly scrubbed down by a woman who works at the hammam thoroughly scrubbing down women. SCRUBBED. There is no dead skin anywhere on my body. Scrubbed pink. Scrubbed clean. Scrubbed EVERYWHERE.

6. There are buckets of water surrounding you, both hot and cooler water, with little bowls you use to dip into the buckets and pour over yourself. Shampoo, shave, do whatever you need to do. There is more scrubbing and rinsing and general dumping-buckets-of-water-over-self. All of this is done under the eye of two hammam ladies, who come over and scrub the hard-to-reach places, splash cool water on you, bring you more water, chuckle at how you don’t speak a word of Darija except for shokran (thank you), which you say far too often in a far too excited voice.

7. Eventually, you stop thinking about the fact that you are naked, that strangers have been scrubbing/staring at your body, blah blah, because the whole concept of body, body image, all of that is completely different here. It’s not a big deal here to be naked in the hammam, nobody is shy, nobody is sexualizing it like we do in the US, nobody is perfect or photoshopped. It’s really amazing. Also, it’s fun, goofy, ridiculous, and so refreshing to chat while getting clean, giggle just because you’re alive and naked and wet and soapy and happy and getting a bucket of water dumped over your head! SOOOO GREAT!

8. Eventually finish up (underwear’s long gone by now), hammam lady brings you your towel (I think hammam ladies are magical), you dry off and make your way back to the wonderfully cool Room #1, where you sit for awhile, gradually drying off and getting dressed. Tip magical hammam ladies warmly.

9. Leave, you must have your head covered somehow because Moroccans believe you’ll get sick if you EVER walk outside with your head wet. Stop at other hanout on way home to drink some flavored milk because you’re dehydrated as shit (worth it).

10. FEEL LIKE A GODDESS. Is that blasphemy here? WHATEVER. I FEEL AMAZING, both physically and, uh, emotionally? Body-image-ally? Let’s talk. Let me tell you about Moroccan body image.

Moroccan girls do not struggle with the same body-image issues that American girls struggle with. You all know what I’m talking about: rampant eating disorders, crippling insecurity about looks, even the general discontent with one’s own body that is considered normal in the US. Nope, not here.

Ça vient de changer à cause du média, et des choses, said Boushra, mais non, les femmes Marocaine n’ont pas les mêmes problémes.

She explained how body image just isn’t that big of a deal here, and after the hammam, I can see why. It’s because it’s not that big of a deal, and I am beginning to understand the self-assuredness I see in Moroccan women, the culturally ingrained confidence in the validity of their being. I found myself carrying myself differently as we marched home from the Medina hammam, like a real woman: elegant, good-humored, and most of all, unapologetic.

This self-image thing also plays into the religious undertones that weave in and out of Moroccan society: Allah made you this way, so this is the way you are supposed to be. Boom. There goes that.

Home, too…family is so centralized here, the community ties closer and older, and the way one defines status and self-worth is so different from what it is in the US. I’ll go into more of that later, this post is already looooooooong.

Of course, I’m not saying that no Moroccan woman struggles with that sort of thing, nor am I trying to encapsulate all of Moroccan womanhood in one wee blog post. I’d make more excuses but I’m tired, and I was supposed to be all unapologetic and womanly and empowered anyway. I will leave you with this though: as far as I can tell, the Moroccan way formulating an identity is fundamentally different from the way we do it in the US, and I’ll tell you alllll about it sometime!

So the song referenced in the title? Referring to me, I guess, especially compared to all these women around me. I already loved Bob Dylan, and now his poetry sort of throws the American experience into a whole new light, and I appreciate an American poet so much more now that I’m away.

Also, I smell awesome. And I’m clean. And I spent like 3 hours naked today. Morocco RULES.

Feminism

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I know I promised you all a travel blog, and have thus far bombarded you with some weird poems, stories, and philosophic rambling, and I promise I am going to Morocco and will soon be updating this blog with vivid, enjoyably readable accounts of my various adventures there.

With my departure looming in less than a week and my bedroom growing steadily messier as I alternately clean it out and pretend to pack by setting out the clothes I plan to bring, I’ve been occupying this endless free time with books and books and books. This brings me to the title of this post, a subject I hope to illuminate further once I’m immersed in the culture I’ve read so much about.

I’ve always been fascinated by women’s issues, and could spend entire minutes telling you all about diversity and privilege issues regarding womanhood in contemporary Western society. However, I wouldn’t have been able to shed any meaningful light on issues facing women in Muslim societies (except for a vague inkling that they might prefer to keep their heads bare) until I began to read Fatima Mernissi.

Whether you are interested in feminism or not, I highly recommend her vibrant, humorous, and compelling Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood, a collection of stories about her childhood in (you guessed it) a domestic harem in Fez. She combines brilliant storytelling with insightful commentary on the role of women’s rights in the ever-evolving conflict between tradition and social change.

If I sound a bit like a Washington Post book review, it’s because I’m planning on learning a bit more before I write the blog post that demonstrates my admirably critical engagement with this fascinating subject. This evening, I began her weightier work Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society, and hope to give you a window into the opinions and stories of the Moroccan women I hope to meet in a little less than a week.

So, here you are, a mildly educated sort of blog post to balance out the silliness of these previous posts. Hit up your local library. Read the book. Woo! And let’s go to Morocco!