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.