Tag Archives: gender

Gender Talk, Episode…2?!?


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


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.