When I first started writing this blog, it was because I thought it would be a good way of combining, interest, passion, work experience (you never know), and activism. However, all this time that I’ve been writing, especially on the feminist side of things, everything has just come out from my head, things I thought or ideas based on how I saw the world around me, with what little experience I’ve had. Even though I felt strongly about the topics I wrote on, the process of writing each entry was more of a mental pursuit than anything else (as opposed to an emotional or a personal pursuit). Like I said in one of my earliest entries, while I believe it’s important to bring attention to capoeira from a feminist perspective, I myself have never personally experienced sexism in capoeira; I’ve yet to truly enter the workforce to face the glass ceiling; and I’ve had to deal with little else in my everyday life.
Then, I went to Morocco.
It wasn’t horrible. The sights were striking, the scenery was different, the food was cheap and amazing, and it was all very interesting and something to experience. However, I don’t know if all of that makes up for the deep, ugly gash that is the flaw in Moroccan (male) culture.
[Note: I've gone over some of this already with my friend who came here with me, and she did bring up the point of cultural relativity, so I do realize it exists, but I'm going to put that aside for now.]
Basically, my friends and I could not go for three minutes—if even that—without getting called at, whistled at, heckled, followed, harassed, come on to, yelled at, beckoned to, hit on, sworn at (because we so rudely weren’t interested), and generally just bothered and interacted with very unsettlingly and annoyingly. 3 minutes.
It was unavoidable, and the men were everywhere. I’m sure “A woman’s place is in the house” is alive and well in Morocco, because no matter where we were and looked in the city (Marrakech, the capital), especially in the old/central part, Medina, about 80-90% of the people you see are men, teenage guys, or boys. I’m not exaggerating. What’s more, they don’t seem to have lives or livelihoods or anything better to do than hang around storefronts or sit on steps and call out slimy greetings to young female tourists who walk by. I am dead serious about this: they’re not in the middle of doing something (although many others who also harassed us were, like shopkeepers), and they’re not just passing by (although many who did just pass by took liberties as well, such as motorcyclists, car drivers and passengers, and pedestrians, who kindly thought we were worth full 180-degree head turns for maximum oglingage as they walked by). They lined sidewalks, lined marketplace aisles, and lined streets, almost as if they were waiting for us, or anyone young with that extra X-chromosome.
And they lined alleyways. Dark, lonely alleyways that my friends and I found ourselves going through when we got lost on our first night, on the way back to our hostel. We didn’t have a choice; it was the only (straightest, quickest, and nearest) way back, and at that hour pretty much all the side streets in Marrakech become dark, lonely alleys. There were several instances when we had to walk in between groups of loitering guys on either side, and speaking for all of us, I truly thought getting mugged or worse was a completely real possibility on at least 5-8 separate occasions that night (read: hour).
There were four of us at the time; we’d traveled in pairs and had met each other at the hostel by accident—so imagine if there’d been only two? (One isn’t even worth thinking about—women and girls, do not travel to Morocco alone! Listen to this especially if you’ll be an obvious tourist, or are young/pretty, and go alone under no circumstances if you have blonde hair. My friend got groped or almost-groped about 4 times in the street—our only instances of actual physical harassment—and it’s very well-known in Europe that most men there and nearby—i.e. northern Africa—love blondes.) [Update: Please see Comments for critique and qualification of this "advice".] I have never felt so unsafe in my life, and my friend said something so striking and telling afterwards that I’m going to repeat it here:
“Never, in my life, have I ever felt so—awkward—being a woman.”
I, on the other hand, after three days, had never wanted to deck anyone more in my life. Everything about this whole experience made it crystal clear to me that my blog isn’t just a waste of time or pointless stirring up of old and tired issues. They are old and tired for a reason. The only reason my friends and I were bothered so much is because we were female tourists (so twice-easy targets) who happened to be “unchaperoned” by any males. We came across other tourists during our time in Marrakech, and the predominant thought in my head every single time I saw an elderly couple, or a family, or a co-ed group of young adults was that they were probably enjoying a completely different tourist experience than my friends and I were, and I still cannot get over the discrepancy.
Do you recall the Comments section of my “Women, Men, and Brazilian Bikinis” post, where Xixarro said, “We can’t be expecting women to go thank every man that passes her ‘normally’, can we”? Well, it is so bad here, the harassment is so frequent and omnipresent, that every time we passed a man walking towards us, all I would think was, “Please don’t say anything. Please don’t bother us. Please don’t come near us”; and when the man passed without incident, we really DID feel compelled to genuinely thank him for “acting normal”! It was ridiculous; a man just gave us directions to somewhere without pressuring us to follow him or attempting to stick to us, and we spent the next five minutes exclaiming over how nice he was.
So, what have I learned from this experience? Well, I’ve learned not to look around freely anywhere—because if you accidentally make even the slightest bit of eye contact with a guy, they will react and do or say something unwanted (even 10-year old boys! That’s what they learn). I’ve learned to not smile, because as my friend observed, “Don’t smile. You’ll be a target if you look too happy.” (Most likely because then we’d not only be perceived as Western hussies, but drunk Western hussies.) I’ve learned what it’s like to feel truly unsafe just because of who I am, and what it’s like to seem a minority of 10% because of something I share with 50% of all human beings.
The most frustrating thing of all was that each time I got close to or beyond snapping point, my friend would tell me to calm down because “you can’t change things”—because she was right, it wasn’t just the fact of the matter itself that infuriated me, it was the idea of “this is just how it is” on top of that. But I don’t want to believe that things can’t be changed, because where do you go from there? Nowhere, unless down. Even if I don’t know for sure whether or not things can be changed (although I may have my own sneaking suspicion), thanks to this trip, I now know, believe, think, and feel that they must be.
Which brings me back to this blog.