Being the anxious person I am, I read lots of blogs and articles on travel in Morocco before embarking on my study abroad trip to the marvelous North African nation. I was aware that there are more risks for women when it comes to traveling (not just in Morocco, but everywhere, and not just in travel but in most things, as is the unfortunate state of our world). However, in the articles I read written by Western women about their experiences in Morocco, all of them said, hands down, their least favorite part about their travels was the Moroccan men. After two weeks of being here, I found myself quickly agreeing.
Everyone stares, men, women, and children alike, because we are so foreign looking, so unusual. There is a distinction, though, between gawking at someone as they pass you on the street because they are foreign and gawking at someone because they are a foreign woman. I know that many of the men who stare as my friends and I pass are not doing so because they are interested in our unusual clothes or are curious about what our lives are like in a far away country so different from their own; they are interested in our bodies. The incessant catcalls in English, Arabic, and French, the blare of their car horns or the flash of their headlights is not flattering in the least; it is simply offensive, as though being an American woman implies that I am easy and naive and will gladly hand over my body to anyone who shows me the slightest hint of attention or interest.
When I first arrived in Morocco, the scrutiny was comical. I had expected it after reading the travel blogs and responded to it in the best way possible: I ignored it completely. But now, as I am approaching my fourth week here, I find it harder and harder to ignore as the anger boils up inside me at this blatant disregard for my dignity and my worth as a person rather than a sex object. I know these men would be furious if someone treated their mothers or sisters the way they treat me, so why do they continue to do it? Do I deserve any less respect coming from America? Am I any less of a human?
Morocco is a very patriarchal society; I see 2-3 times as many men on the streets out and about at a given time than I do women, and my language partner, a female Moroccan university student, told me that the “men problem” is not limited to their interactions with foreign women. It is an issue even native women face on a daily basis. Clearly, there is a deep rooted cultural division between the US and Morocco that can explain the disparity between the sexes. However, I am not educated enough on the culture to be making assumptions about the specific origins of Moroccan misogyny with one exception.
Without a doubt, I can say that the US and our treatment of our own women contributes immensely to the male attitude towards American women in Morocco and in dozens of other countries, as well. In this highly globalize world we live in, American culture proliferates every corner of the Earth mostly in the form of pop culture such as movies, advertisements, celebrity gossip, music, and porn. Foreign men see these things, see how the media so effortlessly strips our women of their humanity until all that remains is their physical existence, and assume that all American women are the same, having never had a genuine interaction with one before. Can we really blame foreign men for the treatment of our women when we are the ones who taught them that such behavior is acceptable and even rewardable?
We are our own undoing. The US can not expect to solve problems in other countries, be it sexism, terrorism, racism, etc., when our own country and our own people refuse to stop playing the part of the creator. Before we fix others, we need to fix ourselves.