I’ve lived in Casablanca since I was 8 years old. My dad thought it would be a wonderful idea to uproot my mother, brother, and I from our happy existence in NYC and move us thousands of kilometers away to his home country of Morocco. Thanks, dad!
The first few weeks were great. It was funny and weird to see a donkey-driven cart in the middle of traffic. I remember gazing outside in wonder the first few days in our new home. Everything was so different, in a good way. As a child, with my innocent eyes and naïve outlook, Morocco didn’t look so bad. I could live here, I thought.
Fast-forward 3 years, I was eleven. It was early September and I was starting 6th grade at the overly expensive, private American school I was enrolled in. First day of school. I’m up at 6, run to the bathroom, lo and behold, a red stain. The stain of womanhood. And that’s when everything changed. The rose-colored glasses were lifted and the reality of living in a male-dominated society hit me. Hard.
My body was developing at a fast pace. Suddenly my mother was telling me I couldn’t wear a swimsuit anymore, I was getting too curvy, too fast. The men! The men will ogle at you and we don’t want that, so cover. We don’t tell the men to stop ogling, we tell the women to cover up!
School was fine, I don’t remember ever being harassed there. I was bullied, a lot, but I wasn’t considered “attractive,” so the guys didn’t care, which I was thankful for. The men on the street, however, had very different reactions…
It started with the looks. As an eleven-year-old, I didn’t understand the looks at first. The dilated pupils, the gaping mouths. Then there were noises. Kissing sounds, literal catcalling sounds (pss-pss!), even singing. And then the comments…oh the comments!
“You’re beautiful, come to me.”
“What an ass!”
And, my personal favorite, “hey kitty, kitty!” Now don’t get me wrong, I love cats, really, I do! I have a cat and she means the world to me…I’d just rather not be called one when I’m out on the street running errands.
I was confused by this sudden attention. I became much more aware of my surroundings. I was scared of these strange, much older men. Suddenly I didn’t want to go out anymore. I sat in my bedroom, listening to music and studying. Anything but set foot outside into the male-dominated streets of Casablanca. I didn’t feel safe. I felt harassed. I felt threatened. I felt like I didn’t belong.
Something snapped inside of me. I became depressed and full of hatred. I hated those men, I hated the government, I hated everything about this place. But I wasn’t the type to sit around and mope, so I worked to improve my grades at school, eventually graduating from high school and leaving Morocco for 4 years for college, visiting only sporadically during the summer. I now travel regularly and try not to spend longer than three months at a time here.
But, over the years, I felt like I had run away rather than faced the problem at hand. I felt good about not being harassed as much anymore, but I felt guilty for not fighting back. What if Moroccan women spoke up against their harassers? What if we stood up to them and said no? Well I tried this, and the reactions have been mixed.
Some ran away, actually scared or surprised that I had spoken up. Others tried to argue with me, insult me, calling me a whore and saying I was asking for it. Yeah, we’re all “asking” for it by wearing jeans and a t-shirt or by having a little bit of make-up on.
It’s extremely troubling that some men still blame us for the harassment they inflict upon us. When we’re raped, we’re asked what we were wearing, where we were, and at what time of day rather than how it happened, who was the perpetrator, and whether we had contacted the authorities. In Morocco and other Middle Eastern countries, the issue of blame is especially prominent. They twist themselves into pretzels trying to blame everything under the sun on women.
Friends have asked me if I think there is hope that things will change in Morocco and if I will ever be comfortable outside in Casablanca as I am in London, Athens, NYC, or Rome.
I always like to say I’m hopeful and positive, but it will take generations for attitudes towards women to change, especially in this region of the world.
I know catcalling and sexual harassment happens in the cities I listed (even though I haven’t experienced it so far myself) but being cat-called 3–4 times while walking down the street, minding my own business, can’t be normal.
I feel powerless to stop it, scared to fight it or even to speak up. As long as men have the upper hand in Morocco, women will never be free. Morocco desperately needs a breakaway from outdated patriarchal traditions and laws. I’m afraid it’ll take generations for any progress to come about. In the meantime, I will have to turn my back on this country and its predatory men.