You probably don’t remember me. Based on our one and only interaction, I would venture to guess that you speak to a lot of women in an “interchangeable parts” kinda way. We’re all the same anyways, right?
Well, let me re-introduce myself anyways, cuz I’m obsessed with this strange notion that “I have an identity.” I know, it’s sooooo American of me. My name is Sarah, and for the past year and a half, I have lived with you in Tameslouht. I’d never seen you before the other night, but that doesn’t surprise me– you don’t seem like the type who would hang out at a youth center. At least, fingers crossed, I hope you don’t.
We met a few nights ago. I was the one sitting outside, alone, minding my own business when you and your friend walked by. Sure, it’s a bit random for me to be sitting outside on a rock, but I see old men in jellabas doing it all the damn time and no one bothers them. If you really must know– and yes, you must– I had been plagued by a bad headache that day. One of those ragers that makes your temples pound whenever you switch positioning, like suddenly all the blood in your entire body is being re-directed towards the upper-left side of your face. I think we can both agree that ain’t pleasant.
I had decided to walk to a friend’s house for dinner. One of the many things I absolutely love about your country is that, when the heat envelopes Morocco with its nastiness, all schedules shift forward and backward to make sure that nothing happens within reach of the “shimish” (deathly sun)– making dinner typically around 11 or 11:30. My midnight snacks are suddenly legitimate meals.
But I digress. I had stopped in the middle of my route, partially because of the aforementioned headache, but mostly because it was a beautiful evening. The stars in the countryside are great, there was a cool breeze…I was pretty much living the second chorus of this great song. Forgive me, I’ve always been a sucker for poetic moments.
But man, you sucked the romance out of my evening and turned it into a porno mag. You sat down next to me and shone your cellphone light into my face. Again, a reminder to you that I’m a person, not an animal you’re inspecting for conjunctivitis– but I learned in about 10 seconds that, in your mind, there really is no difference between the two. You told me your name, Anass. Cool, I didn’t ask for that info, but that’s great that you have a name. Then you said, “Bghit n3arfk.” This translates to a harmless “I want to know you” with a million and one subliminal messages that, well, I think would make your mother blush.
You thought I was a prostitute. Because I was sitting on a rock, by myself, outside, I must be someone who is available to have sex for money. Honestly, I get it. I was totally asking for it. Besides daring to exist beyond the confines of my house (and unattended at that!), the way I was fitting into those two-sizes too-big pants…you really had to work to hold yourself back. And the way that my body was filling out that loose, discolored shirt with the two holes in it… I am shaming my the reputation of family with my equally loose morals, I know. What was I thinking?
Actually, I can tell you what I was thinking. I made this mistake of thinking that, as a fellow human being, I deserve the exact same respect and decency as the next person– man or woman. I never dreamed that sitting on a rock alone would immediately strip me of my rights and transform me into an object. I mean, sure, I’ve heard stories about it happening, in this country especially, but I was stupid enough to think that I had done enough to gain the respect of the people I work and live with. Oh, the naive American within!
So. Here’s what I have to say to you, after stewing over the injustices of the world for a few days.
You can do so much better. For yourself, for your society, and especially for your women: mothers, sisters, nieces, aunts, friends….for everyone.
Sure. Our interaction was quick and, on the surface, ultimately harmless (even though my faith in random men on the street has all but shattered). But if it is normal, accepted even, that you or any other guy feels like he can approach a girl for sex just because she is sitting by herself at night (I know, I know, “where she shouldn’t be,” whatever the hell that means), then there is a serious issue here.
Anass, you are the Prime Minister of the loud-mouthed minority who create a public sphere that is exhausting for women to navigate. Honestly, it’s much easier and less stressful to just stay inside and watch TV (there’s incentive for over half of the population to be productive!). It’s too much energy, constantly zig-zagging on the sidewalk to give you enough space so that you don’t think I’m a prostitute (or even worse, try to touch me). It takes a hell of a lot of effort to constantly use my peripheral vision while navigating the city so that I don’t accidentally (god forbid) look you in the eye and, naturally, have you assume I’m a prostitute. And I can’t even begin to quantify the amount of will power it takes to not kidney punch you every time you just have to say something to me when I walk by because, well, I’m there, so why not?
I understand all of this undivided (and completely unwanted) male attention is not because I’m the walking advertisement of “I don’t think I’m in Kansas anymore!” It’s not even because I’m hijab or niqab-less. Moroccan women (with or without the hijab/niqab) deal with the same damn shit day in and day out as well.
I get why girls drop out of school or decide not to work because the going-to and coming-from process is agonizing and degrading. I’m not saying it’s totally your fault, Anass. But a lot of it is. And someone who simply suggests women should “deal with it” obviously has never had to do just that.
So, Anass, what should we do?
I for one have the great advantage of being an American who has traveled to a few other countries, and know from experience 110% that the male species is capable of much better things than harassing women in the streets. There is also a significant portion of Moroccan men who don’t engage in this bullshit either. Honestly, I didn’t know someone from Tameslouht was capable of this behavior before I met you. But there are far too many other Moroccans, like you, Anass, who engage actively in the problem. And there are other men and women alike, who, by remaining silent, let this continue and grow.
I humbly submit to you, oh terror of the night, that you envision your sister every time you see a girl by herself and think it’s okay to approach her. Or mentally picture your mom, or your grandmother. Because that’s who we are to someone. And when your friends or someone on the street is Bonjour-ing and Hey gazelle-ing it up to a girl, maybe find it somewhere inside of yourself to remind him of the same. And if your own mother isn’t incentive enough, let’s appeal to a higher power for a second.
Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them: and Allah is well aware of what they do.” [Quran 24:30]
So, Anass, I leave you with these words. Do with them what you want, but please, for the sake of your society (and your mother), shape the fuck up. Women don’t deserve this shit.
PS– You kinda ruined it for all of the Anasses in Tameslouht. My fiance is going to personally punch every single one in the face until he finds you.***
***That was a joke. No violence is advocated in this blog!