Monday, April 24, 2006

Running the Gauntlet

I have recently been asked to address the issue of the Moroccan man in greater depth; apparently, my haiku a few months ago has proven unsatisfactory. I spent a lot of time on that haiku and I think it shows. Most of you will already have memorized it by now or have made preparations to tattoo it on your behinds, but for you lost souls who have not read it, I offer it again here:

Men in café: No,
I don't want to have sex with you.
Problem must be mine.

As clever and insightful as most of us would concede this haiku is, I am now charged to extrapolate further on the finer points of my haiku. So I take it upon myself to speak for my western sisters. Cat in Rabat takes a deep breath, steels herself for the possible/probable negative responses of tsunami-like proportions. Exhale.

Not to draw too fine a point on it, many many many (but not all) men in Morocco are not very nice towards women. There, I’ve said it. In print. Take my carte de sejour and rip it up. If you are an Enlightened Moroccan Man (can use the word 'respect' in a sentence and actually practice it in your dealings with both sexes) then you know this is true, so don’t write and accuse me of making broad stereotypical sexist sweeps against your gender with my cordless mouse. If you are a Not Very Nice Man, then you’ve linked to the wrong website – you wanted cat-o-nine-tails_in_rabat.com. If you are a Moroccan woman, then you know it’s true; you live it too. My question to you is, why the hell are you allowing it to continue? – but that's for another blog.

Rabat – like most cities and towns in Morocco – is composed of an all-encompassing network of outdoor sidewalk cafés around which businesses, homes and roads (and life) are constructed. These cafés differ significantly from those back home. Coffee time tends to stretch out over a large chunk of the day and the concept of "coffee to go" is virtually unknown by non-Westerners. Patrons don’t sit around bistro tables to share a coffee; instead, chairs are set up against walls to afford their predominantly male patrons a prime view of the female flesh walking the catwalks sidewalks. There are no tête à têtes – only a long line of men looking outwards, sipping coffee and occasionally adjusting their crotches or having their shoes shined. It is a shooting gallery of testosterone-embued luridness. The Enlightened Ones will read their newspapers and chat with friends, the Not Very Nice Ones lay in wait. Asked once where all the women are, a passing acquaintance of mine (a Not Very Nice Man) said that they are at work. Don’t these men work? Yes, but they are on a break. Don’t women get breaks too? They are at home making lunch. That pretty much ended the conversation.

It is against this backdrop that we walk home, carry bags of groceries, go to work. For many of us, we have to pass half a dozen or so cafés which often line both sides of the busier streets. There is no escaping them. You see, it’s not enough that we have to avoid cars parked on the sidewalks and circumnavigate gaping holes. We must subject ourselves, expose ourselves to the unwanted attentions of these Not Very Nice Men. The mere act of walking from Point A to Point B can only be described as running the gauntlet – a gauntlet of sexual harassment that would make a construction crew blush. Leers, comments, whistles, breathless whispers, stares. Cat in Rabat shudders as she types.

When it comes to prurient behaviour, there is no class barrier, no age restriction:
Not Very Nice Men come in all shapes, sizes and colours; they wear suits and jellabas; they're bachelors and grandfathers. I have received risqué remarks from boys young enough to me my sons (did I just say that?); men shorter than me (and I’m short) have walked quickly by my side, stepped on tiptoes to murmur the vilest tripe into my ear and continued on. Yesterday I received a long low wolf whistle from an elderly gentleman driving a big-ass car who bore an uncanny resemblance to actor César Romero. Most of us have been followed blocks by slow-moving vehicles, the heads (and tongues) of their drivers lolling out the window. It is not unknown to be ogled in front of a mosque on Friday afternoon; in fact, there is no safe ground in the big outside world of Morocco. Even the lingerie sellers in the medina are men – the belief, perhaps, that women want to discuss their cup sizes with and buy frilly underthings fingered by a Methuselah-in-a-jellaba.

As western women, we are often regaled accosted in many of the world’s major languages including French, Spanish, Italian, English and German. These Not Very Nice Men may be loathsome creatures but they do display a knack for tongues languages. It doesn’t happen daily – it happens every time we walk outside. On a good day, we just get stared at. On those days, I am less inclined to go home and have a good scrub under a decontamination chemical shower with a steel wool pad. And unless you’ve experienced it, you can’t really understand it. You think you can, but you can’t.

What I have yet to figure out is why these Not Very Nice Men have adopted this particular mode of conduct. I mean, yes I know that Morocco (like the rest of the world) is inundated with video and celluloid images of western female promiscuity and licentiousness. Videos and film advertise our ready and willing fuckability. But do these men, in their heart of hearts, really think that if they call out to me, tell me that I’m beautiful, suck their teeth when I walk by (a real turn on, that), that I’ll drop my knickers right there and then? Alrighty Ahmed – let’s head back to my place because it’s Friday and your wife is probably busy making couscous for lunch.

And if we say no? Culture Shock! Morocco sums it up best: to most Moroccan men, a western woman who spurns his amorous attentions is clearly just having a bad day. A bad day. Who knows? – it must be working for some of them. Maybe we’re more than an urban myth. Maybe it just takes one western woman to take up with a Moroccan man to feed the hopes and phantasies of 2 million others. Christ knows that I’ve seen a handful of western women do things here that they would never do in a month of Sundays back home. We’re talking the lost footage from Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Maybe for some women, telling them that they’re très jolie (translatable as “my, what a pretty passport you have”) works. Quite frankly, it leaves me speechless.

Before I left Canada, I came upon a t-shirt that read, “I see you’ve met the girls” – and I was tempted to buy it because, at that time, I worked with an individual whose line of vision never ventured farther north than my “girls”. But I doubt that such subtleties would work here. Perhaps I’ll design my own line of t-shirts and emblazon them with slogans like: “I’m average-looking at home”, “Have you looked in the mirror?”, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you” or “Do you speak to your wife this way?” I can think of a few dozen women who would jump to invest.

Addendum: Not Very Nice Men is a euphenism. Feel free to substitute any word(s) of your choice. Vocabulary involving barnyard animals and bits of anatomy (something from the urogenital system would work nicely) is encouraged.

21 Comments:

Anonymous chrisso said...

Having seen this behaviour, from a decent(I hope)western man's perspective, it truly is degrading and disrespectful. You're right that unless you experience it first hand,and are of course a woman, you really don't understand the magnitude of this. Shame on them!

3:22 PM  
Blogger knarf said...

Icky

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

This blew me away when I first arived here in Morocco and continues to drive me nuts to this day. I am a peace corps volunteer(male) and often when we travel we do so in groups. Many a time while going down the street or waiting for a train etc, with female volunteers I find myself constantly suppressing the urge to go and "instruct" the men on respect. During our training we had multiple sessions on harassment and dealing with it, especialy the girls but nothing can really prepare one for it. Especially dealing with it daily.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Thanks guys - your comments warm my soul.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

At first, I followed everyone's advice: just ignore them. But, in the end, that does nobody any good - especially me and my pride and my need to not feel victimized. Then, I changed my tactic: revenge.

The best thing that has worked is this sentence: Aandak zzeb seghir, which means: You have a small penis.

Carolyn, you are right: It MUST work sometimes and I guess they are willing to take that chance if they have some shot for a visa and a chance up and out of Morocco. They hear success stories of some down and out bean seller in the medina meeting a nice American girl and settling down after 2 hours and a marriage proposal over mint tea.

In the meantime, Benjamin and Good Moroccan Men out there: YOU have a responsibility to educate other men about this, shame them, show them how it ultimately only degrades and disrespects women and - at the very least - obliterates their chances to ever get to know a foreign woman.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish i could say otherwise, it is so damn true and i m a moroccan myself (female). I still can't put my finger on how did this ever started. Dying for an answer..
I couldn't have put it in a better way. As sad as it is, you made me laugh. I feel your anger and frustration. I have to stress though that it has nothing to do with being a westerner. Be it from iceland or Zimbabwi. Scarf headed, or ass naked, you will get your share. Again, this is about the not so nice to the women men, not everybody out there.

1:41 AM  
Anonymous DZ said...

ops it is DZ

1:42 AM  
Blogger ticklethepear said...

Hi, here via Dans le meilleur des mondes possibles. I lived in Rabat in 2000-2003 and because I'm Filipino-American people assumed I'm Moroccan (for some reason) and I got harassed as a Moroccan woman. Not much fun either.

That said, I'm married to a Enlightened Moroccan Man so they do exist. However, I find on the Wives of Moroccans e-list that EMM are still rather rare.

What surprised me the most about Morocco is not the pervasive jerkdom per se (well-documented), but how many foreign women end up marrying Moroccans. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, six or so volunteers (3 men, 3 women) from my training group married Cameroonians, who were for the most part educated professionals.

When I was in Morocco I was really surprised at how many women PCVs married Moroccan men, and very few men PCVs marrying Moroccan women.

So it's kind of a weird quandary: if so many Moroccan men are a-holes, then why do so many foreign women get married to them?

11:57 AM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Aandak zzeb seghir, aandak zzeb seghir, aandak zzeb seghir .... my new mantra. Thanks Amanda!

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know what intrigues me ... living in Turkey there is perhaps something similar going on however ... and as i got to know the guys, and talked with them, I was intrigued to discover a list of those foreign 'trail-blazing' women who had gone before, indicating there willingness to all but 'hire' a handsome Turkish guy for the duration of their stay.

A respectable Italian guy also caused me to question the whole 'what came first, the chicken or the egg' thing ... I suspect some of these guys get more than you can imagine, and easily, and it sets up both an expectation and a myth.

It's not that I disagree with anything here ... it's only that there is another side to the story :)

10:30 PM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Anonymous raises some interesting points, however, the existence of sex-starved women in Istanbul & Italy doesn't explain for the apparent lack of respect that Not Very Nice men show towards not just us but towards Moroccan women as well. I would also add that Rabat is not a high tourist town & I doubt that women come here to "hire" sexual partners.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Malaika said...

Hi, I also live in Rabat so I am enjoying reading your blog.

I'm actually a Muslim American who married my Moroccan husband (who is also an american citizen) and we decided to move to Morocco after having children.

I wear the "Muslim garb" and still I am harrassed though I have never been propositioned, thank God.

I wanted to say that I think the best thing you can do is hold your head up and don't reply to the garbage. Saying something like Andakk zeb sghir is funny, but ultimately I think it sends the message that you are indeed as vulgar as they assume you to be.

The word "zeb" is a word most Moroccan girls CANnot say. My 32 year old husband actually blushes when I say it in jest. Its really really vulgar to them.

All the best,
Malaika

11:12 AM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Point well taken - thanks for the advice Malaika!

1:34 PM  
Blogger knarf said...

With the greatest of respect, the last "Anonymous" is full of shit.

What, because "some" foreign women come along and "all but hire" a stud, that gives men throughout the Mediterranean Rim to dehumanize and objectify every woman that walks by on the sidewalk? Quite knarfly, I find that notion most offensive.

Similarly, just because some of these neanderthals "score" is no justification for this insipid practice to continue.

It is simply wrong to treat women in this way. Culture and heritage are irrelevent.

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Malaika said...

Hi again, after I posted I was pondering what the best and cleverest response could actually be...on my way to buy some nice plastic-all-crust-bread (aka khubz)...and it occured to me that you could just laugh in their face. A nice hearty chuckle would probably communicate your sentiments very well.
Alternatively, you could borrow my SIL's and my trick which is to reply in gibberish (mine sounds kinda like farsi).
But aside from that, just fly-by with your chin up and your eyes straight ahead. But be careful of those gaping holes! ;-)

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

Malaika-
I find that laughing encourages them. And yes, being vulgar is just that - but it also shocks them and scares them a little. The last thing I want is for Moroccan men to think I *like* what they are saying to me.

Having said that -- the other week I found something that really did work. I asked my harassers back to my apartment and we stopped at the outside door. I called out to my doorman (they thought I was calling to a husband). This scared the shit out of them. I then proceeded to explain, in darija, that I am married, I work here and I live next to the corner where they harass me every day. I told them this only shamed them and annoyed me and that it hurt my feelings. They were deeply sorry and walked away with head down. They say salam alaykoum to me when I pass now.

I think ignoring harassment in ok when it is just a "ca va" and an "oh la la" - but when a man screams out to me comments about my breasts or walks into my sapce and touches me - Aandak zeb seghir is the least of their worries. I have had to physical defend myself. And I will do it again.

As for the word "zeb" - get to know it! It is a fabulous word!

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Liosliath said...

I think it's another regional difference, but we say "zep" for penis down here in the South, ya'll. I've used that phrase many times, including a worse one, "Ko-ed." (f*ck off)

Knarf, it doesn't explain the entire Mediterranean rim, but if you only knew how many old bats (Western) I've seen picking up 16-25 year old boys down here...and I mean both male and female bats. It's stupid, but the stories get passed around, and they figure out of 1000 rejections - one success makes it all worth it.

5:59 PM  
Blogger knarf said...

I didn't mean to say that the mediterranean rim has any monopoly on letcherous behaviour.

There are, of course, jerks in the West and the Near East. I know that there are many men in Europe and North America who buy mail-order brides from Russia and the East, and who (for instance) take vacations to places like Bangkok for sexual purposes, exploiting very young boys and girls for next to no money (by our standards).

I also know many men in my society (North America) who would sit in cafes and bars and accost female passersby with advances and off-colour comments were it socially acceptable here.

So, yes, I take your point, liosliath.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous malaika said...

Not to turn Cat In Rabat's blog into a bulletin board or anything, but I couldn't help but reply. Sometimes I feel like I am in a different Morocco. My husband's family must be full of serious prudes (actually they are for sure) because if I said "zeb" in public he would die. Heart attack or stroke...probably stroke.
And to all of you (the women of you), I'm in Agdal and I have way too much free time. If anyone would like to get together at a cafe (gasp) or a park or something let me know. Conversation in english would be such a welcome change from my kindergarten arabic conversations with my maid.

mrs.freeland@gmail.com

8:57 PM  
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