Over the past week, I’ve begun to lose my voice. My Moroccan mom told me that it is the result of allergies in the dry heat, my professor said it’s dehydration, but the more I have thought about it, I realized that the true cause lies deeper within my consciousness.
I am a woman in Morocco, and because of that, I don’t have a voice.
When I walk down the street, men look at me as if I am the first and last woman they will ever see. I do not mean that they look at me, but rather that they look at me, as if the purpose of my whole existence is to stand before them for their viewing pleasure.
Since the first day I arrived, I have yet to experience a single minute where I feel comfortable in my female body, in my female clothes, in my female consciousness, taking up space on the sidewalk within the eyesight of a man. My space does not belong to me, because the men here are entitled to it.
Walking through the souk this week with my friends, one of the boys asked my roommate and me, “How do you feel when guys catcall you?”
Unashamedly, I said “worthless.”
He was somewhat naively surprised that I would let myself feel this way, as I’m sure most guys my age are. In my opinion it’s not his fault, because he’s likely never been treated same way as women are on the street in Morocco. Or in any country.
I explained to him that catcalls and stares make me feel like my presence on Earth is deemed less valuable by the type of men who instigate such harassment. To men like this, I am not a woman; I am not a human; I am disposable.
I am a woman in Morocco, and because of that, I am less-than.
Later that night, my roommate and I tried to ask our Moroccan mom why the men here harass female tourists. Without letting us maintain the selfish feeling of prestige and entitlement we have so adopted as white women in Africa, she said, “It is not just you who are harassed; they do it to all women.”
How dare we assume that our race makes us more desirable to men, or that other women receive less harassment because they are not foreign like us, I thought to myself. For a brief moment I felt a pang of pride in my Moroccan mom for her response.
My empathy for her quickly turned to anger as I realized the gravity of her answer. It finally dawned on me that the women who live here are forced to deal with this extent of harassment for their entire lives. I cannot articulate how deeply this disturbs me.
I am a woman in Morocco, and because of that, I am angry.
I am not angry because I have to wear a sweater in the 100 degree heat, or that I still put up with the stares and comments from men. I am angry because I am not alone.
I am angry because there are women in this country who flinch on the sidewalk when a man walks to close to them. I am angry because no woman is exempt from this horrifying experience. I am angry that it is 2015, and this is still socially acceptable. I am angry because this isn’t even the worst type of harassment and inferiority that is imposed upon human beings.
If you are reading this at home because you know and care about me, I urge you not to worry about my safety or comfort during my study abroad experience. I appreciate it immensely, but I would rather you worry about the millions of women here who don’t have an escape from this type of society.
Pray for the women who, unlike me, have to put up with stares for more than ten weeks, who would not dare make eye contact with men they don’t know, who cannot take ownership of their space on the sidewalk.
Don’t care about this because women are victims of sexual harassment; care because women are human beings. Yes, all women. Yes, everywhere.
This is one of the few times that a shared empathy with other women has horrified me instead of consoling me.
I didn’t write this because I want attention or worries from friends and family, I didn’t write this to make sexual harassment seem non- or less-existent at home; I didn’t write this to put American culture and society on a pedestal against the Arab World.
I wrote this because this experience is a new frontier in my brain, because studying abroad isn’t all about ordering drinks in a different language.
I wrote this because I am a woman in Morocco, and because of that, I have mace in my effing purse.