Sexual Harassment vs. Advertising

An Opinion Piece from Morocco

This past Friday I was on my way back to my apartment when one of my female friends pointed out the crowds of people behind barricades and the swarms of police and royal guard. Just as we were wondering what was going on, a friendly older man on the tram explained to us in French that the king was coming. Stoked that we would have the opportunity to see the king of Morocco, we got off at the next stop and walked back to the wall of the medina, or the old city, where the crowds were. Wary at first we stayed back from the crowd, but when we saw two male students from our program we went with them further into the crowd of Moroccans clustered as close as they could get to the barricades.

The Moroccan flag was everywhere and the crowd was brandishing official photographs of the king. It was a gorgeous sunny day and the crowd was full of Moroccans of all ages. Caught up in the excitement, I didn’t think anything of the fact that a young Moroccan man (probably about 17) saw us looking at our watches and asked what time it was. I showed him my watch and he smiled and nodded his thanks.

As time dragged on, I noticed that he was staring very intently at me. Keep in mind we were in a crowd of people and he was literally right next to me, so I was a bit unnerved. I turned to my male classmate and talked to him, trying to make it clear that I was not in fact a lone female. The staring didn’t stop. After the king passed by and the crowd started to leave my female friend whipped around and yelled at the very same young Moroccan who had been staring at me. One of our other male friends put himself in between the two of us and this young man as we made our way out of the crowd.  Breaking free of the crowd into the open all of a sudden we saw the young Moroccan trying to approach us again. Our male friend had to be aggressive and get in his face, saying something to him in Arabic. As we quickly walked away my female friend told me that the young Moroccan had been blowing in her ear and trying to touch her while we were standing in the crowd.

This situation I just described is an example of street harassment in Morocco. Now, at face value, what happened to my female friend and I was creepy, uncomfortable and unusual for someone from America. Why was this experience unnerving and upsetting for my female friend and I? There are two parts, one was the fact that we felt like we had been reduced to sexual objects, and the other that we had no power to do anything about it and because of the social norms could not stand up for ourselves, as doing so was ineffective. But for Moroccan women that kind of harassment is something they deal with everyday. Verbal harassment is especially prevalent. Now, you may be thinking “that’s terrible, I’m so glad we don’t have that in America.” That however is not in fact completely true.

For example, how many times have you witnessed or been the recipient of catcalls from passing cars while walking down High Street? How many times at a party or a concert has someone randomly touched you or started dancing with you? These are just the obvious examples. There’s the not so obvious, such as the sexualization of women in advertisements, television, music and other forms of American culture. So although this situation was upsetting, it is important to keep in mind that the two basic concepts that made it upsetting, the reduction of myself to a sexual object and my lack of power to do anything about it, are both concepts that are widespread in American culture, just in different ways. Overall, I won’t let this incident ruin the other aspects of Morocco and my time here that I thoroughly enjoy.