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 sit 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 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.

No comments: