Equality is a Deadly Sin? Feminism as Envy

31 01 2008

Last year, I had to do a presentation on a short story called “Envy” for my Russian Lit class.  It was the perfect opportunity to buy a book in the trendy-looking “Seven Deadly Sins” Oxford series I’d been eyeing up at the bookstore.  I was happily strolling my way through its small, friendly 100-somewhat pages when I came across the following passage:

The modern feminist movement can, I believe, be said to have been built on an impersonal, generalized envy. Women wanted what men seemed to have: freedom of choice in career, in mates, in living with the same irresponsibility (in every field of endeavour) as men. Most women would say, I suspect, that not envy but a strong sense of injustice powered the feminist movement. They would not be wrong, but I would only add that envy and a sense of injustice are not always that easily distinguished, let alone extricated, one from the other. (-Joseph Epstein)

Alright.  First thought: What?! This is wrong!  Second thought: Well…it does kind of make sense.  Hindsight: No, he’s wrong.  And this is why:

When was the last time you felt envious of someone?  (Be honest!)  More importantly, why were you envious of them?  Was it because they had more time to train capoeira than you had, and thus improved more quickly?  Was it because they naturally played the game better than you did?  Was it because they were stronger and more flexible, and floreios came a lot more easily to them?  (If you drew a blank after all of those, insert applicable or non-capoeira example here!)

Envy does not a good capoeirista make!Whether it is skill, money, power, relationships, or circumstances, one thing that nearly all envied objects have in common is either their extraneousness to our current lives, or the large amount of chance involved.  Chance includes things like beauty, talent, intelligence, and personality (“Why did they get to be born <insert envied trait>?  Why wasn’t I?”).  Extraneousness includes things like money, power, promotions, and relationships, and can also be traced back to chance (“I deserve <insert source of envy> just as much as s/he does!  What makes them so great/lucky?”).  If there were neither chance nor extraneousness involved, it would not be true envy, as according to Epstein, inherent in the emotion is a feeling of injustice done—and there is nothing lucky or injust about someone getting promoted over you at work if they have been pulling overtime while you’ve been arriving late for the past three months, for example. 

If you look it up, Dictionary.com defines envy as “a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions”.  No one necessarily has a right to natural advantages, extra/better possessions, or chance successes; these are all “privileges” you come across in life, for lack of a better word.  Envy exists precisely because no one necessarily has a right to riches or built muscles or a perfect significant other any more than you do.  That’s why a sense of injustice is inherent in envy.

With that said, why is feminism not envy-based?  At first, it does seem to be: feminists are basically fighting for women to get the same amount of money and power in the world that men get, right?  No, or at least not exactly.  Feminism is about fighting for the opportunity for women who have earned it to achieve the same amount of money and power as men who have earned it, and more than men who haven’t, for equal opportunity.  That, and what Epstein himself says: for freedom of choice. 

Now, the last time I checked, the possession of equal opportunity and freedom of choice were things that were (1) inherent to living as a human being on this earth (it’s called a right) and (2) not controlled by chance (it’s called racism, sexism, homophobia, the glass ceiling, take your pick).   If pure envy originates in the belief that no one necessarily has a right to what is being envied, then how can we envy people for something we all do have a right to?  We can’t; it just doesn’t make sense.   Just because envy involves a sense of injustice doesn’t mean it always works the other way around.  The author may be right in saying the two aren’t always easily distinguished, but not in this case. 

Feminism is not envy, is not based on envy, and for Epstein to relegate the entire feminist movement to such is to drastically demean it, its goals, and its/their importance.  And, to put it bluntly, it’s terrible PR.  I can hear it now… “Ah-hah! <scoff> All that women-are-people equality stuff, and those feminist crankpots have just been bitter greedy little chits all along.”





Just for Fun: Capoeira Pick-up Lines

29 01 2008

(Warning: Use at your own risk.  Mandingueira does not condone the use of nor will be held responsible for any and all events that occur inside or outside the roda as a direct or indirect result of these lines.)

Are you a capoeirista?  Because you just turned my world upside-down.

You must have lots of mandinga, because I’ve fallen under your spell!

That’s too bad that you lost your pandeiro, but if you want you can bang me instead.

If I play you hard enough in the roda, will you go volta ao mundo with me?

Hi, are you an angoleiro/a?  That’s great, ’cause I’m regional—what say we get together and be contemporary?

I’m surprised you have an apelido, because to me you are indescribable!

You know, your abada would be cleaner if you didn’t wear it at all.

If I gave you rasteira would that sweep you off your feet?

Update: I think there may have been some confusion…I haven’t actually heard or read these anywhere.  I made them up, just for fun…in the spirit of “I’m a fermata—hold me” and “I wish I were your derivative…”, etc. …hence the disclaimer!  Sorry about that!





Canadian Blog for Choice Day

28 01 2008

Again, not putting any thoughts forward, but just wanted to acknowledge:

The Morgenthaler Decision (20th anniversary today):
http://thestar.blogs.com/broadsides/2008/01/oh-henry.html

The Blog for Choice Challenge:
http://thestar.blogs.com/broadsides/2008/01/canadian-blogge.html

Please click on the given links for more information!





Myth Busters: Women and Upper-Body Strength

28 01 2008

This entry is a follow-up/sister post to the one I guest-wrote on The Capoeira Blog, “6 Keys to Building Upper-Body Strength“.

So, I have a confession to make.  Originally, the guest post I wrote for Faisca wasn’t supposed to be a general guide to building upper-body strength.  Originally, it was going to be something with a title like “Upper-Body Strength-Building for Women”.  It was my idea, but it wasn’t until I actually started working on the post that I realized something like that would actually go against everything I’ve/this blog has been standing for!  Mandingueira is not for women; it is about women, and for everyone. 

The reason I changed my mind is because to write an article about “strength-building for women” would imply that it is separate from the same for men; yet a strong woman would need the same level of advice as a strong man, regardless of her gender.  By the end of my first draft, however, I realized that my post read more like a beginner’s guide to strength-building—but all my information had come from purported “women’s guides” to strength-building!  Is anyone else seeing a pattern here

Abada capoeirista shows how it's done!There was one thing in particular that nearly every article I came across had in common:

“Women generally have far less upper-body strength than men.”
“Typically women do not have strong upper bodies.”
“These statistics merely illustrate what everyone knows, that women naturally develop less strength than men.”
“In terms of inherent upper body strength, we really are the weaker sex.”
“Most women have trouble performing a standard push-up.”  (And adding insult to injury: “To perform a modified push up, simply push up from your knees.  Most women can perform a push-up in this position.”  Really, now??  Some of us actually CAN do knee push-ups?!?  That’s AMAZING!!)

Wow, I feel weaker already.  Kind of ironic, considering all these articles purported to help you build your strength, not doubt it!

The age-old myth of women having less muscular strength than men do is just that—a myth.  This excerpt from Shameless Magazine puts it best:

Many people believe that all men, as some sort of single unit, are stronger than women. And reason says that simply isn’t true. Men’s strength is just as variable as women’s. Men, on average, are bigger than women, with a higher lean body mass-to-fat ratio. But women generate the same force per unit of muscle as men. That is, muscle pound to muscle pound, women and men are similar in strength. A strong woman is strong, full stop. (emphasis mine)

This observation was confirmed by a study from the US National Strength and Conditioning Foundation, which adds that although women and men have the same muscle strength, the reason many men appear stronger on the surface is because they have more muscle mass from being bigger (as opposed to muscle strength), have a higher lean body mass-to-fat ratio, and have different fat distribution in the body than women do.

Wait a minute (I can hear someone say), aren’t we just picking nits now?  What does it matter if technically women’s muscles produce the same amount of power, if due to the other factors mentioned above, a woman’s body altogether still produces less power, on average, than a man’s body altogether?  And if this is true, what’s wrong with saying so?

First, this distinction is important to make because it’s actually a pretty big one, with implications and consequences depending on whether one makes it or not.  Stating without qualification that women have less strength than men, period, is inaccurate and suggests that this is an inherent trait in women, something that can’t be changed.  As mentioned though, women’s muscles have the exact same strength as men do, and it is in fat distribution and lean body mass where they differ—factors which are variable and can be changed through training or exercise. 

Moreover, even though muscle mass is cited as a contributing factor of men’s strength, the same studies have shown that women build strength the same way men do yet without building as much muscle mass—which is interesting, because if both men and women build strength equally, but only men’s muscles build much mass to go with it, to me that suggests that in the end, women’s muscles would actually have more power per inch/pound than men’s, to do the calculations!  And as Shameless said, if a strong woman were matched with a man with less muscle (or lesser built muscles), more fat, and less lean body mass, she would in that case definitely not be “the weaker sex”.

Second, making this distinction is important because it affects how people approach this and related topics, and this ties in to the last question above.  There is nothing wrong with explaining why many women have less net strength output than many men.  After all, a fact is a fact, right?  The problem arises when people start making unqualified statements like the ones at the beginning of this post, and making them frequently and thoughtlessly.  Although clearly I was kidding when I said “I feel weaker already”, can you imagine what the effects of reading or hearing statements like that over and over again would be on someone’s mindset, whether consciously or subconsciously? 

If you imagined the logical, you’re right: other studies have shown that women significantly underestimate their own strength, compared to men.  Because we’re told we’re weaker, we think we have even less strength than we have to begin with.  This affects everything from whether or not a woman will reach her full potential while weight training, to whether or not she’ll choose to fight off a man who attacks her in the street, or just “let it happen” because to fight back would make it worse (according to another disastrous, popular myth). 

It’s all woven into one more narrative about what women are or aren’t or should be or shouldn’t be, whether it’s a young Mestra Edna’s relatives telling her “martial arts aren’t for girls”, or today’s average female capoeira student only able to find articles reiterating how weak she is compared to all the male capoeira students in her class—which may be true, but also just as well may not, and who’s the article’s author to say?  So mulhers é meninas, remember this the next time you aim for that macaco/s-dobrado/bananeira/cool upper-body strength-requiring move!

Picture source: http://www.worldartswest.org/Assets/Performers/AbadaAndyMogg.jpg

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Don’t Go; We’ll Be Right Back after the Break!

27 01 2008

I’m sorry everyone, for the unexpected hiatus!  I was tied up with something all this weekend and have barely had time to eat and sleep, let alone write something worth reading.  Tomorrow, however, I will be back on track.  Muito obrigada for your patience, and keep checking in!

-Joaninha





Mestre of our fairy band / Helena is here at hand

25 01 2008

I dream of Capoeira

From the Utah Daily Herald: 

“Modern directors today that put on Shakespeare have the freedom to envision new and different ways of setting it, casting it and presenting it to a modern audience,” Jones said. “We’re setting our ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in a mystical South America in the 19th century. And so we have a lot of influences from Brazilian carnival and capoeira dancing [sic on the “dancing”].

It’s Shakespeare in Brazil; iambic pentameter and capoeira, in one.  Didn’t think anything could come closer to combining my two loves (English/literature and capoeira) more than writing this blog, but BYU has done it!  And A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of my favourites.

Any capoeiristas from Utah out there?  I am jealous.

Click here to read the full article





Capoeira Resource: Soul Capoeira Blog

23 01 2008

Berimbau, atabaque, pandeiro, reco-reco, agogoHey everyone, I wanted to tell you about an awesome capoeira blog/website I’ve been following for a bit now, called Soul Capoeira.  It’s an extremely prolific and informative site, run by Chan Griffin, that offers everything from in-depth history, to stories and tales, to intricately retold memories, to basic as well as (very) specific information about all sorts of capoeira topics. 

What really got me, though, was the inclusion of beat-by-beat musical rhythm instruction!!  You have no idea how excited I was to find this.  I don’t know how it was for you when you first started learning the berimbau, but I know for many people they do it intuitively, by listening to and watching someone else play, then copying as best they can.  For me though, I had to know exactly in my mind that it was, for instance, “1 down, 2 up, 2 buzz, repeat” or “4 down, 2 buzz, 3 down 1 up, 2 buzz, 4 up, 2 buzz, up-down-up-down” before I’d be able to play the toque successfully.  (Yes, I do find it easier to remember that than mimicking and yes, my friends thought I was crazy too.) 

Anyway, I still find that to be the most effective way I learn new rhythms (unfortunately, my teachers haven’t always agreed with me on that point XD), and it applies to the other instruments as well.  So if you happen to learn that way too—or even if you don’t, it can still be useful—Soul Capoeira comes through amazingly.  Whether it’s pandeiro technique, berimbau toques, or maculelê on the atabaque (at long last, our intrepid Joaninha has stumbled upon the Holy Grail!), if you can read…you can play!  Thanks, Chan!

Picture source: http://www.capoeirasuldabahia.com.br/images/musica.jpg





Capoeira and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

22 01 2008

(semi-inspired by Pirulito/D-cal’s paper, Zen and Capoeira)

The roda, a place of logic, precision, art, and beauty.One of my favourite novels is called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.  The novel explains how art and science, or “Romantic aesthetics” and “Classical reason” are not so much two opposing ways of looking at things as they are twin perspectives that were separated at birth by the likes of Plato and Aristotle, to the detriment of all Western society today.  The split occurs because Romantic appeal is tied to emotions and subjectivity (something appeals or seems beautiful to you “merely” if you like it), while Classical reason is associated with objectivity, the need for a complete lack of emotions. 

In fact, argues Pirsig, you need both to do anything worthwhile, and to do it well.  You need to at once see the cold logic underlying an original Van Gogh and the flaming beauty in the mathematical precision of a motorcycle engine.  At the crux of it all is a concept he calls Quality, which is the point at which Romantic appeal and Classical reason merge.  It all sounds a bit weird and out there when I describe it now, but you must read the book to have a chance at understanding it all (and read it anyway, because it’s amazing!). 

With that said (sorry for the long introduction), it occured to me that capoeira is a perfect example of this unification of science and art.  The novel’s title is explained by the fact that the philosophy of Zen codifies exactly the concept of what Quality is, so you can imagine my excitement at recalling the following quotation, from Nestor Capoeira’s Street-Smart Song:

In the East there is Zen;

Europe developed Psychoanalysis;

In Brazil we have the Capoeira Game.

(Alright, so by “recall”, I really meant “was reminded of by Pirulito’s paper”. :P)

With capoeira, it’s easy to see where the Romantic appeal aspect comes in.  The dialogue, the movement, the acrobatics, the expression, the flow—ask anyone to describe capoeira for you, and it probably won’t be long before the word “beautiful” or a synonym comes up.

I would argue, however, that the logic and science in capoeira is just as easy to perceive as the beauty is.  In fact, one of the first things about capoeira that I fell in love with was the seeming perfect logic of many of the take-down or take-down/counter-take-down sequences we learned.  Seeing them demonstrated, to me they each possessed all the elegance of a succinct, devastatingly proven math equation.  For instance, a successful tesouro was a logical progression from an attempted vingativa, which itself was the jigsaw-puzzle-perfect response to an attempted quexada—based on body positioning, players’ intentions, opportunity, and the laws of physics. 

According to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the reason many people today feel detached from technology and science is because all the Romantic appeal has been taken out of it—emotions are not involved, everything must remain objective and separate from the individual, and test tubes, metal parts, and theories, etc. are not very attractive aesthetically speaking.  What we must learn to do, says Pirsig, is put our emotions and individual values back into Classical reason.  When tuning a motorcycle, for simplified example, he can feel the point at which the screw takes on the exact needed amount of tightness.  When he thinks of the motorcycle as not an object outside of himself, but something that he is engaged with and cares about, he has a much better chance of working on it successfully, and the moment he feels satisfied and at peace is the moment his motorcycle is fixed. 

In other words, one must work with defined principles on which the game is based, but in a way that makes it your game, that makes it personal, and if you do it right—there is nothing but the moment, and everything goes with the efficiency of a well-tuned machine that also happens to make one feel they’re looking at a beautiful work of art.

Sound familiar?

Picture source:
http://www.swps.org/wrf/artist_05/Capoeira.jpg

P.S. Just a note to acknowledge Blog for Choice Day, that today is the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade in the United States.  I haven’t thought enough about this topic yet to feel comfortable writing an actual post on it, but thought I should at least just recognize.





Lessons from Morocco, Part 2: Cultural Relativity and Other Issues

21 01 2008

Woman walking down side street in MarrakechIn my last post (Lessons from Morocco: How NOT to Treat Women), I talked about how intolerable I found the behaviour of many Moroccan men towards women in the streets to be, and set aside the matter of cultural relativity to be dealt with later—that is, now.  The issue, as my friend pointed out to me, was this: I hated the heckling and calling and kissing noises and so on because I wasn’t used to it.  For women who had grown up in that culture though, they’d be used to it and thus not mind or care.  So, since the men were allegedly all bark and no bite, I had nothing to worry about and should be fine if only I let go of my own cultural prejudices (i.e. the idea that everything they did was inappropriate and disturbing).  Even my friend, who although just as feminist is much more easygoing and laid-back than I am, said she didn’t mind as much towards the end of the trip, whereas I was more sick of it than ever.

My response to this is: it doesn’t matter if you’re used to it or not; it’s the principles and the ideas behind the actions and reactions that matter.  Cultural relativity only works to a certain extent, and past that you could very easily find yourself arguing for letting people get away with murder.  There are many cultures around the world that harbour certain practices, such as female circumcision/genital mutilation in Africa, polygamy and sexual/sexual child abuse in Canadian and American towns such as Bountiful, and the abandonment or killing of female babies in China.  These things are all culturally or religiously entrenched practices, and accepted as normal by the people within each culture, but clearly, that doesn’t make them right.

Alright, so if cultural relativity doesn’t make the men’s and boys’ behaviour in Marrakech right, why, exactly, is their behaviour wrong? 

My very first instinct would be to say it’s wrong because of how it made me feel—unsafe, uncomfortable, and vulnerable everywhere I went, no matter when or where.  That should be enough; it’s why bullying isn’t allowed in schools, isn’t it?  However, cultural relativity does create some leaks in this one.  As mentioned above, I only felt the way I did because I wasn’t used to experiencing that sort of behaviour on a daily (read: minutely) basis.  So, since I was (supposedly) never in any real harm, I had no major reason to feel unsafe/uncomfortable/vulnerable and thus my feelings alone, as a reason on their own, polemically speaking, might not be enough to condemn the behaviour as wrong.

Taking my emotions out of the equation then, why is it still wrong?

Moroccan man in Marrakech souks (market streets), possibly catching Joaninha in 100% tourist mode

I really struggled to answer this question in a way that would hold water rationally and objectively.  In the process, I came up with several smaller points that backed up my main one, even if I didn’t know exactly what that was, yet:

1. It objectifies women.

The idea that it’s acceptable to call at and suggestively greet random women in the streets wherever they go implies that women are ever things to be looked at and commented on, as if we were not touring a foreign city or going out to dinner, but deliberately parading ourselves in front of the men/teenagers/boys clustered on the sidewalks.  You know that feeling you have when someone is staring at or watching you, even if you don’t see them?  Imagine being permanently in that state, and change the staring to leering.  Welcome to Marrakech! 

2. It degrades and demeans women.

After about two days, I realized part of why the calling, etc., bothered me so much.  Even if the men did not seriously believe their behaviour would get them what they wanted (although who knows), underlying it all was the idea that they would call, coo, or whistle, and we (women) would come.  Like we were animals.  Or infants, or children, come to think of it.  This reminds me of my “Playing Women in the Roda” post, where I said the “Chauvinist Theory” equated women capoeiristas to beginner capoeiristas; and of the incident where MSNBC’s Chris Matthews pinched Hillary Clinton on the cheek.  It’s the idea that just because we are female, we are somehow less than full or full(y) qualified persons, and can be treated accordingly.

3. It alienates and encourages self-oppression of women.

On our second last night in Marrakech, we met three other women our age and shared a laugh over the mass idiocy we’d all had the good fortune to experience.  Then, they said something that completely chilled and disturbed me.  At one point during their trip, they told my friend and me, they’d gotten so fed up with all the unwanted male attention that they decided to wear headscarves, like many Muslim women in the country do.  And you know what?  The attention, according to them, decreased dramatically. 

To me, that’s even worse than if the attention had gone on as usual.  What’s being said here is not only “You are available for heckling because you are a woman”, but “You are available for heckling because you are a woman with the audacity to leave your face/hair/head bared and not cover yourself.”  I get the feeling not wearing a headscarf in Marrakech might possibly have been the equivalent of wearing a revealing top in North America, which brings us back to the idea of men assuming women are looking/asking for it just because of something they wear (or in this case, don’t wear).  (SeeWomen, Men, and Brazilian Bikinis“).  It didn’t help that while trying to sell her one, a shopkeeper put a scarf around my friend’s head, almost as if to veil her, saying, “This is how our women wear their scarves.”  While we’re on the topic, not that it should matter, but my friend and I were in long-sleeves and pants for the entire trip.  We didn’t even bother with T-shirts, even though it was around 20 degrees Celsius or hotter each day.

Shops in Djemma el Fna, main market square in Marrakech

After looking over all those points together, the answer to my question became obvious, and was much simpler than I thought it was, which is probably why I had such a hard time pinpointing it at the beginning:

I wasn’t heckled because I was me, Joaninha, “English major and obsessed capoeirista”.  I wasn’t heckled just because I’m Asian (though if I hear “Konichiwa” ONE more time…).  I wasn’t heckled just because I’m a tourist—by shopkeepers, yes, but not random men on the street.  If someone exactly like me went on my trip in Morocco, only male, they would not have been bothered nearly as much (although it’s true I can’t speak for any gay male populations in the country…).  The shopkeepers’ heckling didn’t bother me as much by the end of the trip, because I learned to distinguish it from purely male heckling.  Fair enough: they wanted to sell things, I was a tourist, it was likely I was interested in buying things.  The male heckling, though, was not fair at all: they wanted something, I was a woman, but it was not likely I might be interested in that thing.

In short, the majority of the heckling was purely sex-based.  (And I mean sex in all senses of the word.)  That’s why it’s wrong.  Isn’t there something out there that says it’s wrong to discriminate in words or actions based on gender, race, or religion?  Oh yeah—it’s called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

So, it doesn’t matter if you’re used to it or not.  Harassment is still harassment.  Even if it’s not supposed to mean or lead to anything more than an annoyance (albeit a deep, implications-filled annoyance), it’s the ideas and mentality behind the bark that opens the way to it becoming a bite.  Sure, nothing happened to my friends and I, but that’s just it—nothing happened, and we still felt intensely uncomfortable; imagine what it must be like for all the girls and women in the world to whom something does happen?  If the base level of appropriateness in North America is common decency and respectful behaviour, and rapes and assaults still happen, what are the chances of such incidents occurring when the base level of appropriateness in a culture already constitutes verbal harassment? 

Maybe you might say that the rapes and assaults happen precisely because North American men don’t have the “outlet” of heckling women everyday in public, and so are repressed and thus burst from it in more explosive ways, but that idea, ignoring its own lack of merit, again is based on the idea of men “not being able to control themselves”, which is about as vendible as Peter Mans Bridge.

Anyway, I’m glad that I went to Morocco.  It was a really interesting trip, still fun, memorable, and full of new and different experiences.  I’m even glad for the heckling and all that, kind of, because it made me see and feel for real exactly what I’ve been talking about all along on this blog, which I think will contribute to Mandingueira in the long run.

Tomorrow, pure capoeira!

Update: Hmm, so it seems I’ve offended a person with ties to Morocco, according to a comment I received.  Alright, I guess I could have been more careful not to make such wide generalizations (e.g. “Moroccan men”), but something about the comment tells me that wasn’t what he was concerned about.  Oh well; all the blogging experts say you haven’t made it until someone hates you, so maybe this is a good sign? 😛 

Update 2: Aaaaaand…now I have incoming links from Morocco sex and prostitution sites.  That might explain it…





Lessons from Morocco: How NOT to Treat Women

19 01 2008

Marrakech at night 

When I first started writing this blog, it was because I thought it would be a good way of combining, interest, passion, work experience (you never know), and activism. However, all this time that I’ve been writing, especially on the feminist side of things, everything has just come out from my head, things I thought or ideas based on how I saw the world around me, with what little experience I’ve had. Even though I felt strongly about the topics I wrote on, the process of writing each entry was more of a mental pursuit than anything else (as opposed to an emotional or a personal pursuit). Like I said in one of my earliest entries, while I believe it’s important to bring attention to capoeira from a feminist perspective, I myself have never personally experienced sexism in capoeira; I’ve yet to truly enter the workforce to face the glass ceiling; and I’ve had to deal with little else in my everyday life.

Then, I went to Morocco.

It wasn’t horrible. The sights were striking, the scenery was different, the food was cheap and amazing, and it was all very interesting and something to experience. However, I don’t know if all of that makes up for the deep, ugly gash that is the flaw in Moroccan (male) culture.

[Note: I’ve gone over some of this already with my friend who came here with me, and she did bring up the point of cultural relativity, so I do realize it exists, but I’m going to put that aside for now.]

Basically, my friends and I could not go for three minutes—if even that—without getting called at, whistled at, heckled, followed, harassed, come on to, yelled at, beckoned to, hit on, sworn at (because we so rudely weren’t interested), and generally just bothered and interacted with very unsettlingly and annoyingly. 3 minutes.

It was unavoidable, and the men were everywhere. I’m sure “A woman’s place is in the house” is alive and well in Morocco, because no matter where we were and looked in the city (Marrakech, the capital), especially in the old/central part, Medina, about 80-90% of the people you see are men, teenage guys, or boys. I’m not exaggerating. What’s more, they don’t seem to have lives or livelihoods or anything better to do than hang around storefronts or sit on steps and call out slimy greetings to young female tourists who walk by. I am dead serious about this: they’re not in the middle of doing something (although many others who also harassed us were, like shopkeepers), and they’re not just passing by (although many who did just pass by took liberties as well, such as motorcyclists, car drivers and passengers, and pedestrians, who kindly thought we were worth full 180-degree head turns for maximum oglingage as they walked by). They lined sidewalks, lined marketplace aisles, and lined streets, almost as if they were waiting for us, or anyone young with that extra X-chromosome.

And they lined alleyways. Dark, lonely alleyways that my friends and I found ourselves going through when we got lost on our first night, on the way back to our hostel. We didn’t have a choice; it was the only (straightest, quickest, and nearest) way back, and at that hour pretty much all the side streets in Marrakech become dark, lonely alleys. There were several instances when we had to walk in between groups of loitering guys on either side, and speaking for all of us, I truly thought getting mugged or worse was a completely real possibility on at least 5-8 separate occasions that night (read: hour).

There were four of us at the time; we’d traveled in pairs and had met each other at the hostel by accident—so imagine if there’d been only two? (One isn’t even worth thinking about—women and girls, do not travel to Morocco alone! Listen to this especially if you’ll be an obvious tourist, or are young/pretty, and go alone under no circumstances if you have blonde hair. My friend got groped or almost-groped about 4 times in the street—our only instances of actual physical harassment—and it’s very well-known in Europe that most men there and nearby—i.e. northern Africa—love blondes.) [Update: Please see Comments for critique and qualification of this “advice”.] I have never felt so unsafe in my life, and my friend said something so striking and telling afterwards that I’m going to repeat it here:

“Never, in my life, have I ever felt soawkward—being a woman.”

I, on the other hand, after three days, had never wanted to deck anyone more in my life. Everything about this whole experience made it crystal clear to me that my blog isn’t just a waste of time or pointless stirring up of old and tired issues. They are old and tired for a reason. The only reason my friends and I were bothered so much is because we were female tourists (so twice-easy targets) who happened to be “unchaperoned” by any males. We came across other tourists during our time in Marrakech, and the predominant thought in my head every single time I saw an elderly couple, or a family, or a co-ed group of young adults was that they were probably enjoying a completely different tourist experience than my friends and I were, and I still cannot get over the discrepancy.

Do you recall the Comments section of my “Women, Men, and Brazilian Bikinis” post, where Xixarro said, “We can’t be expecting women to go thank every man that passes her ‘normally’, can we”?  Well, it is so bad here, the harassment is so frequent and omnipresent, that every time we passed a man walking towards us, all I would think was, “Please don’t say anything. Please don’t bother us. Please don’t come near us”; and when the man passed without incident, we really DID feel compelled to genuinely thank him for “acting normal”!  It was ridiculous; a man just gave us directions to somewhere without pressuring us to follow him or attempting to stick to us, and we spent the next five minutes exclaiming over how nice he was.

So, what have I learned from this experience? Well, I’ve learned not to look around freely anywhere—because if you accidentally make even the slightest bit of eye contact with a guy, they will react and do or say something unwanted (even 10-year old boys! That’s what they learn). I’ve learned to not smile, because as my friend observed, “Don’t smile. You’ll be a target if you look too happy.” (Most likely because then we’d not only be perceived as Western hussies, but drunk Western hussies.) I’ve learned what it’s like to feel truly unsafe just because of who I am, and what it’s like to seem a minority of 10% because of something I share with 50% of all human beings.

The most frustrating thing of all was that each time I got close to or beyond snapping point, my friend would tell me to calm down because “you can’t change things”—because she was right, it wasn’t just the fact of the matter itself that infuriated me, it was the idea of “this is just how it is” on top of that. But I don’t want to believe that things can’t be changed, because where do you go from there? Nowhere, unless down. Even if I don’t know for sure whether or not things can be changed (although I may have my own sneaking suspicion), thanks to this trip, I now know, believe, think, and feel that they must be.

Which brings me back to this blog.

Update: Click here to read Lessons from Morocco, Part 2: Cultural Relativity and Other Issues