HAPPY WOMEN’S DAY: the double standard dance

March 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Earth Wind & Fire always seems to groove me out of a funk. Yes, I do remember September, the month of my deliberate but unprepared departure. Even at the moment of checking in at the Delta desk, it was my stepmother who first noticed that I had not even signed my passport. Ready or not, I left, dreaming of the experiences to come and stereotypes to break. At this point, it has become apparent that one can never truly be ready. And stereotypes can’t be willed away.  I am not, in the corporeal sense, a well-endowed female. In spite of this, I have received unwanted attention on too many occasions to pretend to myself that Arab men respect women. “That’s a little harsh, don’t you think?” asked my friend Ilias as he, his girlfriend, and I lunched on hamburgers and pizza. “Ok, so not ALL guys here are terrible, but a large majority of them are very disrespectful,” I said.  Selma agreed, and we spent the walk back to my apartment giving examples of our limitations to Ilias.

Some of my pre-September ideas have been changed. I had always thought eloquence and illiteracy incompatible. But the mother of the girl I interviewed in a shantytown is just one of the several women I have met who’s grace and generosity outshines their circumstances. Sitting in their home, I was again reminded of the time spent at Soukaina’s home beside the orange groves for Aid. Her mother never went to school, but successfully managed a household of 4 men. In my short time there, I can attest that this is no easy task. Furthermore, she fed me when I was hungry, and even when I wasn’t.  There are many strong, intuitive women that have made lasting impressions on me.

My thoughts on the veil, which were admittedly the conventional thoughts of an academic, are also changing. Public displays of affection are generally absent from Moroccan society, but I have seen veiled and unveiled girls alike making out with boys on the beach or in parks. I have even seen veiled girls drinking and smoking at dance clubs! I’m finding that one cannot exclusively associate the veil with restriction, nor religion, nor culture, nor personal choice. But certainly, my interest in women’s issues here go beyond covered heads. It’s the mindsets and opportunities that interest me. I oppose narrow Quranic passages that are adduced as religious proof for the inferiority and immuring of women. The more I talk with women the more privileged, isolated, conflicted I feel. The Moroccan Family Code changed many things, giving women equal rights to men on paper.  But creating equality requires a change of perceptions, not words. How many caged birds?

And sometimes, despite my self-righteousness ramblings of women’s empowerment (see above), I play right into societal double standards. On one hand, I detest that women’s sexuality is exclusively defined as the degree which they can interest men. On the other hand, I finally had my first belly-dancing lesson! At least this time only one other person witnessed my inept display. Years of Michael Jackson hip-thrust impersonating are not conducive to mastering the swaying movements of belly dancing. Practice makes perfect.

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