For an intro/tone-setter, please listen to the first 5 minutes (or 20 if you have time) of this podcast.
The reason that I don’t like sexual harassment is twofold—one, it makes me angry because I just want to be left alone and not feel like a display. Two, it makes me scared because someone who is bigger and physically stronger than me is the one objectifying me, and could take advantage if he wanted to.
Now, as we know, sexual harassment is a reality for women everywhere, with varying degrees of prevalence and aggression. Except the weird thing is, I never noticed it much in the U.S., or it never angered me. Sure, on my way to work in DC I’d get a smile or wave, but it all seemed in good fun. I would nod my head as I wore my sunglasses and listened to girl-powery-get-ready-for-the-day songs on my ipod. It didn’t get me down, which has a lot to do with my privilege and overall feeling of security in DC.
By contrast, in Morocco, especially when I walk around by myself or go running, harassment takes up lots of space in my thoughts and lots of energy from my temper. Every time someone stares at me too long, says a comment to me, beeps at me, even when a guy says “to your health” when I’m running, I become so inexplicably angry that in the moment I actually wish I had a weapon to scare the person into silence and shame.
I don’t think I’m a particularly violent or angry person, so this feeling is really weird for me. Instead of ranting about the patriarchy—which don’t get me wrong, is a fun exercise too—I instead am turning inward to see why I am being so reactionary to sexual harassment in Morocco. After all, I can’t stop men and boys from harassing; I can only change how I receive it. So, here are some reasons why I think about and experience sexual harassment in a more extreme way than I do in the U.S.:
I know this sounds like I’m blaming myself for being angry about sexual harassment. I don’t think sexual harassment is okay, and if I ever have a daughter, I hope she grows up in a world where all men know that any form of it makes women feel disrespected and unsafe.
At the same time, since I’m not in a place to speak for other women, and I don’t have actual sexual harassment statistics comparing Morocco and the U.S., I’m not authorized to talk about this issue overall or as compared between the two countries. All I know is that I feel angrier, and I think about it more, here. And getting angry does not make me feel in-control.
But understanding my anger helps me keep it in check. I would never want it to overshadow countless other reasons why I love my site and have never regretted coming here. How welcoming people in my community have been, how excited the girls at the dormitory are, the nature and sunsets, the rewarding challenge of learning a new language, how the air smells always slightly of olive oil, or how my host family has made me feel like I can talk to them about anything—whether it’s about my stomach, anxieties about what I’m going to be doing here (and other existential crises)*, or sexual harassment. Like always, it’s these challenges that make me feel closer to people—which is what Peace Corps is about, anyways.
*The inevitable title of my future autobiography that no one will buy