I have officially spent over a week in Morocco. And so far, my experience has been wonderful. Rabat is beautiful and very exciting to explore, my classmates and I have all become very close, and the subject material makes me excited to do my required readings. The only real downside is that we were warned not to pet stray dogs because they may have rabies.
Our first week of class centers around Moroccan women, and it’s one of the topics I hoped to really focus on while here. And since being here, I’ve realized that Moroccan women are wonderful and incredibly diverse. Most Western ideas surrounding Moroccan Muslim women, my own included, include images of modesty, domesticity, and subordination.
Since being here, I have noticed that gender relations and the role of women is different from the norms I am accustomed to in the U.S. Women definitely dress more conservatively, but the range of modesty varies from woman to woman. Women wear what they want, in align with personal preference, which was surprising to me. I see just as many headscarves as I do blue jeans. Moroccan women all dress differently, have varying levels of educational attainment, watch soap operas, cook excessively, love to feed houseguests, pray, hug, kiss, and all possess vastly unique personalities. And I realized that my desire to “study” the lives of women was somewhat silly, because they’re just people, and they can’t be generalized and compartmentalized into just one “thing.”
As far as gender relations go, female-male interactions are very interesting to me. Women are definitely not as likely as men to occupy the public sphere. Men are more likely to be more highly educated and work outside the home. Furthermore, Moroccan men possess a certain level of confidence and self-assuredness that I haven’t seen in Moroccan women. Men walk around very carefree, loudly talking to friends and walking around sometimes unaware of other people nearby. But Moroccan women are quite aware. They often move out of men’s way and do not meander, talking to friends with the same laid-back attitude. And as a white woman, I have realized that this level of humility in the streets that Moroccan women seem to demonstrate is especially important for me. Men are more likely to call out to my female classmates and me because we are obviously foreigners. I have experienced more following, catcalling, and staring in the past week than I think I have ever in my life.
In class, we have begun studying the lives of women in Morocco from a social-political perspective, specifically the marriage and family code. This law has been heralded as a huge advancement for women’s rights and incredibly progressive by Arab country standards. However, the law is deeply flawed. Let me first explain a bit. The Moroccan Family Code replaced the Personal Status Code in 2004. The reforms included such changes as increasing the minimum age of marriage to 18 in hopes to eradicate child marriage, placing more stringent restrictions on polygamy, allowing women to legally represent themselves in marriage and with their consent, allowing women to file for divorce, reforming child custody laws, and abolishing the provision requiring total submission on the part of the wife. And don’t get me wrong, these laws are vastly superior to the Personal Status Code, or Moudawana. But they’re not perfect.
Firstly, the law does not address multiple groups of people, including widows, single women, and those who identify as members of the LGBTQ community. It furthermore does not necessarily go far enough. For example, polygamy has not been fully abolished due to its ties to Islamic law, the provision that a rapist could evade prosecution if he married his victim remained in effect for another decade, and inheritance laws remain untouched.
But more problematically, the philosophy and ideologies surrounding women and the family have not really changed. Yes, women exercise more autonomy, but in the family. This law, while progressive, does not eradicate the ideas associating women and family life. Women are wives, mothers, home-makers. This law, while arguably progressive, keeps this idea of women in the home. Which begs the question, are reforms advancing the rights of women only able to gain traction within the framework of a previously established patriarchal institution? Do lawmakers only care about women when they have a clear, personal interest to do so? Yes, the reforms are progressive, but they also work within an established system, they do not revolutionize it.
Furthermore, the law maintains an idea of men and women as complementary, not equal. Men are legally obligated to financially support their families, while women are financially free of this responsibility. Men and women are perceived as having different, complementary roles. They are not equal, because men and women are seen as inherently different.
I also had the opportunity to visit the modern art museum this weekend and see an exhibit showcasing modern Moroccan women artists, which was incredible. The artwork was beautiful and powerful, commenting on the violence, discrimination, and beauty expectations facing women. The most moving piece to me was one commenting on the case of Amina Filal. The painting portrayed slabs of meat with Article 475 stamped across them. I highly encourage you all to look at this piece of art and learn more about Amina Filal.
In a lot of ways, being a woman in the U.S. is no different from being a woman in Morocco. And in a lot of ways, it is quite different. I do have to worry more about what I wear and if I can smile at men, but I’m still able to go out, explore the city, and voice my opinions. I hope this post has done justice to the Moroccan women I have met thus far. Other things I have learned that I need to share: Gypsy Kings is a GREAT band, there was a banana epidemic, and Turkish toilets require an incredible amount of aim.