Trapped in a dream of equality. By Houda Laabadi, Morocco

Houda Laabadi-MoroccoI remember the first time I really thought about my condition as a woman in Morocco. I was in ninth grade and I had just finished reading what is still one of my favorite books today, “Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood” by Fatima Mernissi. What she said about the women of Scheherazade’s “A Thousand and One Nights” is that they “did not try to convince society to free them – they went ahead and freed themselves.”
For some people, it would be an exaggeration to say that a book changed their life. Not for me. This book completely altered my view of the world. It taught me that, as a woman, I should not wait for someone else to free me, acknowledge me or empower me; I should free, acknowledge and empower myself. It made me think about the situation of women everywhere, about the crushing inequality that we experience every single day, out in the streets, at work, on public transportation etc…
That year was also the first time I discovered that to some men, I was no more than a piece of meat, a pair of breasts and a butt to touch without permission. It happened while I was going to the shop next door, an older man, probably the age of my father, groped me right there, in the middle of the street while everybody was watching. No one said a thing. No one stood up for the 15 year old girl that I was. No one batted an eye. I felt ashamed and dirty. After that “incident”, I couldn’t go out for two weeks. I was disgusted by the world, by my own insignificance, but most of all, I was ashamed of myself, ashamed because I did not speak up, because I buried it deep in me and tried to wash my skin and my brain of that memory. Many men say that we are too sensitive, that being catcalled in the street is not a big deal, that they wish women could objectify them and shamelessly hit on them. They do not understand what is like to live your everyday life as merely a sex object, breathing and living to satisfy the lust of someone whose biggest preoccupation is how many women a day he can catcall.
When our media talks about rape, catcalling, and sexual harassment at work, the victim is always portrayed as the one at fault. Everyone blames her. Everyone forgets about the harasser, the rapist, the monster hiding behind society’s utter bullshit. In our country, being a woman is sometimes as dreadful as committing a crime. Being a free woman, who strives for gender equality and control over her body? Don’t you even dare thinking about it, they’d lynch you, call you a whore, a slut, the devil’s spawn. Even little girls are not safe from hatred and objectification. The day their female features start showing is the day they start being sexualized and treated like livestock in our streets.
It is our duty to show the world that men don’t catcall because they find a woman attractive, but because they simply need to assert their power. Their actions are statements that claim men’s superiority over the gentler sex. Sexual harassment has turned into a new monster: It is upgraded and is now far more dangerous, because, with just a few words, you can strip a woman of her dignity, her confidence and her pride.
Still, I know that there are good men in this country, men who respect women and treat them like proper human beings. Some of them are my friends, and I want to thank them. Even though I shouldn’t have to, because the way they behave should be the norm and sexual harassment should be the ugly exception.

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