A man's world

I borrow the title for this page from my friend Rachel Saunder's title for one of the many short films she produced from her travels in Morocco (click here to view her work). Of course, it's also a truism for any woman traveling in Morocco- one can't help but notice the crowds of male participants present in Moroccan streets, cafes, night time promenades.

The overwhelming feeling of 'maleness' is no inconvenient in itself- just takes a little getting used to, as you wander about the streets of any Moroccan city, and feel a little self conscious sitting at a seemingly 'male-only' cafe (which in actuality is open to all ages and genders, though men seem to take more advantage of this space!). Once you are accustomed to the highly skewed distribution of sexes in Moroccan public spaces, you can carry on you own life, which is one of 'exception' granted, but aren't you an anomaly there anyway?

No, the issue is not the men. The issue is the concept of 'public and private' spaces- the definition of which greatly differs from one culture to another. In 'my world' (i.e. the overly industrialized west) public spheres operate according to different rules than in the Moroccan public sphere.

In anthropoligical jargon, these difference are attributed to "cultural norms". Take the street, for example. In the West every individual is allocated a small area of 'personal breathing space' and privacy which it is rude for others to impede on. Rude behavior can include bumping into someone on purpose, or not apologizing when you do so, addressing someone without prior excuses or authorization to do so, obvious staring etc... In Morocco, none of the above behaviors are considered rude, unless the purpose of course is to offend the person. From their cultural standpoint, the street, or any other public place for that matter, is an arena which supports very little privacy, and one's presence there is an invitation to conversation, interaction, or simple observation. You don't go out into the streets unless you are willing to participate in the life and actions that go on there. In other words, Moroccan cultural norms are significantly different from Western ones.

In less scientific jargon, these differences are called "culture shock". Anyone who has even experienced this 'culture shock' and would like an intelligent explanation for his/her uneasiness should read Edward T.Hall's book: The Hidden Dimension. This mind opening analysis of the cultural subtext underlying our behavior provides a refreshing explanation for the frustration and uneasiness we often feel while visiting foreign lands. And the sooner you manage to read the 'hidden' message underlying the other's behavior, the sooner you will feel comfortable, or at least at peace in your new environment.

That said, a single woman's position in Morocco is a hard one to bear. And adding other women to your traveling caravan doesn't seem to reduce the number of catcalls and other tremendously charming intrusions. My travels with Rachel and Alexandra were fascinating, but a bit nerve-racking: as we attracted comments, hisses and looks from miles away! Traveling with Jonathan was an entirely different experience- one which made me almost forget my womanhood. As I learned, traveling with a man made me....invisible.