Confronting catcalling

Emma Jerzyk
April 12, 2017
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The other day, I walked out of the front door of my homestay — just like I do every day — and a man who was pouring something down the drain outside my alleyway stopped dead in his tracks, stared at me, and yelled, “Welcome to Morocco!” 

“I’ve been here for two months,” I wish I had said to him. 

Street harassment is a reality in Morocco, especially if you’re a woman, and especially if you don’t look Moroccan. Fortunately, the staff at the center warned us about this within the first few days of arriving in Rabat, and our Arabic professors armed us with useful phrases in Darija — colloquial Moroccan Arabic — to ward off anyone who is particularly insistent on following us. 

I thought maybe the street harassment would calm down after a while. The medina — the oldest part of the city where all of our homestays are — is a small place. The woman who sells meloui and harcha on my route to school knows my face and smiles as I walk past; the shop owners know not to try to get me to buy something when I’m on my way to school; I see regular faces on the tram when I hop on at the Beb Chellah station. So I thought maybe the men would start to recognize me, too. Maybe they would realize that I’m living here, and I’m not a tourist, and maybe they would give up and stop “welcoming” me to Morocco. 

That is not what has happened. I know. We’re all shocked. 

My favorite experience of catcalling was actually back during orientation in Meknes. I was walking home from the center, and I saw a group of teenage boys approaching us as we were turning into the medina. I watched one of them puff his chest up and look at us, as if he was getting ready to say something to us. And all of a sudden, as soon as we got within earshot, I made eye contact with him, and I watched all of his confidence melt away. He chickened out and scampered away. 

But I have started to take it with a grain of salt and a sense of humor. Most of the time, it seems, these men know maybe a few words in English from pop culture — maybe a movie or a song — and they’re just trying to use their English. One girl on the program was called “Lady Gaga,” while we were out walking, and later a someone called our group, “Spice Girls!” One time, someone walking past me just said, “Camel camel! F*** you!” I’m not sure where he got that one. 

At the beginning of the program, one of the staffers at the center said: “It’s like a game to them.” And I realized that it’s an opportunity to thicken my skin, to get better at harboring a glazed but still focused look in my eye, making eye contact with no one. And best of all, I’ve learned some pretty interesting phrases in Arabic in order to cope — all of which would be inappropriate to repeat here. I started counting the number of times I hear certain phrases or the number of languages in which I get shouted at. I decided I would make it a game for myself, too. 

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Emma Jerzyk

<p>Hi there, I&rsquo;m Emma, and I&rsquo;m from Hinsdale, IL. I&rsquo;m a senior at Brown University studying computer science and Middle Eastern studies. No, you are not the first person to tell me I should work for the CIA. I like stories, and I like data. I like combining them even more. Follow my blog for an in-depth look at Moroccan culture!</p>

2017 Spring
Home University:
Brown University
Computer Science
Middle Eastern Studies
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