There's unwanted attention because of gender. There's unwanted attention because the "pursuant" interprets the pursued's choice of dress as an invitation. There's sometimes unwanted attention because of race. And the list continues. I have personally experienced all of the above and wanted to add another one to the mix: unwanted attention because of nationality.
When I began this blog with my friend Mona Kareem, it emerged out of a need to address stereotypes within our region, especially towards women. From the Maghreb to the Gulf, the stereotypes generated in these societies have unfortunately led to hate, violence, even state-imposed policies. My awareness of the stereotypes towards Moroccan women only heightened following my increased interaction with Arab men, whether it was for professional, academic, or social reasons. A recent (and very unwanted) experience only further exposed me to these stereotypes.
The experience took place during a recent private and intimate reception, featuring one of the region's most prominent musical minds. My own interest in music stems from over 10 years of playing the viola. This artist had been a musical inspiration following my discovery of his work and I was very keen on listening to him perform. Given the small number at the event, conversing with him was super easy and before I knew it, we were discussing Arabic music over dinner. The conversation began with "I knew you were Moroccan from your first words." I, of course, would realize the implications of his discovery later.
His interaction with me was initially verbal, and it evolved, but he was very comfortable in his skin--dipping a portion of his falafel into the hummus in my plate (I realize how sexual that sounds, but that's really what happend), grazing my arm, putting his number in my phone then calling himself from my number, etc. He gravitated towards me the whole evening, despite my attempts to cordially keep my distance. By the time the evening ended, I took advantage of everyone saying goodbye to him and leaving at the first instance. I woke up to a message the next morning, "Why didn't you say goodbye to me before leaving?"
His advances may have been flattering had he not been a) married and b) noting at every moment that he had a hotel room. And yet, his messages continue (including today).
He didn't care for my career, my interest in music, and our brief discussion in politics revealed that he was quite the monarchist, so that ended quickly. Yet, while there were other attractive women in the event, I couldn't help but trace back to his first sentence to me, "I knew you were Moroccan from your first words." It wasn't simply that he stated it as if he made a monumental discovery, but that he stated it with some sort of expectation...one that led to a bedroom in a hotel room. My experience left me reflecting on numerous things. How many possible ways did he sexualize my very being? It wasn't just that I was a young woman, but my nationality, ethnic origins, and heritage were enough reasons for him to step beyond cordial boundaries and into the realm of sexual harassment.
We point to the human and sex trafficking that weaves Morocco into the rest of the region as a source of these stereotypes but I believe that the intersection of class, patriarchy, and power is the biggest to blame. Morocco, a country with the highest income inequalities in the region, has been the host of sweeping neoliberal economic policies that have made way for dire socioeconomic conditions. And it is women especially, who bare the brunt of these conditions, spanning from the public sphere to the confines of their homes. By virtue of the entrenched patriarchal norms in the region, women are automatically inferior to men. Add class to the mix, and that only lessens their position vis-a-vis men. Morocco certainly isn't known to be one of the wealthier countries in the region and this association sticks when it comes to stereotyping its women. Moreover, the inferiority is legitimized in the minds of men like this Arab artist, who find it so easy to approach a Moroccan woman, like myself, with inappropriate expectations.
These stereotypes have a roots. We break them down by exposing their roots.