Saturday, May 19, 2012

Moroccan women as seen from abroad

I read this article back in 2010 when it was published in Telquel, but I am just now getting to the part of my dissertation where I am able to include it and my thoughts on it.  I thought I'd share those thoughts here, especially in light of the recent article I blogged about yesterday about the Moroccan school girl banned from taking her entrance exam at a prestigious high school in Rabat because she was wearing a hijab.

Anyhow, the Telquel article, in French, is titled "Moroccan women as seen by the Arabs."

The article discusses how across Arab states, the image of the Moroccan woman is anecdotally trademarked, and is associated with being liberated--though interpreting that association is subjective.  While in the West, the quality of being liberated hints at franchise and agency, among Arabs, so-called 'liberated' Moroccan women make ideal prostitutes, resulting in Algerian and Tunisian migrants passing themselves off as Moroccan in order to provide the product their customers are seeking.

Morocco represents the literal and figurative west of the Arab world.  Moroccan women, in the minds of Khaleejis, go out, work, exist, and don't cover themselves from head to toe.  One might mark the historical beginning of women's physical and spatial liberation in 1947.  It was then that Princess Lalla Aicha, paternal aunt of the current king, appeared in 1947 without a veil.

The stereotype of Moroccan women as liberated has led to an ironic reduction of freedom of movement for them. Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca if their resources allow it.  There is also a so-called minor pilgrimage that is not required but is recommended for the devout.  As of 2010 (and likely earlier) an unaccompanied Moroccan woman faces additional obstacles to obtaining the necessary permissions to enter Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.  These new obstacles extend beyond the usual labyrinthine bureaucracy, and are rooted in the stereotype that Moroccan women are too liberated.

In other words, while other Arab countries and cultures regard Moroccan women as being liberated, these same entities are party to restricting their freedom--of movement, of employment, of expression.

What is the origin of this stereotype?  Well, according to the Telquel article, it comes in part form the portrayal of Moroccan women in Middle Eastern film.  I discussed the Moroccan-woman-as-prostitute yesterday in reaction to my rage at seeing illiterate women being essentially blamed for exacerbating prostitution.

The article also brings up an interesting point about language, which is of particular interest to me and to my dissertation.  In the final paragraph, the authors point out that most stereotypes of Moroccans come from non-Arab sources.  

However, "la proximité de la langue aidant, les Marocains regardent plus de chaînes arabophones qu’européennes, et sont donc directement touchés par l’image que leur renvoient leurs frères arabes."
With this thought, the authors are either asserting that Moroccan people watch more Arabic language television channels than they do European ones or that Moroccans watch more Arab channels than European channels.  This latter point means that the Moroccans are not just watching Arabic-speaking channels but also Arab channels which may be in other languages.  Textual ambiguity aside, I would love to know upon what the authors are basing this claim.  I am also interested in what the implications are for literacy in Morocco if Moroccans are watching more Arabic-language programming.

According to the authors, because of the Arabic-language affinity between Moroccans and other Arabs, the negative or stereotypical portrayal of Moroccans is more hurtful when it comes from fellow Arabs than when it comes from European programming.

The authors write:
"Preuve en est que l’épisode de la vidéo koweïtienne a égratigné plus de Marocains que foultitude de sketchs français bourrés de clichés sur le Maroc. C’est bien connu, les coups sont plus douloureux quand ils viennent de la famille."

Thus, the portrayal of Moroccans by Kuwaitis caused more outcry than the portrayal of Moroccans in French shows.  This refers to a Kuwaiti program in which Moroccan women were characterized as scheming witches.  For additional reading, especially if you don't feel like sifting through French, the article I blogged about yesterday discusses this issue, and others, in English.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hijab ban for Moroccan school girl

I was shocked to see in this Alam article that the prestigious French secondary school Lycee Descartes in Rabat refused to allow a school girl to take her entrance exam because she was wearing a head covering.  The private school justified the exclusion based on its deference to French law.  However, Moroccan law does not allow for private schools owned/operated by foreign governments or entities to enforce laws that are at odds with Moroccan law.  It will be interesting to see how the PJD (the Islamist party running Morocco at the moment) will react to this.

I will discuss this story, which though posted in April, has been going on since January at least, in more detail soon.

Feminism fail: Jadaliyya blames illiterates and illiteracy for causing prostitution

In a story called "A Monarchical Affair: From Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula," from 10 April 2012, Samia Errazzouki writing for Jadaliyya discusses the relationship between Morocco and Gulf countries. While her article covers some important and interesting information, she nonetheless falls into the all-too-common 'illiterates are ruining the world' trap. About two thirds through her article, she writes:

"Aside from the lack of legislation that addresses sex trafficking, high illiteracy and poverty rates, especially in rural areas, have turned the sex industry in Morocco into a lucrative market."

A quick reading of this sentence might not reveal the offensiveness of her point, so allow me to draw it out for you. First of all, how many times do we need to be reminded that CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION. In other words, high rates of illiteracy correlate with increased lucrativeness in the sex industry, at least according to Errazzouki. Fine. I need to get back to finishing my dissertation, so I am not going to take the time to look that one up. But illiteracy does not CAUSE prostitution or make prostitution a more appealing or make sex work a more lucrative career. In fact, both illiteracy and prostitution are caused by a complex set of structural factors rooted in patriarchy, economic inequality, and poverty. While it is true that there are sex workers who claim that they entered into sex work by choice, there are also sex workers who enter the trade because it pays better than cashiering at Kmart, or in the case of rural Morocco, anything else. Illiteracy doesn't cause women to become prostitutes, and being illiterate certainly doesn't increase a sex worker's earning potential, as Errazzouki's ambiguously worded sentence might suggest. More troubling, claiming that "high illiteracy...[has] turned the sex industry in Morocco into a lucrative market" in Morocco does not go into enough detail about who is profiting and how.

In any case, there is a lot more I could say about this, but I need to get back to my chapter on gender relations in Morocco so I can get my Ph.D. already...