Awhile ago I had a realization that working with ALL of the youth of Morocco might not tickle my fancy, so I started to focus on working with women. This work, my goal of planning a girl’s empowerment camp and a book that I started today called, Lean In, have led me on the path to a healthy reflection.
There exist stark differences between Moroccan culture and American culture and how women are treated (note* these are observational and occur in the North of the Morocco) but there are also quite a few similarities. The differences are fairly obvious, the most prominent being the public domain does not belong to women. As with most things, there are exceptions, one being the market area where women are often found buying their food and goods. Beyond that, though, men are much more likely to be seen roaming the streets. Of course, with my focus being on women- I have found wonderful pockets where women gather to form lasting and supportive relationships (with some gossip thrown in to liven things up!). The similarities though, lie more in the subtleties, where people may believe that women and men are equal but convictions or beliefs are thickly covered in nuance.
Examples of this are this range from the idea that soccer cannot be for girls as the beloved sport is only for boys to the idea that women can not be in male dominated occupations such as police officers. It also exists in the belief that modern day women to be great both in and outside the home. I observed this when living with our second host family and our host mom worked as well as cleaned and prepared three home-cooked meals a day. These subtleties can be felt in the words used to describe women. When once asking a group of Moroccan women, what happens if a woman is not a good cooker or cleaner, the response was a unanimous, that doesn’t exist. They are, without question, good housewives. But if I had asked a question that related to the workplace and all women being ambitious in relation to their careers… the same answer probably wouldn’t have been unanimous.
“‘She is very ambitious’ is not a compliment in our culture”
“When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy”
“… to this day I always feel slightly ashamed of my behavior”
As someone who was often described as bossy when I was younger (and maybe even now), these quotes from the first part of Lean In really registered with me. The feeling that being a strong and opinionated person can often make me feel ashamed or apologetic is all to familiar. And in Morocco, women that display these traits are few and far between. I have been lucky enough to find some of these women and truly relish in the company of those that seek to create change.
The concept of the “imposter syndrome” is very much in affect in both the US and Morocco. This syndrome is the idea that women do not yet belong to the “members-only club” that is the workforce. This is palpable for women in Morocco who are working on breaking through the walls of just being present in the workforce. While it exists as a subtlety for women in the US who are working towards being mainstays in all levels of the working world. Working towards this goal starts very early on, because it means working against conditioning that occurs during infancy and childhood.
“From a very early age, boys are encouraged to take charge and offer their opinions. Teachers interact more with boys, call on them more frequently and ask them more questions. Boys are also more likely to call out answers, and when they do, teachers usually listen to them. When girls call out, teachers often scold them for breaking the rules and remind them to raise their hands if they want to speak”.
This notion also resonates with me because I remember being told to raise my hand. I remember being scolded and told that I was only allowed so many answers per day or that I had so many call-outs before my name was put on the board. Now, realistically, this could have been because I raised my hand or called out often, but was I more noticed because I should have been quiet, docile and patient?
“Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost”.
At this cost, women are forced to deal with the “leadership ambition gap”. The idea that women who choose to be ambitious are often viewed very differently, Hillary Clinton being a prime example. There have been quite a few books written about Hillary focused on just how ambitious she is/was and how she should be viewed unfavorably for her actions. This gap is a very serious problem because without females wanting to break the barriers and willing to be seen as strong or ambitious then pay gaps, occupational stereotypes and in some places, basic civil rights will continue to be moot points.
“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.”
All of these statements touch on fears that I personally have felt, and even though I am not a mother, I can only imagine the pressure that is on the women who are. These fears seem to be more prominent in Morocco because of the lack of working women. One of the biggest fears seems to surround the idea of being an unmarried woman. The desire to marry is so resolute that, even with the tenacious women that I know, it is a topic that is constantly brought up. Often after meeting me, it is determined I am better off because I am married. I haven’t yet asked why, but the nod of approval always leaves me feeling strange and asking what they would really think about me if I was unmarried. It is also very strange to many Moroccan women that I do not yet have children, and sometimes saying “inshallah, mn b3d” (God willing, later) just does not cut it. These questions resonate the focus on a woman needing a role in the home to be justified in society.
I am hoping, inshallah, the camp that I am planning with several other volunteers will be successful in promoting the girls to shed some of the notions that society has given them. I hope the camp will encourage them to seek roles that truly fulfill them and that they have choices. That they are full and beautiful people just by being themselves. That they can be active and healthy members of their community, right now. In both Morocco and the US, it is necessary for “institutions and individuals to notice and correct for this [societal] behavior by encouraging, promoting, and championing more women.” By recognizing that women should and must be active members of society as mothers, CEO’s, secretaries, teachers, CFO’s, inventors, engineers and volunteers and all of these roles will contribute to breaking stereotypes and walls of all kinds.
The first part of the book, Lean In, focuses on the question of “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” The author confesses that she would write a book, and me? I would become a Peace Corps volunteer and help plan a camp for only girls that would contribute positively to their self-esteem, community contribution, and dreams.