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Sexism While Traveling

On Being Called "Brown Sugar" and "Oprah" in Morocco

Morocco

It's a truth universally acknowledged that when you complain to an ignorant man about being catcalled, they'll say you should take it as a compliment. And when you further explain that being catcalled abroad is even worse, they'll mansplain to you that it's just the way the culture is and you should just suck it up and expect it if you're going to travel.

I don't recall being whistled at or spoken to like a sexual object much in my youth. I wasn't exactly the ideal standard of beauty in my small town, so it wasn't until I moved away to bigger cities that I realized that this unfortunate act of catcalling was something that could happen to me. And sadly, as I've gotten older and lived in cities such as Los Angeles, London, and New York, it's only gotten worse. I'll never enjoy being on the receiving end of it and certainly do not consider it flattering.

My adventurous nature took me on a trip to Morocco after finding extremely inexpensive flights. It was a country I had heard so much about and just had to figure out if all the hype was justified. Thankfully, I was overjoyed to find out that it exceeded my expectations. Morocco is an intense blend of old and new. The vibrant colors, smells of spices, and old ruins were fulfilling my Indiana Jones fantasies.

In my research, before I arrived, it was made clear that the men of Morocco tended more toward the aggressive side when it came to interactions with women. I had faced many sexual remarks toward me in my travels to other locations but didn't want to go in with a bad attitude about this and have it ruin the trip. From the moment I landed in the North African country, a barrage of physical remarks rained down upon me. My inner angry feminist was enraged.

It's a complicated feeling to want to change the world and how women are treated, but then to try and respect the culture of a country and not go in with a stubborn mind on how things are done. I wanted so badly to stand up for myself, but I also didn't want to cause a scene. I just let it be because I wanted to enjoy my time there, even if it meant feeling tremendously uncomfortable.

I do have to give it to Moroccan catcallers, though, for their creativity. When I'm walking around New York City, I just get a honk and suggestive look from a car as it passes by, or told that I should be smiling by a stranger who thinks he should get to dictate what my face looks like for him. Or I might be trying to innocently enjoy a museum when a security guard comes up to me and whispers right up in my ear in a creepy voice that he thinks I'm pretty. At least in Morocco, I received the borderline sexual harassment compliments with a bit of flair.

Morocco is insanely gorgeous and I don't want to miss out on seeing more of it just because some random guy called me Brown Sugar.

As a curvy black woman, some of my favorite names I've been called in Morocco are Beyoncé, Brown Sugar, Oprah, Bob Marley, and Whoopi Goldberg. I guess in a way I certainly do feel flattered. Beyoncé, Oprah, and Whoopi's careers are literally my life goals, so being compared to them could be considered a bit nice. Brown Sugar feels a little obvious, but at least it's sweet. And traveling with long, thick braids, I guess I was just asking for the Bob Marley comparisons.

I realize that a lot of it has to do with being a marketing tactic to make people pay attention to them and possibly come over to buy their products. The culture is that of hustling as hard as possible to make enough money to support themselves or their families, so I understand that it's all about how to gain new customers. And I'm sure I didn't notice if they were also saying things to men as well since I was in my own head a lot with each new name they called me.

Despite being treated this way, I went back to Morocco a year later and still have plans to go again in the near future. The thing is, it definitely may suck for a woman to have to endure these sexist moments while seeing the world, but the fact of the matter is that Morocco is insanely gorgeous and I don't want to miss out on seeing more of it just because some random guy called me Brown Sugar.

Morocco is still one of my favorite countries I've been to, and the first location I mention when people ask me for suggestions of places to go. The culture may not be the most attractive thing for a Westernized feminist to have to digest, but it's good to get outside of your comfort zone and face those that haven't been brought fully up to speed on how many women don't like to be spoken to. My inner Oprah gives me the serenity to face anything, including being called Oprah by someone who needs to back away five steps and not touch me, please.

Image Source: Samantha O'Brochta
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