Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gendered Spaces

As our trip winds to a close I am still processing the gender realities here in Morocco. One of the most noticeable things has been the gendered use of public space. So often we have moved through what appears to be male public spaces. The cafes are particularly noticeable as male spaces. It can be quite an odd and disconcerting feeling to walk into a café where all the patrons are men. I do not know what they are thinking, but it is clear they notice us as we take our seats. But it is more than just the cafés. There are times when walking the streets in various cities and towns that the men far outnumber the women, and I get a feeling that the public spaces are defined as male. Even the lounge at the university where we took our Arabic lessons was almost always filled with only men: teachers, staff, etc. The Moroccan wedding we attended was a great example of male space as well. In a large public hall there were tables set up and the women and men often sat together. But then many men went outside to drink alcohol. We as foreign women could join them but it was still a decidedly male space. If their wives had joined them I assume it would be quite scandalous. The work world is a public space of sorts too. The heads of organizations, the administrators, the school officials, and the politicians that we met were all men. Men gave all the lectures we attended as well, except predictably, the gender lecture. To be fair, many of the teachers we met were women. And some of these things are not that different in the States. Positions of power, public officials are often men, or mostly men. The Senate and the House of Representatives are good examples. What I believe is different is the use of public space. It is definitely more homosocial in Morocco than in the US where there are more opportunities for the mixing of men and women. I think I need a caveat here. I don’t buy the various dichotomy of modern versus traditional, or that women in the Moslem world are oppressed and women in the West are free. That is a whole other discussion. In this blog I want to talk about a female space that I finally experienced at the end of the trip.

So here is the story. On our last night before heading to Casablanca we visited the hometown of Youness and Azeddine. The whole day was simply fantastic and I’m sure it will be covered well in other blogs. This one is about gendered public spaces. A soccer game was planned for the evening between the Moroccans and the Fulbrighters. It was marvelously fun and a very special bonding moment between our group and our hosts. But it was quite gendered. The men were going to play and the women watch, and perhaps cheer them on. The guys even joked that the women might have to cook while the men played. We didn’t have to cook but other women did, and there were few of the wives at the game. Again this is not so different from the US. Imagine a Thanksgiving where the men sit around and watch sports on TV and the women work in the kitchen. Ah, but let’s stick to Morocco and this trip. I did have great time at the game, but I had an even better time afterwards. I was finally able to be in a women’s public space! After the game the men went to a hammam, the traditional bath. But the women also got to go to their own hammam. It was really the only time I have been in a women’s public space. Luckily we had a Moroccan friend to tell us what to do. We sat in what were essentially cavernous sauna rooms, lathered on black soap, washed our hair, poured water buckets over ourselves, and then got a scrub down and light massage from the women workers. There are few similar types of public baths for women in the States. You have spas for women or hot tubs and saunas, but rarely do you see the age range at the hammam. There were even little babies there when we first arrived. Beyond that, there was much more of a family or communal feel. It was a relaxing and a much needed break from the unrelenting male public spaces.

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