Barbie! Lady Gaga! Spice Girls! Although I was modestly dressed the catcalls persisted as I walked through the filthy streets of Marrakech, guideless with two of my friends. I understood that I was a minority and appeared much different than most women in Morocco, with my milky white skin, green eyes, and blonde hair. However, this time it was different. A man twice my age asked if he could trade my hand in marriage for a camel. After he saw the look on my face he upped his offer to 50,000 camels. To him I played it off humorously, but in my head I kept hearing my Grandpa warn me with stories of young American girls being kidnapped exactly where I was standing, in the Souks of Marrakesh. “Once you have all the camels in Morocco then we’ll make a deal,” I hastily answered, and scurried into crowded streets, clutching tightly onto my friends’ hands. Later, a man grabbed my arm and told me I didn’t have to pay a dowry to be his wife, as if he was doing me a favor. Unfortunately, these appalling scenarios are played out on a daily basis in the streets of Morocco.
On the way back to our riad, a Moroccan youth hostel, I began to wonder if the women of Morocco felt as I did, powerless in this male-dominated arena where I was treated as if I were a pack of gum to be traded off for a ball of rubber bands. My question was answered three days later when our group of volunteers had the opportunity to attend a cultural infusion that included two Moroccan women and one Moroccan man, all in their mid-twenties. Their welcoming attitude made me comfortable asking whether the people of Morocco believe that women should be allowed to work. One of the women explained that women could not handle the stress, complexity, and burden of working. Women are expected to be obedient in the presence of a man and are not capable of undertaking jobs besides cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children inside the home, she concluded. Some of the American and European girls in our group in our group nodded their head in agreement. My blood boiled, as I restrained myself from blurting out my thoughts. I was observing firsthand how strongly environment influences one’s viewpoint. I was aghast at how impressionable my friends were and how little it took to influence them
That incident followed me home. Not the role of women in different cultures so much as how easily my peers’ opinions were altered without any evidence to substantiate them. As my awareness became sharpened, I came to realize that I was guilty of the same conduct of which I was accusing my peers. I often made comments without the appropriate information just to fit in with everyone else. Following that admission, and witnessing how my Moroccan friends conformed to their society’s beliefs, I had to ask what influences America was asking me to think was normal.
The American variation on the scene I witnessed in Morocco involved, not a religious context, but heavy media saturation celebrating poor choices, personal dysfunction and money. Television shows, magazine covers, music videos, all are forms of brainwashing. Impressionable teens mimic the behaviors of their idols thinking that is how adults act, without understanding the ramifications of their actions. Within a very short time a new norm is born, where erratic and irresponsible behavior is acceptable.
Our environment influences us all. However in America, I am fortunate to have choices and the freedom to make them. But endless choices, both good and bad, come with the obligation to become aware of these moments and to decide what kind of person I want to be. Before I act I must put each choice into perspective and ask myself what I intend and whether I know enough.