Encountering unwanted attention from Moroccan men is unfortunately a possibility for female travelers. The relative lack of social interaction between the sexes in Morocco results in men having little exposure to women other than their immediate family. They often see Western women as not being bound by Morocco's social restrictions, and perhaps have a not-so-respectful assumption of them via easily accessible Internet pornography. This assumption of availability emboldens the Moroccan male to make advances on female travelers that he would never attempt with Moroccan women. This generally takes the form of catcalls and straight-up come-ons. Blonde women may be singled out, and women traveling alone generally receive more attention than most.
Women on the receiving end of nonphysical sexual harassment should do what Moroccan women do: Ignore it. Showing confidence and self-assurance also seems to deter a lot of would-be Romeos. I've often explained the situation to female travelers by comparing the male harasser to your 13-year-old brother -- full of bravado and not much else, especially when isolated from his friends. What you are basically trying to project is that you wish to be treated with the same respect and standards as Moroccan women, who regularly put up with catcalls but will never stand for anything more, especially unwanted physical attention such as groping. Should this happen, make a scene, and Moroccans around you will come to your assistance and often strongly admonish your attacker. If you're in one of the major medinas, ask for the Brigade Touristique.
Dressing modestly -- a long skirt and loose, long-sleeve shirt -- can help. Having said that, I've seen Western women wearing jellabahs (the traditional robe worn by local women) on the receiving end of lewd comments. Traveling with a male can help you avoid verbal harassment; however, be prepared to call him your "husband" on occasions.
All of this sounds terribly negative, but most women never receive any harassment and are nothing but glowing in their praise for the respect shown to them. Try not to be paranoid or aggressive toward all Moroccan men. It's extremely rare for harassment to go any further than the odd catcall or lewd remark. If you do need to escape at any time, head for the nearest salon de thé (upmarket teahouse) or cafe-restaurant (but not the local all-male cafe) to gather yourself.
Check out the award-winning website Journeywoman (www.journeywoman.com), a "real-life" women's travel-information network where you can sign up for a free e-mail newsletter and get advice on everything from etiquette to safety. The travel guide Safety and Security for Women Who Travel by Sheila Swan and Peter Laufer (Travelers' Tales Guides), offering common-sense tips on safe travel, was updated in 2004.
Girls vs. Boys -- While my male author addresses the issues faced by women travelers, I feel it's important to share my own Morocco experiences (as this guide's editor and a woman) and prepare females (particularly young women traveling alone or together) for the attention they will receive from local men. Young Moroccan men can be charmers, and you'll likely make male friends along your journey. However, be wary of large crowds (Gnaoua & World Music Festival) or congested medinas, where young men sometimes get carried away and forget the rules of decorum. It is without question (no matter what you wear) that you will get your fair share of catcalls (think of the stereotypical construction worker), which can be avoided (I find) by putting on a serious face and walking with purpose, and otherwise simply ignored. In the event that the harassment is elevated (groping, following, aggressive profanity), do not hesitate to use the same defense you would at home (yelling, pushing away, and so on), and identify the offender to the Brigade Touristique if possible. The chance of this happening is rare and should not scare you from visiting a country that I truly love (despite my few bad experiences), and remember that just because you're a visitor doesn't mean you have to put up with actions that make you uncomfortable. -- Anuja Madar
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