William and Mary Law School

Equality for All

So during the whole Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya revolutionary sweep a few years back, the King of Morocco agreed to a new Constitution guaranteeing more rights to Moroccan citizens. It includes an anti-discrimination provision, and recognizes gender equality. Compared to the rest of the Muslim world, Morocco is a liberal wonderland in terms of its treatment of women; but for an American feminist like me, the oppression can be disturbing.

When I walk on the streets people usually stare because I'm white, but a few days ago, they were staring for another reason. I wore a dress to work that went a little above my knee and a cardigan to cover my shoulders. When I walked outside of my house, men looked at me as if I were naked. Cars honked at me, men shouted at me in Arabic, and there was nothing I could do. It was the first time in my life that I wished I could wear a hijab, just to escape the harassment.

Some women in Morocco are confident enough to wear whatever they want, and I wanted to be one of them as a matter of principle. But the next day, I wore pants and a jacket to cover my entire body. Morocco is dangerous enough for a white Jewish American like me. I didn't want to push my luck.

The experience taught me a lot about myself and the treatment of women in the Muslim world generally. I was willing to compromise my values and cover up just to "fit in" so I could walk the streets in peace. Do Muslim women have the same problem? How much of the modesty is religious and how much is social coercion?

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