The One Who Will “Win You Over”
Let’s talk about sexual harassment. My first night in Morocco, I was stalked.
The Middle East is notorious for its public harassment of female Westerners. While Western feminists get angry about burqas and hijabs ‘oppressing’ women, the men in Morocco (I visited about six cities) paid those women much more respect than they did Western (visibly non-Middle Eastern) women, even if those women were dressed modestly.
Sometimes lines get blurry. My first night in Marrakech, I stayed in a hostel alone with the hostel worker, a twenty-eight year old man. He cooked me dinner, told me stories about Senegal, showed me his award-winning documentaries and even talked about his gay rights activism. But before long, he was trying to hold me, he said he was falling in love with me, and he was making sexual advances.
He didn’t force himself on me, but he was very persistent, and I was a young girl alone in a strange hostel in a strange city in a foreign country. If he hurt me, there would be nothing I could do. He tried to spend the night in my room. He kept touching me sexually even when I told him not too. He refused to leave. He said he would pay for me to come back to Morocco and to spend a month with him in Senegal, where I would meet his family. He called me princess. He swore that he would win me over.
I felt bad for being uncomfortable. Shouldn’t I have been flattered?
A man, especially if he holds power—such as owning the hostel, or having the home-field advantage over a woman who doesn’t know the city—should not abuse that power, even if he thinks he’s doing the right thing. He thought that, as a man, he would waltz in and buy me without knowing anything about it. Bullshit.
Then it got creepier.
I went to the desert for three days with some friends to ride camels, sleep in a Berber village, etc. It was fun. But when I got back, the man (let’s call him Lumiere) became very angry that I had spent so much time away from him. He wanted me to come back immediately. He said, ‘Your friends got you for three days! I only have you for one more day!’
Um, no. You don’t have me at all. He had also found my Facebook, downloaded all of my pictures onto his phone, called his friend to bake me a cake, and—oh yeah—spent three days making me a metal bracelet with my first and last name on it, which he clamped around my wrist like a handcuff.
I was hoping to move to a different hostel to avoid him. Unfortunately, that night I became incredibly sick, and spent the next twenty-four hours relying on him for food, water, and medicine. Of course he found it appropriate to wake me up at odd hours and try to talk to me, when I told him again and again that I just wanted to sleep. The entire day, I couldn’t stop throwing up. I wanted to die - I had never felt so alone and miserable.
Yesterday I flew back to Scotland and I spent today in my room, still incredibly sick. I told Lumiere via Facebook that he acted inappropriately, and I also notified his supervisors. On one hand, I don’t want him to be fired, but on the other hand he should know that that is not okay.
I meant to post more poems today, but I haven’t written anything in the past three days, and I’m feeling too sick (mentally, physically) to process things right now. I hope that tomorrow I’ll have enough energy to write and go to class. In the meantime, hugs are appreciated.
Bottom Line: Girls, we are told again and again that we should be flattered by attention, especially if the attention isn’t just sexual. ”Oh, he cooked for you!” ”Oh, he bought you gifts!” ”Oh, he wanted to spend time with you!” ”You should be grateful!” That translates into: “Oh, he’s giving you unwanted affection despite your persistent objections because he thinks he has a right to own you! How lovely!”
Don’t be afraid to say no. I wish that I had sooner, but it took me a long time to realize why he made me so uncomfortable. Bottom line, if anyone—male, female, whatever—makes you uncomfortable, say something, do something, kick them in the dick, do whatever you need to do to feel safe. Don’t sit back because you think you should be flattered.
You own yourself, and no one can take that away from you.