Gaining Access to the World of Moroccan Women

June 17, 2010
Gaining Access to the World of Women in Morocco

I studied abroad in Morocco for three months in the spring of 2008, and had a wonderful time there. I recommend Morocco to anyone who can get there. Morocco is home to an interesting intersection of cultures – Arab Islam from the Middle East, French cafes and fashion styles, and music and dance influenced by Sub-Saharan Africa, to name a few. The country is incredibly varied both geographically and historically, from Fez, the oldest existing medina in the entire world, to Casablanca, which has sky scrapers, discotheques, and french-style mansions.

To me, Morocco is a sometimes contradictory amalgam of sights, sounds, and smells. It is the mountains and the Sahara, old-school belly dancing and techno clubs, towering mosques and European-style boulevards, and maybe most importantly, mint tea and steaming towers of cous-cous.

Traditional hammams, or bath houses, offer a glimpse into the Moroccan women’s world that we often don’t have in more mixed-gender societies, as do belly dancing classes and community gatherings.

As a white woman, traveling abroad in Morocco could be frustrating, but was not really dangerous. Most women I know chose to wear shirts that covered their shoulders and skirts or pants below the knee. Many Moroccan women wear clothes that, while they cover their body, are super skin tight. Generally, Moroccan Islamic culture is more laid back than than of the Middle East. It all depends on how much (or how much more), you want to be noticed. Everyday on the street was an exercise in ignoring cat calls. While men often heckled women more for own personal machismo than about actually making any advances, it can be easy to feel threatened without a man to travel with. As always, ignoring it was the best practice, and if it got to be too much, one could always yell, “HShooma!” (“Shame on you!”).

On the bright side, being a woman in Morocco means getting access to spaces that men can’t see. Traditional hammams, or bath houses, offer a glimpse into the Moroccan women’s world that we often don’t have in more mixed-gender societies, as do belly dancing classes and community gatherings. Being a woman also means that you have access to the world of Moroccan cooking, and can learn secrets from women who have had recipes passed down to them from generation to generation. Conversely, there are distinct men’s spaces as well in Morocco, so be careful to check out the vibe before heading into a cafe, bar, or club.

About Julia Baskin

Julia Baskin studied abroad in Morocco.

5 thoughts on “Gaining Access to the World of Moroccan Women

  1. Becca
    March 11, 2011

    Love that you included a phrase to know for responding to cat calls! Thanks for the post!

  2. Lady
    March 11, 2011

    I spent two years on Morocco and loved it! I miss the Hammam most of all! I had to learn to bathe myself all over again. My daughter was there with me the first year and enjoyed it as much as I did. I recommend it to anyone, but a long term stay will give you a better flavour of the country, as you found out.

  3. Julia
    March 11, 2011

    Marissa, A lot of guide books will tell you info about going to hammams. Chances are you’d be able to find better (and cheaper) ones in the old section of the cities you visit. Don’t go to a spa. If you speak any french (or better yet, arabic), ask around. Ask women in stores and bakeries, they’ll tell you! If you’re in Rabat, check out Paradise Club on Ave. Mohammed Cinq near the Gare Rabat Ville for some belly dancing classes. There are other clubs around other cities I’m sure. In terms of cooking, I did most of mine with my host family, so I’m not sure where you could find a class. But, just like the other two, the best thing to do is talk to the people around you! People love sharing their knowledge! Had sayeed! (Good luck) Julia

  4. March 11, 2011

    Hi. I am actually thinking of going to Morocco in a few months, and am wondering, how do I find out about cooking classes, or belly dancing, or female bath houses I could go to while I’m there. Sounds amazing.

  5. Jayne
    March 11, 2011

    This makes me want to go to Morocco. Shokrawn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *