Friday, February 4, 2011

Women and cafes

In small Moroccan towns coffee cafes are traditionally a stomping ground for men. Each café having pretty much the same menu as the next but each place having its own particular charm.

Cafes are a place that men go to watch the game, talk with friends, or just relax on their own outside of the house. Each man has his own favorite café either being near his house or being the common meeting place among his colleges . They know when they go there they will not see any women present, since cafes are a sort of boys club with seemingly exclusive membership.

This is something I challenged right away upon coming to Morocco. One of my favorite things to do back home is to go to a coffee shop and curl up with a book and hot drink in a cozy chair. It was not something I planned on giving up lightly. Though there are no cozy chairs in coffee cafes here and the drinks are not on par with my favorite places in America, going to a café gets me out of the house and gives me something to do.

Like many of the men in town I have my own particular café that I favor. I like this one because it is new and clean and the place even employs two women. It’s name is Café Nasif  and in has a small outside area to sit as well as two floors inside. I usually sit upstairs where I can usually feel like I won’t be bothered. It is in the prettiest part of town. Across from the post office and next to the city hall.

Most if not all cafes have t.v.s inside that are constantly showing a football game or some kind of entertaining material that everyone likes to watch. Most men situate themselves to be looking at the t.v. If they are not looking at the t.v. they are usually looking out to the street to watch the people go by. This is where the awkwardness for the women walking past comes in.

In America when we see a restaurant with a window seat we are sometimes reluctant to sit there.  It makes us somewhat uncomfortable sitting in the window, being on display for the passersby to watch us eat. I will tell you that is the exact opposite feeling in Morocco. The ones passing the café are the ones who feel uncomfortable. Because the men place themselves to stare at women as they pass. Sometimes even calling out to them. So walking past a café is indeed an uncomfortable experience.

Women in small towns  know that it is not an option for them to enjoy a drink at a café. They are afraid of what the men there will think and if people see them there they will be perceived as “bad women.”

I’ve extended invitations to many of my female friends here in town and all have refused to go. The only girl who will go with me without a thought is my sister Rababe. The two of us frequently have our café dates and the staff knows us well and knows what we like.

My question is what really is there to be afraid of? The men are not going to run a woman out of the café. Aside from a few jabbing stares nothing is going to happen. Cafes are places of business where everyone should be welcome.

Most of my rebellious nature comes from being raised in America where women have been liberated for quite some time. But I also just refuse be cooped up in the house when I don’t have to be. There are just about zero places for women to go outside of the house. For those women afraid of visiting a café one of those options is eliminated.

I am speaking about small town Morocco, which I of course know best.  In big cities the situation is not the same. The times are modern in big cities and women don’t experience the same segregation as they do in small town life. But my reality here is that I am a member of small town life so I have to witness continued suppression of women and in some ways feel it myself.