N asks what I remember of my first days in her office.
I remember O in her sunshine yellow top and hair the colour of fire, smoking a cigarette as she walked into the doorway. She is my first memory of working at a women’s rights organisation. Those were 4 wonderful weeks of starting to understand the life of activists. Not everyone is stable and self-assured because they fight against injustice. Nor are there only feminists that fight for women’s rights.
Some buy into the idea of mass-produced beauty – like N, who is so thin yet and weighs herself everyday. At first I thought she was naturally thin but at the lunch table everyday she is nervous and only eats from a small plate.
Nor does everyone believe in a monogamous ideal – like O, who is dating a married man. She spoke of him several times to me, always with such tenderness that I wondered why they aren’t engaged or married (something common in a Muslim country). I try to hide my surprise when her boyfriend, 62 year-old A, casually shows me photos of his French wife and three children.
Nor are the women there radical, bra-burning sexually-deviant caricatures – like S, who seems to want, more than anything, the acceptance of a young man she finds exceptional . She spent much of her first weeks in Morocco with him, and getting a piercing together seemed to her the start of something special. He is gallant in paying for and cooking meals and openings doors and she readily accepts that despite her ideals of a feminist revolution. This double standard is, a close guy friend told me, what frustrates men, even the most exceptional of them. S’s radical revolution cannot come about as long as she supports these ideas which fall under her purview as ‘patriarchal’.
More than anything maybe, modern Moroccan women negotiate for themselves in the proverbial difficult space between a rock and a hard place, like – N, who was caught between tradition and her own ambitions. No different from women in any other country who has to choose between motherhood and a career. N spent many years studying in France so she could not give that up to marry a man from her country, who would want her to stay home and attend to the house and his needs, as was the norm in her prime. Her PhD is a symbol of her privileged French education and cosmopolitan career. She says that the only kind of man that would understand her would be a European, not an Arab. But she would not leave her parents alone, so she chose good food, a beautiful house and a motherhood of students.
She tells us of the importance of a career and education, to ensure our independence. She thinks that young girls like us should try to work in international organisations. It is exactly that she finds internships important that my application was accepted within 2 days, and why I was eating paella, couscous, and tagines while speaking to her at her dinner table.