While playing a fun game with friends that consisted on asking random questions that usually we may not think of, one of the questions I was asked was “if I had to wake up in somebody’s body, who would I pick”.

If you asked me this question when I was a child, I would have answered XYZ woman celebrity either a powerful smart woman leader, because that is what I always aspired to become, a Governor, Minister, a First Lady, a judge, a reporter, a lawyer … Or a beautiful woman because as a little girl and teen even if I heard many times that I was cute, I didn’t really believe it or maybe haven’t heard it enough to believe it, so I guess I would have chosen to be a beautiful attractive and a “complete” young woman because I kept hearing school mates describing their standards of a beautiful woman and have never felt that I fit in that description.

But today my top of mind answer was completely different. I actually wanted to be in a man’s body. This idea hit me to be honest and just brought up to the surface one of the most vulnerable sides of me. I wanted to be a man, I said, because I think it’s easier to be a man. As a man I won’t be harassed every 5 meters, I won’t be scared to walk by myself, I won’t need to think more than twice before doing anything, as a man in my society I won’t be judged as if I was a woman. As a man I just need to be myself as I am now to “feel” accomplished, to feel Safe.

I can’t believe how this need for safety or rather say this fear grew with me and in me. I remember when I was a kid, I grew up inside a military base. a very protected and respectful environment. neighbors are kind and everyone respects you. when we moved out and I went to a Business school in a different city, then I discovered that in order to feel safe and respected as a young woman in my country you better hide and lock the door of your room. I was not used to it, but later I did. I got used to be catcalled in the street, I got used to feel constantly in danger and to be constantly careful, I got used to not trust men nor women who help them get other women and all the stories you hear about that. I was scared of being rapped, I didn’t know how to handle longer conversations with stranger men because I couldn’t trust that they don’t want something else from me.

It is not something fun to get used to. and I didn’t know how much it was part of my daily life until I stepped out of Morocco, and my life changed Forever.

I discovered that we were wrong growing up in a society that makes a woman believe that she deserves anything bad that happens to her. I realized that woman in other cultures could be independent, do “mistakes” and still be respected by men in their community. I realized that catcalling and harassment is simply not acceptable. and I met few men who were very respectful to women and won’t take advantage of her because they have values and they stick to them, they have self respect.

When I came back to Morocco in 2012 I found a very hard time to adjust again to that attitude. I didn’t know what should I wear, where should I go without being labeled. What time can I go out. with who. if I want to go for a run or a workout I had to travel for 30min to go to downtown or just forget about the workout. I didn’t know where to look when I’m in the street. my neck and shoulders hurt me because of looking down and being constantly careful from something that might happen. Looks make you feel that you just want to go back home as soon as possible and dive again in your virtual world where you find your comfort zone.

As an entrepreneur, I didn’t know what to think if my counterpart is a man. I preferred to work with women just because I felt “safer”.

the sad thing is, that all this seems to be normal for most of us. and again “be careful” is the only answer that your family will give you.

When I came to the US, I felt it was a relief. it feels so good to walk in the street and maybe the only person who will talk to you is either a homeless person who will ask you for change or a person who will say good morning or give you a genuine compliment and walk away without following you requesting your phone number or grabbing you.

I always thought it was only me who exaggerate and over react, or at least this is what my Moroccan male friends and colleagues convinced me to think. I always had their answer “well, Safa, you should not care about people”, or answers “well, as long as they don’t touch you then you shouldn’t care”. But it’s easier to say than to do. and I don’t know why the solution has to be implemented by women. Till one day a friend of mine from the UK with whom I was discussing this topic, answered, “yes, sometimes we men can be assholes”. Then I realized that this is part of the answer. is that in other places, men recognize that catcalling and harassment is not a normal thing, is not the woman’s fault to undergo it and that men are responsible. while in our region it is totally the opposite mindset.

I saw in DC an amazing advertising that says “if you don’t want it, it’s harassment” and maybe for first time in the 31 years of my life, I felt that someone finally gave me the right to give that feeling of non-safety and embarrassment, a name. I read it, and I honestly had tears in my eyes and said in my head: “Thank you, for stating that it is not a normal thing and thank you for reminding me, because I started to lose my understanding of what I want with what the other wants. Thank you, because I didn’t know that I could say NO at first place”

I remember how few years ago in Morocco few young women started a movement to say No to harassment and many people attacked that young woman who was leading and they found her pictures from social media and talked bad about her to justify that if she’s catcalled it’s because she deserves it. Although women of different beliefs, style, size, age, etc, are catcalled everyday and it’s not exclusive to a certain number of what some people may call “modern” or “westernized” women.

if this attitude continues in our region, then I’m afraid women will start to ask for a special asylum to run away from this ignorance. Safety is a basic need and shouldn’t be considered as a luxury.

I would like finally to share my admiration for all women in my region who could say no to such behavior from stopping them to be happy, independent and outgoing. who are living their life fully and are out there no matter what. They don’t accept harassment and they don’t trade their femininity and freedom to be submissive to anybody else. they are activists and they know how hard it is to deal with such men and situations everyday but they are simply unstoppable.

Till then … Next question …

Safa Hajjaj

A full, accomplished Woman.

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