Saturday, October 24, 2009

Since I work in the field of education, I meet a lot of researchers who come to Morocco to study women's rights, gender issues and differences, and sundry other aspects of the "situation" of women in Morocco vs. men.  Invariably, the assumption is that women have it bad in Morocco.  Women need to be educated about their rights - politically, domestically, reproductively, educationally, etc.  In short, women in Morocco are third-class citizens and don't know it. 

Imagine my surprise when a Moroccan friend suggested that somebody needs to launch an offensive against the American media's insulting portrait of  American women and the resulting stereotypes it creates about women as equal human beings beside men.  This was not a new suggestion, but a renewed suggestion after watching an episode of the popular US TV show "Dexter".

For those who don't know, Dexter is a supposedly loveable serial killer who only kills "deserving" victims.  A self-appointed one-man vigilante, his heinous urges to kill were channeled by his policeman father into an "acceptable" outlet where he tracks down and punishes murderers who have escaped justice.  Dexter works by day as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami police force and is surrounded by various caricatures of modern women, including his sister, his wife and his boss, whom he must humor and tolerate with good grace.

First, sister Debra is a foul-mouthed detective on the force.  She suffers from low self-esteem, a strong case of the klutzes and believes that Dexter was favored by their father because he was a boy.  Debra has no idea.  She covers up her insecurities with some of the most foul language to ever hit the airwaves and this seems to suggest she is ultra-modern and on the same level as a man.  (My friend also suggested some men find this kind of filth from a woman's mouth sexy)  Debra reached detective with the help of Dexter and maintains her position with more help from her male colleauges.  Although story lines suggest she is competent, action seldom proves it as there is always somebody male who led her to the right conclusion.  In the most recent storyline, Debra distracts a male colleague and former lover during a big case when he is about to confront a longtime criminal adversary.  This results in both of them getting shot and the lover dies.  Poor Debra couldn't make up her mind between the old flame and her hot new gansta boy.  Back and forth, back and forth.  Will Debra survive and "solve" this case for him?

This particular branch of the Miami police is headed by a Cuban-American woman, Maria LaGuerta.  She is tough yet vulnerable, single yet longs for love, and is currently engaged in a secret affair with a subordinate where his masculinity dominates and she becomes all woman.  In the office, she barks orders and hands out assigmments like a military drill sargent with no back talking.  Maria seems to vacillate between her tough woman image in the office and her longing to be a sexy Latina and can't reconcile the two.  She also displays some resulting insecurities about who and what kind of woman she really wants to be.

Finally, we come to Rita, Dexter's recent bride.  The show started with Dexter dating Rita in an attempt to create an image of normalcy for himself.  Since Rita was the survivor of a violent marriage and carried pyschological scars from the abuse of her former husband, Dexter was under no pressure to perform like a "normal" lover.  Rita was happy to sit and watch TV in a semi-comatose state, then send him on his way.  Over time, Rita decided to want more and saw Dexter as perfect step father material for her two children.  She suddenly wanted another child and all the trappings of domestic bliss and Dexter was her candidate.  Now Rita has expectations, and lots of them.  Now, Rita clings to Dexter like a strong wind might blow him away from her.

Dexter has to account for his whereabouts at all times, he has standards to maintain and chores to perform and obligations to meet according to Rita's standards.  If he misses a beat or a step, there will be consequences.  Rita often organizes things without consulting him which conflicts with his own plans but is somehow meant to be humorous in an "insider" way - oh yeah, those wives are so unpredictable, they have minds of their own.  In one episode, following a car accident, Dexter downplays the seriousness of the accident since he emerged with nothing more than a concussion.  His biggest concern is finding the body of his most recent victim which may or may not have been in the car with him.  Rita takes charge of the insurance claim for some reason, sees the car and self-righteously walks into the police station to declare Dexter a liar.

So regarding the American woman, what do we have in this media portrayal of the women of Dexter?  We have a foul-mouthed, incompetent relying on the help of her brother and male co-workers to maintain her position; an overcompensating, wannabe sex goddess torn between her professional life and her fantasies; and finally, a caricature of the American housewife that makes them look like a twisted cross between a dictator and clinging vine.  All of these characters focus first on their relationship to the male in their life and second on their jobs as detective, bureau chief or housewife/mother.  Interestly, Rita did have a job at some point, in a hotel, where she was distracted by her home responsibilities/children and incompetent.  Now she walks blithely around her little house, baby on her hip, smoothly organizing the lives of five people and participating fully in the community.  Hmm.

Media has a huge impact on popular cultural perceptions.  The fact is, despite educational advances, career opportunities and political advances, women are still seen as "women" - meaning, something less than men.  It doesn't matter if it's America or Morocco or somewhere else, women are seen as distracted and distracting in the public arena.  Their focus is domesticity and it clouds their vision. It's the woman's job to create home and family and it's the man's job to pay visits.  The woman may want a career, she may have a career, but ultimately, she will sidetrack toward her "true" nature and leave all that career stuff to the men. 

You've come a long way, baby, but not far enough.


  1. I like the way you describe a traffic jam, more suitable name for the long wait because of proud male drivers who refuse to budge an inch in order to alleviate a jam.

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