How many camels are you worth?

“We took this family trip to Morocco when I was 12 and we were walking down the street and this man saw my older sister and stopped my parents and said, “Your daughter’s the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. I will give you 1,000 camels for her.”

And my parents were like “No, thank you.” And then he looked at me and he said, “Hmmm. I’ll give you 100 camels for that one.” And I thought, “What?” 900 camels? There’s a 900 camel difference between my sister and me?” And I can honestly say the rest of my life has been this pursuit to be worth more camels.”

-Elna Baker, “I Thought Losing 85 Pounds Would Make Me Feel Beautiful — It Didn’t

I came across an article a little while ago. These two paragraphs really struck home. I was an ex-patriot for all of high-school. I was in a country where women are second class citizens. There was evidence of this everywhere. (The exact country is not important. But I will say it was not Morocco as in the above quote. It is my experiences and how those experiences had an impact on me is what I wish discuss.)

I was followed home from school by creeps on bicycles that hissed in my ear and asked if I wanted to fuck so often it was like listening to cicadas in the summer. As a young female foreigner I was a walking meat passport. If I was shopping with my family, the most eligible male of a shop owner’s family would suddenly be following me around the store asking why I wasn’t smiling. Strangers would regularly offer to buy me or my sister or both of us from our parents. The usual currency was camels. And what weirded me out more than anything was the fact that these men seemed to think they were paying us a complement by offering to buy us, or demanding that we smile. They just wanted us to show we were having a good time. If we didn’t smile, we were called rude (usually by our father). If we did smile, it was encouragement to the creeps and they became even harder to ditch.

Being treated like a piece of meat to be exchanged for a camel, even 100 or 1000 camels was beyond insulting. Yet layered within the insult was also the feeling of inadequacy when I was often worth fewer camels than other girls as in Elna Baker’s experience. The thin blonds with blue eyes tended to be worth 5000 to 10000 camels. Fat? Brunette? You are worth between 500-1000. (I guess camel inflation was a big thing here compared to Morocco.) How fucked up is that? I mean no female should be able to indicate their worth in camels as dictated by strange men that follow underage girls down the street, yet here we are.

Even worse than these strangers thinking they were entitled to our smiles or that it was ok for them to surround me in a store and stare at me (separating me from my family), was that my father wasn’t much better. When we told him that we were verbally harassed and complained about men offering to buy us, my father said that we were just claiming that to get attention, or because we didn’t like the country, or those guys where just trying to give a compliment and we were the problem for not being able to accept compliments. (You see, the hissing and fuck requests did not happen when I was next to my father and therefore already under the control of a man so he never witnessed them. Therefore his daughters must be liers.) Whenever my father said something like that I would go silent. I knew he was wrong. I knew he was a a sexist dick and a shitty parent for saying that to us. But I never felt like I had the right words or tools to point out how fucked up the situation was. I was also afraid to stand up for myself. After all, I was repeatedly held responsible for other people’s poor behaviour.

Discovering feminist blogs in the last few years has been such a relief. I still struggle to find all the words I need to fully define the source of my anger for all the negative “women are worthless” and “you are worthless” messages I have received in my life. But I feel like I am getting closer everytime I read the reasoned arguments from my faviorite bloggers. It is good to know that I am not the only one who thinks there are some serious issues that need to be addressed regarding the treatment of women and girls.