There was a time when bloggers who declared going on one month detox of not buying anything were considered nothing short of gods of sustainability and self-discipline. Enter pandemic, and the only shopping most of us have been indulging in the last three months is that of groceries. (Kindly note that purchasing skincare online does not count as buying things.)
So, slim pickings continues, but there are some things worth highlighting from May now that this wretched three-year long month has finally reached its final week.
Leïla Slimani: Sex and Lies
This work of non-fiction was never going to be a global bestseller (but then again, no feminist book ever is) and I am not sure how to approach the extremely explosive subject matter. Sex and Lies is a collection of interviews with Moroccan women of different ages about their sexual lives under absolutely arbitrary Moroccan policies around sexuality and reproductive rights.
I have been to Morocco twice – once holiday, once for work. Many Central Europeans consider Marrakech to be a mere liberal southern annex to the tourist locations in the south of Spain, and given that flights there used to cost pennies, it was a popular long weekend jaunt (liberal being a very relative term here).
I wanted to experience staying in a quaint riad and live inside the ancient walls of Medina. This was all fine and well, had I not also wanted to leave the riad every now and then to see the city. I was not traveling with a man, which probably would have granted me some peace, quiet and decent treatment. While I am willing to shrug off annoying but benevolent jeering, wolf-whistling and such, I was not prepared to actually feel frightened.
(Marrakech has a huge number of civilian police on the streets, so in principle it is one of the safest large, touristy cities to visit. Alcohol is very difficult to find, so there are no drunk people on the streets.)
I, very possibly, made every single rookie tourist mistake by handing in cash to helpful men (always men!) willing to show me how to get to the big souk, just to be sent walking in circles and have the men come back for more money and more confusing instructions. No woman about the old town would speak a word when asked for directions (as was officially recommended).
As the darkness fell, taxis would routinely leave me n’importe où (the streets in Medina are not named and no-one really operates a map). After sunset there were no women or girls around in the old part of the town, and crowds of men would immediately make their way towards us as soon as we were out of the taxi, laughing and mocking us as we were obviously lost.
Returning to the riad in the evenings started to stress us out so much that mid-trip we booked a hotel outside Medina, where we could have taxis drop us off at the hotel and not be left wandering on the dark alleys.
Things were considerably less stressful during the work trip, but even then, returning from a dinner and walking across the big market square with two male colleagues, the one with more experience from the region said “people are looking at you funny” and suggested we walk to the taxis pretending to be a couple.
I do realise that my experiences have very little to do with the subject matter of Slimani’s book, which is about the oppression of women in Morocco. My uncomfortable personal experiences as a pale, Western tourist in a predominantly Muslim country is absolutely not the issue here. I can choose to not travel to Marrakech for cheap rugs and fabulous hammams with a side-order of harassment. Moroccan girls and women do not have this choice.
I mentioned that Marrakech in particular is considered a liberal city, and the thread that brings together Slimani’s women in the book is the constant juxtaposing of the seemingly liberal (Western) cultural influences (internet porn, pop music) and the ancient, religious traditions (obsession with female virginity). Nobody quite seems to know how to square the circle to advance women’s rights withou turning the country into Sweden (Sweden seems to be the seventh circle of hell to the Moroccan men in particular, as it is mentioned several times in the book as the ultimate extreme where they should absolutely not be headed to!)
The example of the brouhaha that Jennifer Lopez’ concert caused at the very top political level was an excellent example of a country sort of wanting to open up to such heretic displays, but still maintain artistic and moral control over Lopez’ costumes and dance choreographies.
Another excellent book about the hymen-myth in Arab and Muslim countries is Mona Eltahawy’s brilliant, brave Headscarves and Hymens. It came out in 2015 to much appraisal and has been a central reference point in the discussion about sexual politics in the Middle East. She has since written also The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, which I’m yet to read.
Nazan Schnapp skincare
… and then onto something quite different. I had read good things about the Swiss Nazan Schnapp all natural, all vegan skincare line, and then pandemic boredom got the better of me and I got myself a sampling kit. I tried two cleansers (oil & gel), a detoxing mask, a facial spray, body oil and a facial oil.
- I really liked the rinse away oil cleanser. Apparently it has rose quartz infused in it, I don’t know what it is supposed to do, but the product goes on as oil and emulsifies with water, which in my book is a good thing.
- Detoxing Jade Mask gets high marks as well, except that it was a touch runny. Applying it was a risky exercise, as it has a very deep, dark green colour.
- All products have very strong colours, dare I say jewel-colours to them, which is a nice touch, given that their packaging is see-through milky glass.
- All products also have very strong, even pungent, individual smells to them. Or scents, maybe. It is very hard to correctly describe this, but each has a particular smell that is a kind of an olfactory trip to a herb-plant on a sunny mountainside where Ricola– cough drops are manufactured. Nothing smells overpowering as such, but they are distinct. In a profound, yet positive way. (This is really would not make a very convincing sales pitch, I do realise.)
- All products, except Celestine Face Oil, that is. It smells of blue tansy, which I’ve had my fair share of in the last years. May Lindstrom started the craziness with her Blue Cocoon (still the very best) and everybody jumped the tansy-wagon like it was the last, and only Moroccan plant in existence (Yes, I had this all figured out: Moroccan sexual politics and their floral oil distillery practises neatly in one all-encompassing blog post.) Nazan Schnapp recommends the face oil to oily and combination skins, so I would probably not be a primary target audience for this anyway. But yes, blue tansy fatigue very much after testing how Herbivore, Josh Rosebrook, De Mamiel and many others wanted to come up with their best imitation of Lindstrom’s Blue Cocoon. Which still is the best.
- I love the name of the line. It’s the skincare name equivalent to listening to Nicola Sturgeon’s press conferences just because I love her accent so much.
Then I bought a Philosykos liquid hand soap, and that pretty much rounds up everything worth mentioning about the month that (almost) was. I did say slim pickings.