Tomorrow I will not march.
Tomorrow I will get out of bed, perform a whole-hearted but wholly pathetic attempt at a workout, and gather my things in preparation to teach community health at the government technical high school.
But I will not march.
Some volunteers don’t participate in International Women’s Day on March 8th of every year because they’d rather stay home. This is not untrue for me. I don’t love the pomp and circumstance of Cameroonian public holidays, and do love slow mornings accompanied by fried egg sandwiches, but it’s not the only reason I won’t throw on my best wrappa and line up to hoot, holler, and march with other women at the grandstand.
I won’t march because the day, to take a page from Joe Biden’s book in an attempt to be family friendly, is malarkey.
The fairer sex in Cameroon is unequivocally the backbone of this nation. They raise the children, they hoe the fields, they wash the laundry and they cook the meals. Day in and day out this entire system is run by an unappreciated, unrecognized group of people: women. In a close second place is children, and seeing as my job concerns youth and I am the proud owner of a pair of fallopian tubes, what some might say is none of my business has now become ‘my business’.
I get told often what is, or is not, ‘my business’. See, it turns out there are different genres of business, a fact I remained ignorant of until coming here, and they include things like ‘African-people business’, ‘old-people business’, and ‘man business’.
I’m not any of those things.
People enjoy reminding me of that.
As a white woman, I often enjoy a status somewhere in the grey area between man and woman. I’m not as low on totem pole at a Cameroonian wife or child, but I’m not quite worthy of the respect of a black man. In no way am I anywhere near the top-tier position of a white man. If there was ever a pyramid of social order in this country, that sucker would be capped with a White Dude.
Generally, this doesn’t bother me so much, besides the consistent cat calls and marriage proposals I am subjected to. I am also normally surrounded by other white women, so we all suffer together. Yesterday, though, I had the infrequent experience of being with a fellow volunteer, a man around my same age, while walking to the local shop.
Just in the few minutes we were shopping we had one man gleefully shake my fellow PCV’s hand while refusing to greet me. He claimed he was the Fon, falsely, and that he wouldn’t deign to touch the hand of a woman (I suppose cooties are indeed alive and well). He then insisted that I go home with him, and if I refused to do that, I should at least have him follow me back to my apartment where he and my White Dude Friend could discuss over beers while I prepared them a meal.
“You must!” he insisted “This is Africa.”
I, reader, am here to tell you that I don’t much care whether this is, or is not, Africa when it comes to the unjust treatment of women. My example was a low-ball, a blip on the radar, a banal commonality. The women who march tomorrow have, and will continue to, experience much worse. Some are in household that are permissive, to a point. My landlord’s wife, for example, will happily be sporting a sign and stomping her feet while he stays behind and watches over their shop adjacent to the grandstand. Others, however, are putting their physical well-being on the line to be out there in public, proud to be female. They face a good chance of returning home to a beating, and possibly worse, thanks to their rebellion.
It embarrassing, they say, to have your woman out proclaiming the joys of being a lady. It shows you can’t control them, I’ve heard. Signs have been put up around bigger cities like Bamenda with the simple message “Real men do not fear equality”. The ruse doesn’t seem to working. There will still be a substantial portion of women forbidden to leave the house tomorrow, and those who don’t listen will learn the hard way.
The streets will be bare. The will be no people selling refreshments, no food being fried, no audience in the stands cheering—a stark contrast from every other holiday. Those jobs are for women, and with those women preoccupied, nobody steps up to fill their place. Choruses of song will fill the air from the small group gathered, proclaiming things like “One day we’ll be equal” and “We’re as good as a man is!…kind of.”
Offices will still be open, people will be expected to report to work, and radio announcements have been broadcasted that this Friday is like any other, and people should go about their business as usual. Never mind these broads dancing in the street, just continue on with your day.
I will try to be proud to be a woman tomorrow. I will try to continue to refuse to be disrespected. I will try to demand equality in an attempt to be a role model for what it is possible to be, as a human, as a woman…
But I will not march.