I was about 20 years old and in my final year of university when I was first sexually assaulted by an adult man.
I didn’t resist.
Don’t get me wrong I was in shock that this was happening to me. ME of all people. Like what?! Which motherfucker??! I was enraged, livid, murderous. He knew me. Knew my parents. Knew my family. Knew I was the kind of girl who could speak for herself. I knew his wife, his children. That didn’t stop him. I daresay THAT was why he targeted me.
And I didn’t resist.
Why, you may ask? Because what I felt at that moment as he slid his hands up my thigh, as he pushed aside my panties, what I felt was resignation. Resignation and a bone deep tiredness born of disappointment, disillusionment and disgust. That moment was a culmination of what I had always known about my community but had hoped would be something I was wrong about.
As a girl growing up in Cameroonian society, you understand pretty quickly that you are not yours. Yes, you are you but you are not yours. You are there for men (regardless of their relationship to you) to control, to look at, comment on, maybe admire…or grope, insult, dominate and eventually own, because that is what marriage (still the highest achievement women can have in our society) is in our communities. Ownership. Don’t believe me? Look at the disproportionate praise and admiration men who do not treat their wives like trash get. Never mind that being married to someone should mean you place that person’s welfare as high as your own.
I was 10 the first time I was catcalled. I was walking up Clerk’s Quarters road in Buea trying to catch a taxi to GRA where we lived. A truck full of soldiers drove by to the camp at Long Street and the whistles erupted almost immediately. I ignored them. Realizing they would get no response from me, one of them called out:
Tu te prends pour qui? Avec tes grosses fesses la, espece de wolowos.
As I moved into my teens and developed as a woman, it became worse. It was almost as if my developing body was an invitation. I don’t need to give too many examples. Any Cameroonian woman (or African woman, or woman for that matter) can tell you what “worse” means. Worse is at home, at school, at work, on the streets, on the farms, in the markets. Worse is normal. Worse is expected. Worse is defended.
Worse is quite literally life. Your value as a woman in this society hinges on how well you can deal with worse. Your value hinges on if and how well you can love worse, marry worse, understand worse, make space for worse, forgive worse, turn a blind eye to worse. It’s why we praise our parents and grandparents relationships even though we KNOW the fuckshit the women almost always had to put up with.
This is the culture in which we live, move and have our beings. A culture where you as a woman are not safe from any man, regardless of his relationship to you. A culture where you are expected to take precautions to ward against a danger even though you don’t know which face that danger will be wearing when you finally meet it. A culture where you will ultimately get blamed and disparaged for other people’s decisions because you had the effrontery to become their victim.
I am tired.