A struggling feminist in Senegal
My family won’t let me go out by myself past seven, because c’est ne pas sur. Even walking home around noon from the high school where I teach English, I can almost always guarantee that I will be followed by at least one boy or man, asking for my phone number, my Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, anything. I’m all too familiar with hearing I love yous and hisses to catch my attention as I walk through my neighborhood. I have made friends with some men who are building a house near the school, and I’ve found the most effective way to get rid of an unwanted follower is to start talking to the workers, who will get rid of the man. Although I’m not the toughest or the biggest girl, I like to think that I have a strong “I can do it myself” attitude. Since coming to Senegal, it’s been extremely hard for me to accept that I need to rely on men in order to protect myself from the danger of other men. And can I even trust the men that I’m relying on? Because they still say they love me and want to marry me, they take pictures of me. But they’re just joking, right?
How I am starting to see it
I’m realizing more and more how multifaceted this seemingly sexist objectification is. A lot of it has to do with my status as a foreigner, especially being from the United States of America – “the Land of Opportunity”. In this town of 35,000 people, I’ve probably come across about twenty foreigners in the past month, whom are either passing through or living here. I used to complain about walking down the street and hearing toubab! toubab! (a term reserved for white foreigners) called after me, but every time I see a white person I find myself thinking toubab! as well. Instead of being annoyed by being called a toubab, now I find myself feeling uncomfortable and guilty, but also grateful. This word indirectly points out my privilege within the States and the western world. I have the ability to travel halfway across the world, which makes me a rare sight in Mboro.
I also learned that it’s more common than I thought for foreigners to marry Senegalese men so that they can get a green card and come to the States. So when they look at me, they don’t just see another woman. They see something new and foreign, they see opportunity. This doesn’t come from a bad place either; the majority of these men are interested in the States in order to find work to support their family. I’m not saying there isn’t sexism here in Mboro, Senegal. And I’m not excusing the objectification and cat-calling in any way. All I’m saying is that it’s more complex than it appeared to be two months ago. I’m pretty sure that’s how most societal problems are. We simplify them and place blame on one or two sources so that we can feel more in control of the issue, when in reality the majority of these problems are deep-rooted and multilayered.