Join 3,374 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Dragging The Third World Out Of The Stone Age
July 7, 2006 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Breast Ironing : More african female-on-female child abuse
posted by mischief (72 comments total)

 
"Dragging The Third World Out Of the Stone Age." You're kidding, right?
posted by maxreax at 11:21 AM on July 7, 2006


I've always wondered why those African women have breasts like envelope flaps.

Who knew?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:24 AM on July 7, 2006


I had no idea that this was done. I'm not sure why the article claims breast cancer as a possible side-effect. I wonder if there is any evidence of that.

I could have done with learning about it without the accompanying editorial righteousness, though.
posted by OmieWise at 11:28 AM on July 7, 2006


Uh, no. I don't think mischief is kidding. Are you kidding?

Disfigurement is uncivilized behavior. Many third world countries are uncivilized, "stone age" being a fine euphemism. All cultures are not equal. All cultural values are not equal.

Anything done to children is uncivilized. They can't consent.
posted by ewkpates at 11:30 AM on July 7, 2006


I'd also like to mention that "Africa" is a bit broad, seeing as it's a huge continent. They actually mentioned specific countries like Cameroon, Togo, Benin, etc.
posted by tristeza at 11:30 AM on July 7, 2006


Do they at least get a tat in exchange?
posted by ColdChef at 11:37 AM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oh, you didn't just say that, did you.
posted by yhbc at 11:41 AM on July 7, 2006



"Stone age" is a standard way of denigrating tribal peoples. Get with the modern age, mud-covered primitives, and let us have your land. Oh, for you, miserable natives, the modern age normally means concrete boxes, poor food, and high addiction rates.
I am not excusing breast ironing, in case anyone thinks I am, though.
posted by imperium at 11:42 AM on July 7, 2006


Anything done to children is uncivilized. They can't consent.

You said it. End education now!
posted by darksasami at 11:46 AM on July 7, 2006


So "stone age" in the title isn't related to the fact that hot stones are used for the ironing?
posted by null terminated at 11:46 AM on July 7, 2006


I am 100% in favor of denigrating tribal peoples, especially when they conduct themselves in an uncivilized manner.

If basic hygiene is "core value", then elective participation and the protection of the young and the weak must be core values. And by protection, I don't mean burning their bodies with hot rocks. Or mutilating them. Or honor killing them. Just for instance.
posted by ewkpates at 11:49 AM on July 7, 2006


Anything done to children is uncivilized. They can't consent.

The next time I see a 10-year-old with pierced ears or braces, I'm gonna have her parents arrested!

And don't get me started on haircuts!
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:51 AM on July 7, 2006


I think naming children is fundamentally wrong. Children should choose their own names. Surely society could be no worse of for a few hundred thousand more "Scoobies", "Supermans", and "Barneys".
posted by ewkpates at 11:59 AM on July 7, 2006


What? No suggestions to re-educate the male predators who cause the fear that engenders this weird practice?
posted by Cranberry at 12:01 PM on July 7, 2006


The behavior is indeed abhorrent, but the article states that mothers do this in order to avoid an even more horrible thing--child rape. Which is just to say, this FPP is shittily constructed. Yes some third-world countries have practices we should condemn, but there's a context here that needs to be brought to the forefront, i.e., patriarchy and male privilege that's (IMO) equally abhorrent. But I'm pretty sure the poster knows all this and just felt like the blue needed a good turd-chucking this Friday.

Mischief, your meds are calling.
posted by bardic at 12:01 PM on July 7, 2006


Not that I think burning breasts with stones is all right, but it's imporant to make the distinction. Of course, sooner or later, this is going to turn into a thread about circumcision.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:03 PM on July 7, 2006


All cultures are not equal. All cultural values are not equal.

True, for all the things we find unspeakable, as above, the "primitive" cultures of the world never committed a holocaust, never caused global warming, and never created a mass extinction, so maybe you're right that their cultures that have endured for so long really are superior to our own brief experiment with complexity for its own sake.

Oh, wait, you meant that we're the superiors? Oh, wow, that's rich...
posted by jefgodesky at 12:03 PM on July 7, 2006


Oh, wait, you meant that we're the superiors? Oh, wow, that's rich...

Well, as evidenced by your post, we certainly do superiorly awful things.
posted by xmutex at 12:09 PM on July 7, 2006


It's interesting how an issue of a particular type of mutilation practiced among some groups in west-central Africa has become, first, an example of "those Africans and their female-on-female child abuse" and next, evidence of the uncivilized nature of the third world.
posted by bookish at 12:12 PM on July 7, 2006


jefgodesky: "the "primitive" cultures of the world never committed a holocaust, never caused global warming, and never created a mass extinction, ..."

I dimly remember that Australia was teeming with wildlife before the Aborigines came, so the no-mass-extinction claim appears to be wrong. Also, the Turks' slaughtering of several hundred thousand Armenians certainly was a veritable Holocaust, even though they keep denying it.
posted by sour cream at 12:16 PM on July 7, 2006


bookish, I couldn't agree more. Someone should write a book about it.
posted by bardic at 12:17 PM on July 7, 2006


It's interesting how an issue of a particular type of mutilation practiced among some groups in west-central Africa has become, first, an example of "those Africans and their female-on-female child abuse" and next, evidence of the uncivilized nature of the third world.

Not to mention the great insights it provides into the barbaric practices of Europe, Asia, S. America, Mexico and Canada.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:18 PM on July 7, 2006


Genocide is unique to First World countries? I think that would surprise the dead of Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda, and Sudan.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:20 PM on July 7, 2006


Well, as evidenced by your post, we certainly do superiorly awful things.

From the article:
Many mothers were alarmed because an improvement in nutrition and living conditions had caused young girls' breasts to develop earlier than ever.

Superiorly awful things indeed. Damn us and our advancements. We're screwing things up for the primitives! Maybe they don't WANT better living conditions and nutrition. Down with imperialist polio vaccines!
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:21 PM on July 7, 2006


As I look at this article again, it really pisses me off. It's taking some facts about some problems in West Africa, and jamming them into the classic format used to talk about barbaric third-world ways of controlling women. But I'm seeing a very different story here.

We have a bunch of mothers raising daughters in an environment where they are exposed to very real and very prevalent threats of sexual abuse and harrasment. And these women don't have very many resources at their disposal to protect their children, so they make the difficult choice to do what they can and mutilate their daughter's bodies, because they think it's better than standing by while their children are fucked with, and possibly get pregnant, and possibly lose whatever chances they might have had to move forward in life. It seems that many of them seem unaware of the possible injury they could do by breast-ironing, and are willing to suspend the practice if they see it causing serious damage.

I think it's particularly telling that this is a practice that has grown a lot recently, and is most common in towns and cities. That basically means that, while it may be rooted in some older tradition, it's primarily a new sort of custom, an adaptation to living in dangerous modern slums. Not the stone-age at all, but the modern age, and modern poverty.
posted by bookish at 12:23 PM on July 7, 2006 [3 favorites]


The "primitive" cultures of the world ... never created a mass extinction. Pretty sure your wrong about this one. Also pretty sure primitive cultures were responsible for genocide against other primitive cultures but because of scale on both sides (the killers and the killed) these genocides were smaller than the Holocaust. Of course the Holocaust was a single specific historical event so it would be impossible for a primitive culture to commit a the Holocaust.
posted by I Foody at 12:24 PM on July 7, 2006


ewkpates writes "Anything done to children is uncivilized. They can't consent."

So if I am 99% certain a drug will save a children life and many doctors agree , I can't administer him the drug ? Not ANYTHING done to children is uncivilized.

"A girl...has to be proud of her breasts because it is natural. It is a gift from God. Allow the breasts to grow naturally. Do not force them to disappear or appear," said a leaflet from the campaign.

Oh Jebus ! First the sexual repression, because God doesn't like fornicators (even if in the bible they fuck like there is no tomorrow). Then the breast are a gift from God. I am so tired of religions exploiting ingnorance.
posted by elpapacito at 12:27 PM on July 7, 2006


jefgodesky: "the "primitive" cultures of the world never committed a holocaust, never caused global warming, and never created a mass extinction, ..."

Tell that to the Mastadon, and the Giant sloth, and the north american horse, and the Auroch

"primitive" humans destroyed entire ecosystems and blamed their destruction on "gods"

If they had a second amendment in Camaroon, the women could just shoot the rapists.
posted by Megafly at 12:28 PM on July 7, 2006


Funny how in so many situations, adult women try to protect their daughters from sexual abuse by subjecting their daughters to pain, punishment, and restrictions that stunt their likelihood of being targeted.

In African American families, too -- (at least until recently, some author said) there were harsh punishments for talking back to authorities within the family to teach kids to be submissive to authorities outside the family, so those kids didn't end up getting jailed or lynched.

Girls growing up with a sense of having been betrayed by their mothers, minority groups enforcing the standards of the oppressive majority, anger that should be directed outside a community getting redirected inside the community.... Anyone know who wrote all this up? Or did I just mix together those three sociology classes I took?
posted by salvia at 12:35 PM on July 7, 2006


How primative. I'll bet they don't even use starch.
posted by dr_dank at 12:35 PM on July 7, 2006


Anything done to children is uncivilized
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:48 PM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's fair to attribute a greater moral sensibility to 3rd world countries because they haven't caused global warming. I'm guessing with all the same external advantages that Eurasia has had, we would be in a very similar place if a different land mass conquored (Thanks Guns Germs and Steel). I've never been a fan of granting an incorruptible value to the disadvantaged, only because they are disadvantaged in a particular sense.

Although, in these situations, media just loooves to exploit alien interpersonal or interfamilial practices that seem so grotesque to us. The lack of empathy that Americans (and feminists) have about genital alterations boggles me, but to be questioning a practice which mothers believe save their daughters from rape leaves me speechless.
posted by Jenna Roadman at 12:53 PM on July 7, 2006


I'd also like to mention that "Africa" is a bit broad, seeing as it's a huge continent.

Heh. Time to break out the ol' "How to Write about Africa" sausage.
posted by Gator at 1:05 PM on July 7, 2006


Gator writes "Time to break out the ol' "How to Write about Africa" sausage."

I love "How to Write about Africa"! So much snark....
posted by mr_roboto at 1:29 PM on July 7, 2006


Fuck your female-on-female violence. They do this because they hope it will prevent their eight year-old daughters from being raped and possibly impregnated by men. Maybe if the women had (as bookish said) more resources at their disposal, they wouldn't have to try to protect their daughters in this way.
posted by arcticwoman at 1:32 PM on July 7, 2006


I wish the men who prey on young girls were the ones the mothers went after with hot stones.
posted by amber_dale at 1:35 PM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


er, there was an awful lot of holocaust type behavior among small scale civilization. Am working on a Masters project concerning the social development of warfare and while I don't have the stats in front of me at this moment the level of entire civilizations (small scale) being wiped out was something on the order of 1/3 of all civilizations every 1000 years according to some sources. That's not even taking intention into account, even today the Yanomamo shamen try to influence spirits to consume the souls of their enemies, the difference between that and someone launching a missile strike is affect, not intention.
This is NOT saying that our large scale cultures are morally superior, in fact the absolute numbers of deaths due to war has increased dramatically over the last 100 years, but as a % of total populations it has decreased overall. It has only been fairly recent that entire populations are suddenly at immediate risk again, as they where during the small scale development stage.
It is a matter of scale, when taking about pollution, violence, environmental destruction, the fact we operate on a global scale means that our negatives affect things on a global scale, not that we have inherently new negatives.
posted by edgeways at 1:38 PM on July 7, 2006


mischief, The problem is not can we drag Africa out of the stone age. They solved that problem themselves, several thousand years ago, when their iron age began.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:41 PM on July 7, 2006


Thanks Gator, that was awesome.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2006


Also, I don't get this talk about "primitive cultures". Yaoundé is a city of over a million people in Cameroon, a modern, albeit poor, country. The people there have houses (tall builidings, even!), and roads, and cars, and universities, and international communication (the internet even!), and they practice the same modern religions (mostly Christianity and Islam) that the rest of the modern world practices. It's not like we're talking about the motherfucking Yanomami here.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:50 PM on July 7, 2006


mr_roboto, they're Africans. They live in the jungle and practice strange, dark rituals. Every now and then they stumble out of their huts and have a major humanitarian crisis in front of some television crews. Clearly that is not civilization.
posted by bookish at 2:07 PM on July 7, 2006


Anything done to children is uncivilized. They can't consent.

Yeah, let's throw them in camps as infants and pull them out when they're adults!

I mean, wtf?
posted by Deoridhe at 2:16 PM on July 7, 2006


Here is a different article about what people are actually doing to try to stop this practice instead of all the handwringing and Othervoyeurism. Sure, breast ironing is a bad solution to a messed up cultural problem, but it's not about young women not getting any sex, it's about them not getting HIV/AIDS like the five and a half percent of the population living with it in Cameroon. The eye-rolling CNN article is part of a campaign by an NGO in Africa, National Network of the Associations of Aunties, (with German support) to try to slow down the aggressive spread of AIDS in Africa.
According to a study by the Germano-Cameroonian Health Program (SRJA), 18 percent of 4,000 teenage mothers interviewed admitted having had an abortion, 62 percent had given birth before the age of 19, and 10 percent before the age of 16. Most had never seen a doctor during their pregnancy. Twenty-six percent of the girls had contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the previous year.
It seems to me like being all "female on female primitive violence!" about this is misdirected outrage.
posted by jessamyn at 2:26 PM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


"...sooner or later, this is going to turn into a thread about circumcision."

Is it safe to assume you previously visited the thread on this issue over on Fark? Because that thread turned into the usual "well, cutting up a boy's penis is just as bad" flame-fest with the quickness.
posted by MikeMc at 2:42 PM on July 7, 2006


Oh, and teen pregnancy. And the US does fuckall to help with AIDS in Africa because they're all tetchy about talking about condoms so they give money to ineffective abstinence programs which are culturally insensitive and inappropriate and withhold funding from groups that distribute and educate about condom usage. I can't even begin to talk about how lame it is to have a three part plan/agenda, one part of which is "being faithful" when all these young women are getting molested and raped by family members. And what does CNN talk about? LOL FLATBREADSSTS. Jesus.
posted by jessamyn at 2:45 PM on July 7, 2006


Is it safe to assume you previously visited the thread on this issue over on Fark? Because that thread turned into the usual "well, cutting up a boy's penis is just as bad" flame-fest with the quickness.

Actually, that's just usually the way it goes in these threads. Some people have a real hard on for the circumcision discussion.

Hee.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:58 PM on July 7, 2006


More than a handful...
posted by NationalKato at 3:07 PM on July 7, 2006


A lot of people are taking the tread title a little too seriously. It might have been a joke in bad taste but Mischief was definitely making a pun.
posted by supertremendus at 3:17 PM on July 7, 2006


How sad that rape is prevalent enough that mutilating your daughters for the specific purpose of making them sexually undesirable seems like a good idea.

Oops, I think that was on topic.
posted by ilsa at 3:27 PM on July 7, 2006


Awsome job smearing an entire continent for something done by some minor random tribe in some isolated location.

It seems like many westerners seem to view Africa as some small town where everything is exactly the same or something, and are prone to absurd over-generalizations.
posted by delmoi at 3:43 PM on July 7, 2006


After reading the article about the practice of breast-ironing, it seems like rape might actually be preferable.
posted by jayder at 3:44 PM on July 7, 2006


Yeah, where is Africa anyway? Is it on the continent of China?
posted by salvia at 4:21 PM on July 7, 2006


True, for all the things we find unspeakable, as above, the "primitive" cultures of the world never committed a holocaust,

so, what DID happen to the neanderthals? ... would you consider genghis khan and the mongols primitive? ... what about those tales the celts told about the people who first inhabited ireland? ... what happened to them, i wonder?

never caused global warming,

the desertification of the sahara and much of the mediterranean was accomplished by people, and may have had some effect on global world temperature ... some of these people were civilized, some were nomads and such ...

and never created a mass extinction

i think that's been refuted by many people above ... i haven't seen many sabre toothed tigers and wooly mammoths around lately ...
posted by pyramid termite at 4:51 PM on July 7, 2006


We have a bunch of mothers raising daughters in an environment where they are exposed to very real and very prevalent threats of sexual abuse and harrasment. And these women don't have very many resources at their disposal to protect their children, so they make the difficult choice to do what they can and mutilate their daughter's bodies, because they think it's better than standing by while their children are fucked with, and possibly get pregnant, and possibly lose whatever chances they might have had to move forward in life. It seems that many of them seem unaware of the possible injury they could do by breast-ironing, and are willing to suspend the practice if they see it causing serious damage.

Sorry, as both a woman and a mother I don't buy into this argument. Not for this practice, not for genital mutilation, not for the old Chinese practice of footbinding, ultra modest dress, not for any of this sort of thing.

1. After several generations of seeing women - perhaps their relatives even - harassed, raped, socially ruined, whatever, even with [insert practice here], you'd think women in these situations would clue in that this doesn't work. And furthermore it hurts like hell.

2. Whatever happened to the phrase "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world?" If even half of the women in the world had started, several generations ago, making a conscious effort to raise both their sons and daughters even a little bit differently, by now these things would even be issues.
posted by Zinger at 6:55 PM on July 7, 2006


Sorry, that should be "wouldn't even be issues." I need more coffee.
posted by Zinger at 6:57 PM on July 7, 2006


What is this?

Salad-bar multiculturalism?
posted by HTuttle at 7:14 PM on July 7, 2006


Not that I think burning breasts with stones is all right, but it's imporant to make the distinction. Of course, sooner or later, this is going to turn into a thread about circumcision.
Actually, if they simply castrated the male children, then they wouldn't need to mutilate the girls! Problem solved!

Education and yes, bringing them out of the "stone age" is the only answer. Anything else is as silly as the above sarcastic solution.

Excusing the mothers' behavior is akin to excusing a rapist's action because the victim was "asking for it" by wearing something other than a burka.
posted by nlindstrom at 8:04 PM on July 7, 2006


Zinger, as I mentioned later in my comment, I think that this breast-ironing thing, rather than an age-old custom, is something that is more recent and that has developed in response to the new vulnerabilities that come with living in modern urban slums. Even if this is something rooted in traditional culture, it's growing and taking on a new urgency in response to a new environment.

So we're not looking at something that women have had generations to sort through and see what works and what doesn't. And it would be nice if the mothers of the world collectively put an end to bad stuff, but that's not an option that makes anyone's life any easier today. Nor is this situation really like foot-binding-- intended to make someone more attractive-- or genital cutting-- which, depending on the type of cutting and the group involved, can be a proof of chastity for a future husband or a way of discouraging female sexual pleasure.

I don't think any sort of non-consensual mutilation is a good thing, and I would like to see it put to an end. But I think it's important to realize that these things aren't just made up in order to be cruel and barbaric, but are practices that have evolved to serve purposes. Honestly, I think that breast-ironing probably does work in some cases-- being mutilated probably makes girls less desirable and less likely to be targeted, even if it doesn't protect them completely.
posted by bookish at 8:53 PM on July 7, 2006


I dimly remember that Australia was teeming with wildlife before the Aborigines came, so the no-mass-extinction claim appears to be wrong.

Man, I get tired of people citing "overkill" as if it were proven.

Also, the Turks' slaughtering of several hundred thousand Armenians certainly was a veritable Holocaust, even though they keep denying it.

Despite our (and their) protestations otherwise, I find it difficult to find a good, clean criterion that would separate us and the Turks.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:03 PM on July 7, 2006


Way to go with reading the article, guys!

delmoi: "something done by some minor random tribe in some isolated location"

No, the article says "in Cameroon, as well as in many other countries in West and Central Africa, including Chad, Togo, Benin, Guinea-Conakry, just to name a few,"

a bunch of people: it's a rational way of avoiding child rape! Blame the men!

But the article says "58 percent of cases breast ironing was carried out by mothers worried that the onset of puberty could provoke sexual harassment, inhibit their daughters' studies or even stunt their growth"

bookish: "it's a new development of the tradition based on living in cities"

In the article: "When I was growing up as a little girl my mother did it to me just as all other women in the village did it to their girl children. So I thought it was just good for me to do to my own children."


While the practice most likely is related to sexual attitudes and problems in the region, I think that to treat it simply as a reaction to modern life simplifies it and reduces the chances of educating people out of it, by ignoring the traditional history behind it.
posted by jacalata at 9:20 PM on July 7, 2006


Whatever happened to the phrase "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world?"
No one has said that since everyone got over blaming all social evils on women. That is so last century.
If even half of the women in the world had started, several generations ago, making a conscious effort to raise both their sons and daughters even a little bit differently, by now these things would even be issues.
So your point is that most women are stupid? lazy? what is your point exactly?
posted by crabintheocean at 9:28 PM on July 7, 2006


Actually, if they simply castrated the male children, then they wouldn't need to mutilate the girls! Problem solved!

I wholeheartedly endorse this program. Please tell me where to send my money.
posted by beth at 3:30 AM on July 8, 2006


So your point is that most women are stupid? lazy? what is your point exactly?

My point is that women can be their own worst enemy sometimes.
posted by Zinger at 6:19 AM on July 8, 2006


women can be their own worst enemy sometimes.

This is true, but many women, even in highly-developed nations, don't have the resources (financial, social, emotional, etc.) to pull themselves out of bad situations. It's all very well to tell a woman, "Just educate your child better," "Just call the police, duh," "Just move," "Just get a divorce," but when the woman has been deeply conditioned to believe that things can and will get much worse if she doesn't toe the line? It's crippling, and people need to understand that. Some women have the resources -- the money, the supportive network of friends, the education, and/or the sheer strength of will to say "Fuck the consequences, I'm not taking this shit anymore," and it's great and inspiring when they're able to pull through, but many women simply don't have those strengths to rely on.
posted by Gator at 6:39 AM on July 8, 2006


Gator, I agree... but I'm not saying a woman has to become a radical feminist overnight, or even raise her kids to be firebrand revolutionaries to overturn things in a generation. But smaller changes over time would be a good start.

Even here in North America, women actively help to perpetuate stereotypes and problems. We (still) hand our daughters dolls and playhouses, and we give our sons construction toys and video games. Then we wonder why later, boys test better in math and science etc.
posted by Zinger at 7:04 AM on July 8, 2006


Sure, but even those changes (and they are happening in North America at least, albeit perhaps more slowly than people would like) have to be made by women who are willing and, more importantly, able to buck the status quo, right? They have to be willing and able to ignore the social pressures of the community, the personal pressures of the (often abusive) authority figures in their life, the very real knowledge that their actions (or lack of) could have dire consequences, and they have to be secure in the knowledge that what they're doing is the right thing, and for that they need information and education. You said in your first comment, "you'd think women in these situations would clue in that this doesn't work." I'm just suggesting that most of these breast-ironing women don't have the resources (financial, social, educational, emotional, etc.) to get that clue.

Even with the (comparatively) minor issue of girls toys versus boys toys, a parent has to contend with not only the pressure of her own peers and authority figures ("What are you trying to do, make her into a dyke?") but that of the children's as well ("All the other girls have dolls!"), though as I said I think things are improving in this area.
posted by Gator at 7:36 AM on July 8, 2006


"when the woman has been deeply conditioned to believe that things can and will get much worse if she doesn't toe the line?"
I appreciate your point, but for me it is not about "conditioning" or having the emotional strength to rise above it. It's about the material conditions that mean things actually do get much worse when she doesn't toe the line.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:08 AM on July 8, 2006


"I'm not saying a woman has to become a radical feminist overnight, or even raise her kids to be firebrand revolutionaries to overturn things in a generation. But smaller changes over time would be a good start."
I don't believe that things change that way. Social change doesn't happen because a critical mass of ordinary people gradually teach their children to be a little bit more liberal than they were.

Social and economic institutions that are propped up by power are not changed by people who are powerless simply "waking up" to the injustice. If that's all it took, nothing would be wrong anymore.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:16 AM on July 8, 2006


I'm just suggesting that most of these breast-ironing women don't have the resources (financial, social, educational, emotional, etc.) to get that clue.

Gator, I'm not sure I understand what resources they need, apart from their own two eyes, to see that even women who follow these cultural rules get harassed etc. And I'm not sure it takes very much in the way of resources to say hey, I remember my mom doing this to me and it hurt like hell, and it was frightening, and maybe if instead of applying a hot rock to my own daughter's chest, I did something else, say, a binding cloth strip to minimize her size and so on... [this is just an illustrative example of an option - I don't know what the particular mode of dress is in cultures that practice this so I don't know if a cloth strip in particular is an option.]

I don't believe that things change that way. Social change doesn't happen because a critical mass of ordinary people gradually teach their children to be a little bit more liberal than they were.

Okay crabintheocean, how does social change happen?

To be fair, btw, this isn't just a women's issue thing, this applies to any group or culture that is oppressed by another group or culture. Outsiders can do their best to effect change, but in the end it usually works out that the people most affected by the oppression have to cease perpetuating and enabling it themselves before things truly change.
posted by Zinger at 11:51 AM on July 8, 2006


Zinger, it makes perfect sense to you not to mutilate your children, and that's no bad thing, but -- are you the first person in your family and in your community to open your eyes, realize this, and say "this tradition stops with me"? Or were you raised and educated in an environment that had already figured this out?

These women certainly know and remember how much breast-ironing hurts, but because of their environment and upbringing, they're weighing that against what they see as a greater evil. The biggest resource they need is education. Look at the article that jessamyn linked -- these people don't know how to talk about sex education and from the CNN article they don't realize how many greater health problems can result from the practice. They also could stand to have the resource of "feeling safe," knowing there are protections for them, which they certainly don't have if they're trying to stave off child rape with this brutal alternative. They need the resource of "people with some fucking sense" to discuss things with, as opposed to their neighbors and relatives who think that if your daughter gets pregnant, it's because she's a slut and you should've flattened her chest so that she wouldn't be shamed. Stuff like that.

As I said, it's all very well to tell women to "Just [whatever]," but in their heads they're thinking, "What if [even worse alternative than what's already happening]?" They need resources to combat those "What ifs."

To be fair, btw, this isn't just a women's issue thing, this applies to any group or culture that is oppressed by another group or culture.

Yup, very true.
posted by Gator at 12:23 PM on July 8, 2006


Social change happens when large groups of people join together in an organized way to build enough power that they can force change to happen around the issues that matter most to them.

As surprising as this may be, the breast-ironing tradition is just probably not their biggest problem right now. I don't know what the most important issue is for them, but I suspect has a lot more to do with economics than social customs. Like having enough food to not die. Or trying not to get AIDS when everyone else has it and no one can afford medicine.

If people were dying of AIDS and preventable disease all around you and getting raped all the time, "increased risk of breast cancer" might not be so shocking. And starting a movement to end breast ironing might be pretty low on your priority list.

I'll grant you that breast ironing is pretty fucked up. So? What's more fucked up is plague-like levels of death from preventable disease because capitalism keeps people in poverty.

What's more fucked up is that with a sensible foreign policy and less money than the Bush administration has spent killing Iraqis, all these problems could be history, and women in Cameroon might have a second to catch their breath and say, hey, this breast ironing thing hurts, let's talk about how we can convince everyone to stop doing it.

But it's no fun to talk about the real problems facing people and countries that are kept poor. We'd rather talk about "breast-ironing," so we can feel morally superior and act all befuddled by these silly barbaric practices of primitive African tribes.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:57 PM on July 8, 2006


What should the dads do? That's what I want to know. Can we come up with the ideal behavioral change for all the dads in Africa to undertake while we're on this topic? (Though I hear they also may have limited financial and emotional resources...)
posted by salvia at 5:20 PM on July 8, 2006


« Older Portraits of the Freedom Riders...  |  kawaii not?... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments