Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Breast Ironing in Cameroon in the Absence of Sex Education
Usually when I hear about videos and news stories about practices like this in western media outlets I feel a little queasy. They can be exploitative, as if what they are saying is "Look at what those crazy Africans are doing now!" Any criticism of an outside culture should be done carefully, especially coming from a standpoint of western privilege.
That being said, this video does a fairly good job of being objective (in my opinion) about the practice. There aren't a lot of interviews with white ivory tower types condemning the practice and demonizing those who practice it. The video shows a Cameroonian woman, who is a part of a Cameroonian organization, who has suffered the practice, speaking out against the practice to a group of children (I wish we could openly talk about breasts in any way in a classroom here in Oklahoma). We see a woman advocating for a cause that is relevant to her and her country's interests, not some westerner trying to "educate" kids on why their practices are bad. The ban on wearing hijab in France from a few years ago is an example of the latter on a wider scale. It makes a world of difference to everyone involved when people know what they're talking about when a group condemns a practice, as opposed to just having knee jerk reaction to difference.
The video for the most part presents the whole picture; mothers with inadequate access to sex education themselves feel they have little recourse but to iron their young daughter's breasts in order to hide them from the male gaze. They aren't trying to harm or traumatize their daughters, they're trying to save themselves and their daughters from personal calamity so they will have better lives later on. This doesn't mean that this is the "right thing to do" ( and it certainly is painful and traumatic according to the woman in the video). It just means there is just as much reasoning behind this as there is reasoning behind a lot of bizarre and potentially damaging bodily modifications we do here in the states (granted, many of which are arguably consensual) and we should take that into account.
Inadequate and inaccessible sex education is a global phenomenon, and it's consequences play out in many different and painful ways throughout the world, including western countries.