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Breast Ironing: How do we stop the mutilation?


About the time I think I've heard it all in terms of the atrocities humans commit against each other, a new one comes to my attention. Most recently, it's the practice of 'breast ironing'.

Breast ironing is being performed by mother's of pre-pubescent girls to keep their breasts from developing in an attempt to make the girl less desirable to males. If their daughter become pregnant, not only will she not be able to further her education, but most likely the mother of the pre-teen or teenaged daughter will have the added responsibility of caring for the new infant.

The practice is being carried out in Cameroon, as well as other parts of Africa. What lengths these mothers go to in order to prevent the harassment and rape of their daughters!

As with most atrocities, awareness, education, offering alternatives seem to be key ways to change rituals, or antique and out dated thinking.

What are ways the United States can help in these situations? How strongly should we make 'our' belief system 'their' belief system?

Items used for breast ironing include: hammers, bananas, coconut shells, ladles, and grinding stones. The object of choice is heated over a fire and then either held against the budding breasts, or the breasts are struck with the heated object. Apparently, one in four girls is a victim of this practice.


Mel Briscoe 6 years ago

wow! quite odd! i knew about female genital mutilation (and how it is performed still in some parts of africa, india and the middle east), and that is atrocious beyond words! but now this? sad and weird at the same time.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

I agree, it was news to me. From what I gathered from reading more about this topic, it is in part being done because are going through puberty at younger ages. This prevents them from being seen as sexual beings by males. I believe this seems to be the case worldwide. (the puberty issue -not the abuse)

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

I wonder how the female takes it out without getting injured and how periods, etc. work around it.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

The mutilation aspect worked in the sense that the breasts didn't develop normally, or were unsightly and deformed. As we know, rape is about so many other things besides attraction, though.

The practice of raping a virgin with the belief that it cures the rapist's AIDs likely isn't prevented by looks or lack of breasts. It seems in that case, the person is striving for very young girls to make sure they are virgins.

I didn't see any statistics on how it affects the girl later in life in terms of breast feeding an infant. I'm making the assumption the woman is nervous in future attempts of having her breasts touched.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

No daughters, sisters, mother, aunts, grandmother, female friends, wife, etc., that you can empathize with?

Danimal 6 years ago

There are a lot of crazy things that happen in Africa. Seriously, penis theft, breast ironing and about a thousand other ways that they do to mutilate and disfigure one another. In fairness to them you hear about crazy stuff like this in the States once in a while; but in fairness to us it's usually just one or a few individuals and not a cultural trend.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

You make some good points, Danimal, but what about our cultural tradition of circumcision?

Many countries find it to be a horrific practice. There really are no reasons to cut off the foreskin of the penis in this era of readily available sanitation and cleanliness.

I'm sure there are numerous cases where the procedure causes discomfort and infection. It also decreases the sensitivity of the penis during intercourse.

denak 6 years ago

Actually Ronda, there is a great deal of research that shows male circumcision to be a positive thing for male babies. (Adult males are a difference story). It can not be put on the same level as "female circumcision." However, it might all be a moot point because male circumcision has dramatically dropped in the last 10 years in this country because it is being dropped by insurance companies and due to the influx of Hispanic and European immigrants who do not generally circumcise their males.

As for breast ironing, if we want the women of Africa to stop this horrific practice, we need to get rid of the fear. What is seen as barbaric to the West is a defensive strategy for them. To them, it would be crazy to not do this. The only way the US could combat this is to educate as much as possible, and to financially support organizations that give micro-loans to these women. There has been great success in other countries with giving small loans to women so that they can become more financially independent. And they have a higher rate of repayment than men.

So, unless there is a concerted effort to educate both genders but also to give these women the means to work.


Ronda Miller 6 years ago

Dena, while I agree education will greatly benefit both sexes, I'm not sure how giving financial assistant to the females will stop the rape of their daughters.

It will put everyone on a more common economic level, but the legal system needs to change to make power equal too in how it is represented by enforcement. This sounds like a long term project. It's difficult to dispell myths.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years ago

"there is a great deal of research that shows male circumcision to be a positive thing for male babies."

Yes, that is certainly true if you consider penile cancer and horrific and very painful infections to be a bad thing.

The almost universal custom of male circumcision in the United States became the norm only after WW1, after a very large number of men suffered horrific infections "down there" after fighting in the dampness of the trenches.

Also, some time back I was privy to a couple of CNAs talking about cleaning older men that were uncirumscised, and they sure thought it was disgusting.

Once you are no longer able to care for yourself, it's necessary for someone else to do it for you,,,

RoeDapple 6 years ago

A German study of women 10 to 82, (over 5000) indicated 1 in 4 have been subjected to this. If a doctor determines permanent damage has occurred the person(s) responsible can go to prison for up to three years. As in nearly all third world countries, these young women rarely see a doctor.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

Yes, as noted in the last sentence of my blog, it is done on the average to one in four girls. I understood this to be a relatively new practice so your study that includes women aged 80 surprises me. I wonder if those women also had this done to them, or if there is a much higher incidence if only those woman under thirty are counted.

I also assumed this happens in more rural places such as villages where people may be less well educated.

One film I watched showed a mother talking about how she did this to her daughter a couple of times daily for a month. Talk about child abuse!

Fixed_Asset 6 years ago

"How strongly should we make 'our' belief system 'their' belief system?"

Oh, dear, your ethnocentrism is showing.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

Nope, just a question. One is still allowed to question, eh?

No, not 'the iron. Please, no, not 'the iron. Seriously, how far do we ever go or feel the need to go to protect others with varied beliefs? The aliens haven't stepped in on planet Earth. Are they amused, or horrified? Oops, there I go again.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

I'm with you, I'd never heard of it before and humans go to extreme lengths for health and vanity. About anything is possible and wouldn't surprise me too much. Well, this actually did.

bearded_gnome 6 years ago

well Ronda, to be fair, many africans look on us as just as barbaric.
we glamorize malnutritioned thinness. our women walk around in 'high heels.' our women typically do not give birth in the presence of extended family. our women choose for themselves whom they will marry (yes, to some that looks insane).
just to name a few.

as I read your blog posting, I am far more concerned about the problem that these mothers are trying to prevent.
obviously this problem of rape and pregnancy for too young girls must be a serious problem for these mothers to resort to this practice!

and beliefs about AIDS are all over the map (so tospeak) in africa.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

Gnome, your points are well made. We've flattened and strapped our breasts for 'the sake of 'beauty'. We've cinched our tummies to the point of women passing out from pain and the inability to breath. Chinese cultures have bound feet to keep them small -this essentially crippled the women who had 'these procedures.

There are the body builders, the anorexic, the binge eaters and the obese. There are many ways to mutilate a body. I remember how painful braces were! :)

Liberty, you're 'the first to address the issue of who are we to step in and tell another culture their belief system is wrong. Are you saying that America is capable of minding their own business?

And I agree, gnome. How horrible for the mothers to feel they have no alternative in order to save their daughters and make a better life fir themselves.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

That would be for, not fir or fur.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

I agree on all counts of what you've mentioned. We've intervened and caused a worse outcome for those involved too many times. I think we can fairly mention Iraq in this context too. America often means well, but we are going in with our ideals and objectives as we know things to be from within our societal perceptions.

It's a very difficult call. I'd just written a poem about Anne Frank and the tree outside her window as the world -watching and doing nothing. If we can't do it right, if we can't stay in to see the outcome, should we intercede? Do we have 'the right to? Do we have the right not too. It's an endless question.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

There are certainly those who believe that to be the case. Is that a political mindset - theme? Are Democrats or Republicans more likely to hold that belief system, or is it a Christian belief system?

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

That does seem to be the 'American' way.

mom_of_three 6 years ago

These women are desperate to protect their children from being abused and raped by making them less desirable. If we do anything, we need to stop the abuse from happening by educating the men and the governments to prevent it from happening.

It sounds very painful, but some women will do anything to protect their children, without thinking of future consequences.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

If I were a mom living in Africa, I'd be tempted to find out on any male who approached my daughter. It might keep male testicals from budding too. My bad. :(

Back to my cave.

bearded_gnome 6 years ago

As awful as it sounds, I'm not sure it's our place to try and stop something going on in someone else's country. Often times interfering ends up creating more problems than it cures.

---Ah, the Prime Directive.

bearded_gnome 6 years ago

(Ronda Miller) says…

Gnome, your points are well made. We've flattened and strapped our breasts for 'the sake of 'beauty'. We've cinched our tummies to the point of women passing out from pain and the inability to breath. Chinese cultures have bound feet to keep them small -this essentially crippled the women who had 'these procedures.

There are the body builders, the anorexic, the binge eaters and the obese. There are many ways to mutilate a body. I remember how painful braces were! :)

... tatoos, tatoo removal. plastic surgeries.
too tight shoes.
platform shoes.

shaving, men and women.
[for full disclosure, I do not shave.]

yes, we do a lot of dumb stuff to our own bodies here in the U.S.A.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

And we're often doing them towards the objective to be attractive to the opposite sex instead of preventing it. Somethings wrong here.

Glad you're a natural guy, gnomie. Lol

Ron Holzwarth 6 years ago

Different cultures at different times are so very strange and so very different.

Just a couple days ago, I watched a movie, 'Thoroughly Modern Millie', which was set in 1922, when a flat chested woman was considered attractive becauise a flat chested woman's long beads hung "correctly".

I wonder, how many of our present notions of attractiveness will not stand the test of time?

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

I'm hoping several of them won't! I do wonder why our 'modern' civilization is trending towards the supposedly uncivilized ones in terms of piercings, etc.

I do think some of the African painting of faces and bodies for ritualistic dancing very attractive. Maybe that will catch on here.

One of the more interesting trends, in my opinion, is the large hole in the earlobes. Most women I know are trying to get that fixed. I've been seated behind people in movie theaters where I've been able to watch the flick through the hole in their ear. I'm not complaining -it's actually fascinating to me. (To my own children -'no, I'm not saying I want you to do this and I will not pay for it).

50YearResident 6 years ago

We do breast mutilations here in the USA on a regular basis and the practice is wide spread. We take young women and make incisions in the bottom of thier breasts and insert blobs of silicone into them and sew them back up leaving the silicone there. Maybe the Africans should come over here and stop us from this barbaric practice.

Ronda Miller 6 years ago

You are absolutely correct and they pay top dollar to have it done!

I've also heard there are people who have the fat sucked out of one area of their bodies and shot into another place. And those who have incisions made in their scalp and loose skin pulled up over their skull. Goodness, we are a strange culture. We don't even do it to save ourselves from rape. We do it to ourselves to look better.

And we wonder why aliens don't bother with 'us'. :)

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