Thursday, July 13, 2006

The #1 Must-Have is that we are safe. Today in Why We Still Need Feminism:

The week continues with the stunningly awful story that's been burned into the brains and bosoms of all who've encountered it, chronicling the "traditional West African practice" of breast ironing. For those out of the hideous news loop, breast ironing involves the use of hard, hot objects (typically stones placed in boiling water) to stunt breast growth in girls, via the rubbing of the aforementioned hard, hot objects across the bare chests of prepubescent females. Devised as a protection against sexual abuse (as girls with scarred, stunted breasts are far less appealing to molesters), breast ironing is apparently freakishly widespread in Cameroon, where Reuters reports one in four teenagers has been subjected to the traumatic process, typically at the hands of relatives worried that the onset of puberty could invite sexual harassment. Never mind that breast ironing carries the "asking for it" argument to a truly horrific end; beyond conceptual offenses, the practice has a slew of horribly tangible side effects, including severe pain, abscesses, infections, breast cancer, and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts. So thank God for the German development agency GTZ, which sponsored the eye-opening survey that fueled today's news reports, and which is waging a campaign "to respect the physical integrity of young girls." As GTZ representative Flavien Ndonko told Reuters, "If nothing was done today, tomorrow the very parents may even resolve to slice off the nose, the mouth, or any other part of the girl which they think is making her attractive to men." [Source]

This is a prime example of the unwillingness of society to acknowledge men's role in sexual violence. Instead of attacking the problem at its source--namely, the view of the female body as constantly sexually available and not a respectable, autonomous entity--these West Africans have, like so many other cultures before them, decided to place the blame and the onus for prevention on the very victims of arcane and brutal ideology. Until we can retrain men to see women as their equals and not as second-class, sexually available property, violence against women will always exist.

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