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Jul 28 2011

What fresh old hell is this?

I thought I’d heard it all when it comes to the fine tradition of loving mothers forced by sicko patriarchal culture to inflict unspeakable sex-related tortures on their daughters for their own good, but I was wrong. I most regretfully bring you breast ironing.

When I saw the headline “Breast ironing tradition in Cameroon” I thought, “that can’t mean breast ironing.” But at the same time I knew it did mean breast ironing. Because “breast ironing” sounds like something just fucked-up enough to be a tradition: women try to stunt their teen kids’ breast growth with these hot pokers so they don’t get knocked up.

Every morning before school, nine-year-old Terisia Techu would undergo a painful procedure. Her mother would take a burning hot pestle straight out of a fire and use it to press her breasts.

With tears in her eyes as she recalls what it was like, Terisia tells CNN that one day the pestle was so hot, it burned her, leaving a mark. Now 18, she is still traumatized.

Her mother, Grace, denies the incident. But she proudly demonstrates the method she used on her daughter for several weeks, saying the goal was to make her less desirable to boys — and stave off pregnancy.

A study found that one in four girls in Cameroon have been affected by the practice.

There is apparently some effort underway to initiate the use of sex ed, rather than red-hot pestles, to “stave off pregnancy.” I’m pretty sure that if they ironed their son’s dicks instead it would achieve the desired result.

66 comments

  1. buttercup

    Dick ironing would probably be a hell of a lot more effective, considering dicks are primary sexual organs and to the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever used a breast to get pregnant.

  2. shopstewardess

    Forcing your girl-child to submit to torture on a daily basis is of course going to induce the strong physical and psychological state she needs to have in order to protect herself.

    Dick-ironing sounds like the solution to a lot of the world’s ills.

  3. damigiana

    One more vote for dick ironing (although we can maybe start a bit latter than age nine).

  4. Valerie M

    Heard about this sickening practice a couple of years ago. For the record, I third (fourth?) the dick-ironing suggestion. Simple and elegant.

  5. Sarah

    If we’re not busy torturing girls to make them more appealing, we’re busy torturing girls to make them less appealing. Sigh.

  6. Marcia

    @Sarah: Word.

  7. Barbara P

    Why would a mother do this to her daughter?

    And yet, I have some idea. Interestingly enough, since my afore-mentioned dilemma regarding my daughter’s shaving habits, the pressure has begun. My parents have both mentioned the “inappropriateness” of her under-arm hair. My Nigel has strong(er) concerns about how other kids will treat her, and thinks I should apply more pressure in the situation (i.e. go so far as to buy razors, etc.) Everyone agrees that it is MY job to enforce this patriarchal compliance.

    I have stated quite simply that I will NOT be the tool by which this enforcement takes place. I have been honest with my daughter about the repercussions (according to the advice received here). She said she doesn’t care. That is my limit. The truth is, I still worry, but I’m doing everything I can to hold back.

    This is one way that mother-daughter relationships are eroded within patriarchy, kind-of like the classic scene where one prisoner is given a gun and forced to kill his friend. Except the twist is that you’re supposed to see it all as actually “helping” your daughter.

    Sure, shaving is nowhere near the atrocity of foot-binding or FGM or breast-ironing. But it’s surely a hassle that shouldn’t be necessary, and the symbolic meaning is problematic. I have enough things to nag my kid about & I don’t need one more thing that I don’t even AGREE should be a standard.

    I try to imagine what is going through Grace’s mind when doing such a thing to her daughter. I can understand if I can’t agree. The pressures are surely much greater on those girls and women, and the stakes much higher.

  8. Former Blamer

    This is why I grind my teeth whenever I hear some mother indignantly rant about the evils of male circumcision. The P trains us to worry about and protect the vulnerable dick at all costs while women are routinely mutilated for fear of having some kind of effect on it.

    All male genitalia should be removed at birth.

  9. Embee

    Fifthing the dickironing. It’s interesting to observe that even in very different cultures, the woman (and girl) remain responsible for a man/boy’s pronging. It’s interesting in the sense of “Oh my gosh how many flavors of bullshit are there?”

    Also, enjoy: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/07/this-woman-is-genius-how-to-get-ready-for-a-date/

  10. ashley

    HAHAHA.

  11. Boner Killer

    I was sickened but then I saw the comments about dick-ironing

  12. yttik

    Those mothers are also dealing with a situation where their daughters can be raped because the younger the girl, the less likely they will have HIV. So being desirable can be a death sentence. Also, to become pregnant in a poverty stricken area can mean death from child birth or if you survive that, death from starvation. Horrendous, yes, but these mothers are simply practicing yet another form of harm reduction. When PIV can lead to death, there’s no end to what perversions mothers will do to try and keep their daughters safe.

    Sex ed, huh? I guess that’s something. It’s just that I keep picturing this young girl armed with her info about basic biology, armed with her birth control, given her monthly HIV test, her yearly pap smear, her tests for STDs, her breasts properly ironed, her skirt just the right length, all ready to go out and “safely” experience the joys of what is pretty much going to be non consensual PIV. Yes, we should do all of that for girls, but it still doesn’t change the fact that so many men fail to realize or care about how much harm they are causing to another human being. You can kill women or you can just use your hand. Men go right on believing that PIV is an entitlement and any harm they cause to a woman is not their problem.

  13. Zrusilla

    Dick-ironing. Simple and elegant indeed.

  14. pheenobarbidoll

    Aside from the utter horrific-ness of breast ironing, someone explain to me how it would be effective in any way.

    Last I checked, women don’t need large breasts to be targeted for sexual oppression by men. (craftily called “desire” in the op)

  15. sjaustin

    I must have missed a day of sex ed, because I had no idea one could get knocked up from titty fucking.

    Of course it’s not effective. None of the things women do to protect themselves from sexual oppression are effective. It’s addressing the problem from the wrong side.

  16. stacey

    Now everyone’s going to point to this thread as an example of radfem hostility – “THEY WANT TO IRON OUR PRECIOUS DICKS OMG FEMNISTS R CRAZY!1!!!1!!”

    … but at this point, I don’t much care. Sounds good to me.

  17. ashley

    it just speaks to the fact that pregnancy isn’t the miracle that growing western culture wants it to be. women don’t naturally want to be pregnant or love it or seek it out. I think we mostly tolerate it, deal with it, and have our lives ruined by it. It’s NOT helpful unless you’re a cog in a commercial society that needs workers and buyers to have another mouth to feed, more shit to do and another person to take care of. who wants that? Women don’t want it for themselves and they don’t want it for their daughters. Brainwashed, enforced motherhood is an unnatural corruption.

  18. speedbudget

    This is the logical end of all those “how to avoid rape” lectures we get. Since telling us to stay inside with our goodies covered and not drink and don’t be with strangers doesn’t seem to work, maybe mutilation will?

    I don’t understand why the go-to answer in these situations isn’t to address the problem where it starts: Men.

  19. Pagan

    I absolutely love the penis ironing! Of course the MRA’s will be all over it about how women want to torture and turn them into some subservient class (kind of like they like “their” women) but fuck em! I notice it’s perfectly acceptable to kill, abuse, endanger, mangle or destroy women but when we’re talking about men…”OH NO NOT THE PRECIOUS PENIS,I FELT THAT” is what I always hear from the boys. Well listen here boys, I feel that breast ironing, that FGM, the forced childbirth, the rape and beatings. Like you, I feel all of it even if it’s not happening to me personally and don’t want it done to any other woman or girl.

  20. humanbein

    I instantly thought again of my preferred punishment for rape: Dick ironing will do. It’s really all about taming the dick, because once it becomes culturally perceived that the people with the dicks are the problem, maybe they’ll start dealing with the dicks themselves. The threat of having your dick ironed would certainly be more discouraging than the threat of being empowered to call your victim a slut and a liar who really loved it in in open court.

  21. Mary

    Former blamer, your comment makes me uncomfortable. It’s definitely hard to feel like a newbie radical feminist who is starting to hate men on one hand and yet being a mother of a son on the other. Hm. For the record, I am one of those moms who speaks against routine infant circumcision, but I certainly don’t support female circumcision either. My son is not circumcised. I fear for how my son will treat women when he is an adult but thinking about having his genitalia removed at birth makes me feel icky. I also have a daughter and I worry about her, too. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. hmm.

  22. Jessie

    I seem to learn something new and horrifying every day. Who on earth came up with this practise?

    Funny thing that so many people will damage and mutilate girls to prevent them from having sex with men, but never are men expected to alter their behaviour.

  23. Anne

    Former Blamer
    July 28, 2011 at 8:22 am
    This is why I grind my teeth whenever I hear some mother indignantly rant about the evils of male circumcision.

    I don’t doubt there are mothers who rant about the evils of male circumcision, but in my experience, the people who really try to use that as a trump card for all other physical horrors have been dudes.
    I once knew a guy who asserted, like he knew better than anyone, that the clitoris was “just skin.” It was at once horrifying and very explanatory.

  24. Lovepug

    @Barbara P:

    I’m facing the same thing with my blamer in training. At 13, she still hasn’t shaved. The pressure is on though. A friend of hers not so subtly gave her some disposable razors. She mostly doesn’t care – mostly. She wants to shave her arms more than her legs, oddly enough. If offered that she can do it, but it’s up to her.

    I admit that I’m bothered by the potential social cost of her lack of feminine compliance. I think on the plus side, though, is that there’s more precedent for her to be a non-conformist. Stuff like Steampunk and Goth have a lot of appeal for her. She’s got a few friends who are into some of those same things. She dresses for that effect more than feminine compliance. She was in a play recently. One day she came home and said the costume designer wanted to make sure she had black pants. We both laughed heartily as she has almost nothing but black pants. She knows she a bit different, but she owns it. Something I never would have had the guts to do at her age.

    I think you’re handling it the right way. And I totally get the enormous amount of both internal and external pressure mothers deal with. All we want is for them to be happy. All we want is to spare them some of our pain. So we sometimes end up making decisions or saying things that don’t exactly advance that goal even though we think at the time that’s exactly what our efforts should produce.

    As for the mother in Cameroon, I’m also going to bet there’s a good deal of cyclic physical abuse playing out there as well. I would defy anyone to find me an abusive mother who did not endure physical abuse herself. These things tend to be sad family traditions.

  25. Jill

    I shouldn’t have to say this, but: y’all know I’m kidding about the dick-ironing, right?

  26. Milena

    Is the pressure to shave really so strong in the States? I’m asking this entirely honestly — it just seems so utterly strange to me from my European perspective. The very idea that someone would presume to tell me I should force my daughter to do something to her body she doesn’t want to do just seems… lobe-blowing.

  27. sjaustin

    I shouldn’t have to say this, but: y’all know I’m kidding about the dick-ironing, right?

    I was hoping it was a metaphor for chemical castration.

  28. stacey

    Of course we’re all kidding about dickus flattus. :) But we can dream, can’t we?

    @ Barbara and @Lovepug – I have one son, not circumcised, his dad is. He agreed with me that it’s horrific. As far as raising him as a feminist goes, I make sure to find those “teaching moments” – such as, I’ll ask him why people think boys can’t wear skirts, pink, hair accessories, etc. However, we’re extremely privileged to attend a school that has two significantly gender-variant kids, so one could say he’s had a very sheltered upbringing.

  29. Shelby

    Fuck!!!!!!! This has become a generational custom, so it must be extremely common for males of Cameroon to rape pre-teen girls on the basis of a girl being ready for a-raping once her breasts start to bud. Isn’t that charming of the Cameroon men to hold off on the raping till they can see some boobies.

    I still don’t get it though. One would think that it could make breastfeeding difficult. Maybe that’s another perk of the torture. A high infant mortality rate. One less mouth to feed. I say again, Fuck!

    Barbara P, your daughter sounds wonderful.

  30. Noel

    Sheepus fucking lice. Mourning for this poor kid.

    Just a (slightly) more sadistic version of the same red-hot rites of girlhood passage most of us endure, though.

    But fuck, that shit has to hurt.

  31. Melinda

    The comment from Yttik echoes what I’ve read: These mothers are trying to keep their daughters safe, so they take whatever drastic measures they can think of to keep the girls from looking sexually mature. Educating the men isn’t even an option when you have absolutely no power at all.

  32. allhellsloose

    I’m shocked, thought I’d heard it all. Clearly an abysmal practice, like footbinding that brings pain and disformity. This abhorrent practice should be consigned to the dustbin of perpetrations against girls in preparation to patriarchial conformity.

    Freedom.

  33. Mau de Katt

    Milena: Is the pressure to shave really so strong in the States?

    Yes, it is. Women are dang near *required* to be smooth and hairless over their entire bodies, with eyebrows plucked to perfect shapes as well. The top of the head is the *only* body part that is supposed to have hair.

    Pussies aren’t *required* to be hairless, but they are preferred that way, and if they aren’t depilated, they need to be properly shortened and border-trimmed in various “decorative” ways.

    But for the absolute *minimum* of body de-hairing, armpits and legs are definitely top of the list.

  34. Mau de Katt

    One of the many sad things about this breast-ironing practice is that I can foresee an attitude shift happening in the male population. If Cameroonian men are so hell-bent on newly-adolescent-girl-raping, and as the practice of breast-ironing becomes even more entrenched due to women desiring to protect their daughters from the depredations of the kiddie rapists, I see men’s “desires” changing to *prefer* the pre-pubescent flat-chested look. And then, women will be ironing the newly-budding breasts of their daughters not to make them *less* desirable to men, but *more* desirable, more “marriageable” even. (That was/is the rationale behind footbinding and FGM, after all….)

    Chalk me up as another member of the “dick-ironing” camp.

  35. Laurie

    My 23-year-old daughter recently told me she was “terrified” to shave her legs and underarms as an adolescent because I’d “vibed” her so much about how awful it was.

    Unfortunately, I guess the vibes weren’t strong enough, since she shaved it off anyway. IBTP.

  36. Anne

    Mau de Katt – Ironed breasts in Cameroon – like bound feet, cinched torsos, and extended necks in their respective regions – will be a symbol of a “good” sheltered private-property-type girl. Breasts that aren’t ironed will (or probably already do) mark a girl as public property or a non-marriageable rape receptacle.
    The P relies on the Madonna/Whore dichotomy to scare women into this shit.

  37. allhellsloose

    Laurie, you got to the age of 23?

    Much kudos on your style.

  38. allhellsloose

    @ Anne

    “The P relies on the Madonna/Whore dichotomy to scare women into this shit.”

    Yes it does. Great post.

  39. allhellsloose

    Mau de Katt

    Absolutely.

  40. Fictional Queen

    Jill,have you heard of the recent gang rapes in Iran?
    Can’t wait to get out of this godforsaken hellhole.

  41. procrastinatrix

    I have a theory, based on experiences in multiple countries, including my own upbringing in rural Ohio, that the less power people have to change a circumstance, the more they are compelled to invent magical rites to address the circumstance. Happily, I think the reverse is also true. Mothers in Cameroon can’t stop boys or men from preying on their daughters, so they are compelled to take some action that will help, and some bit of myth or culture suggests–breast ironing!

    Another example: there are a couple of magical explanations for what are actually the symptoms of severe malnutrition in Haiti. One is that some old woman in the ‘hood is (knowingly or unknowingly) psychically sucking the child’s essence at night. Solutions: a cure from a vodou healer, or, ya know, kill the old lady. Anecdotally, stories about these granny werewolves decline precipitously when a clinic opens up in the neighborhood and kids actually start getting some health care and/or food.

    Another example: how many folk remedies for avoiding pregnancy in the US were made obsolete by access to oral contraceptives?

    If I weren’t such a procrastinatrix, I’d write a paper about it.

  42. Jezebella

    Mau de Katt, you forgot visible facial hair in your list of the minimum hair-removal requirements for social acceptability in the U.S. You can wear sleeves and pants and get away with a modicum of hairiness, but if you’re, say, a Mediterranean girl in the U.S., those dark hairs start getting waxed the minute they turn up. I’m a honky myself so I didn’t have to deal with the facial hair until well after adolescence. I’m also not sure that leg hair removal is considered quite as mandatory in African-American culture as it is in honky-American culture.

    None of which is really relevant to this post, so much, is it?

  43. nails

    I saw this on pharyngula a long time ago. A lot of people were asking what some here are asking- “why would a mom do this?”. There is very little education (there is a significant portion of the population that is illiterate), I don’t know how people are supposed to know better. I also think the way that most stories on it boil the whole issue down to preventing pregnancy (without mentioning rape or anything, only referencing voluntary PIV) is ridiculous. Cameroon was mentioned so I will use that as an example- my googling says that about 20% of women there have been raped, and another 14% escaped a rape attempt. Women have done crazier things to protect themselves or daughters from rape. It doesn’t work, but I can understand given the context.

    There is also the issue of a high number of women dying in childbirth in the areas where breast ironing is prevalent. There are things like fistulas that happen to younger pregnant women more often (where the baby gets stuck, dies, and wears a hole through the vagina into the anus or bladder, resulting in a leaking of feces or urine into the vagina). It doesn’t always kill the women, but women with fistulas are shunned because they smell horrible no matter how much they wash or what they do. They have to live by themselves for the rest of their lives. There are surgeries that work to fix the problem but they are not widely available. If anyone is looking for something to donate to, fistula surgery is a pretty rockin’ cause:

    http://fistulafoundation.org/wherewehelp/more.html

  44. A Ginva

    Heard about breast-ironing several times before.

    I think it’s just mysogyny here, rather than magic: whenever things go bad, whenever something happens, the Patriarchy ALWAYS blames women. Blaming women for being raped and torturing them for their rape-to-be is part of it.

    Breast-ironing is plain torture, no justification or excuse for it! Just as labia-cutting, stomach-cutting, butt-cutting, foot-binding, etc. is

    Dick-ironing! I laughed out loud at that one! But more seriously, men don’t necessarily rape with their dicks. They’d still have hands, sticks, guns, dildos, knives, bottles, anything. All they want is to humiliate women, anything that can be shoved in women’s bodies they will use.

  45. Frumious B.

    I shouldn’t have to say this, but: y’all know I’m kidding about the dick-ironing, right?

    Oh Jill, did you have to harsh my buzz like that? Reading words like “iron their sons dicks” are why I read this blog.

  46. Bushfire

    “I’m a honky myself so I didn’t have to deal with the facial hair until well after adolescence. I’m also not sure that leg hair removal is considered quite as mandatory in African-American culture as it is in honky-American culture.”

    I’m finally going to ask: what does ‘honky’ mean?

  47. Frumious B.

    @Bushfire:

    honky=white. It’s a word used by non-whites, and not usually flatteringly. I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as some of the things whites call people of color. You will probably have to ask an older African American about the true connotations.

  48. Frumious B.

    Man, we need edits. It might be more accurate to say “it’s a word originated by non-whites.”

  49. anne

    “I’m a honky myself so I didn’t have to deal with the facial hair until well after adolescence.”

    Honkies are the hairiest people on earth.

  50. tinfoil hattie

    All male genitalia should be removed at birth.

    Enough, please.

  51. A Ginva

    “Honkies are the hairiest people on earth”

    Yup! Plus hairs stand out more against white skin, especially dark hair.

  52. Chantelle

    I usually read all (and I do mean ALL) comments before posting but I was too pissed off to read so I am rattling off a response (apologies if I am rehashing points already made):

    What the fuck is up with the comments on that article? They basically boil down to: “Oh yes, darkest Africa is the real place of horror for women since only savages live there while we [white] people are so civilised”. I am so tired of that shit.

    Yeah, because invasive cosmetic surgery, fake hymen implantations and the like are just so women-friendly!

    Getting really tired of reading that fucking shit.

  53. Jezebella

    Ah, mea culpa, anne. Allow me to rephrase that: I’m a Whitey McWhiterson ginger honky, so the “undesirable” facial hair didn’t become visible until well past adolescence.

    Chantelle, I try very hard to NOT read internetian comments anywhere but here. They tend to be infuriating, and in predictable ways. Sometimes, I forget, and then my lobe gets asplodey.

  54. Chantelle

    Jezebella – yes, I am not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to read the comments as I knew what I would find. They make me want to throw things.

  55. S

    Comments section:

    “More proof that feminism is evil. Encouraging women to flatten themselves so as not to as attractive to men.”

    I– eh– deh– Why are people fucking idiotic?

  56. Cootie Twoshoes

    S, of course women ironing their young daughters’ chests is feminist, since feminism is all about ruining it for the men. Nothing says fun like a couple of bubbies, but feminists just gotta get in the way!

  57. yttik

    “I’m finally going to ask: what does ‘honky’ mean?”

    There’s a theory that it originated with the invention of the automobile. White men would drive into red light districts to cruise for prostitutes, and honk when they wanted to pick one up.

    Women of all shades actually can’t be honkys, we are simply the entertainment. A honky woman is not a white woman, she’s a prostitute that serves the establishment.

  58. speedbudget

    Wikipedia agrees with yttik and adds some other fun theories to the “honky” debate:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honky

    The Urban Dictionary agrees, and adds its own theories: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=honky

  59. Jezebella

    Oh, balls, yttik. Of COURSE women can be honkies, since the meaning *as currently used* refers to people of Northern and Western European extraction, both male and female.

  60. buttercup

    I always thought it was a derivation of “hunky”, people of Hungarian and eastern european extraction who once made up a large percentage of the immigrant population in my corner of the US. (The confuence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in Southwestern PA, AKA what used to be steel mill land.) That could just be me though.

  61. Jezebella

    I’ve heard that, too, Buttercup. Let’s go to the tape: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honky

    Alas, I do not have access to an OED for a more reliable source.

  62. yttik

    Yes, we could blame Hungarian immigrants, and presume that these “hunky bohemians” were so offensive that they gave birth to a 100 yr old racial slur. Or we could consider the realities of patriarchy, the prevalence of prostitution, the exploitation of minorities, and decide it’s much more likely “honky’s” really does refer to men honking for prostitutes. Since to this day, men frequently continue to drive through minority districts honking to pick up prostitutes, it seems more likely that’s why the slur has continued.

    Funniest denial of patriarchy I once read, “honky tonks” rather than being places men gathered to drink gin and pick up prostitutes, were actually just polite piano clubs that flocks of geese would fly over, and honk at, hence the word “honk” for the geese and “tonk” for the piano. Okay, sure.

  63. anne

    yttik, Your theory on the etymology of “honky” makes even more sense when you consider the etymology of “horny” which equates an erection with a horn. And also the largely forgotten fact that the 60s civil rights movement started with protests against rampant sexual assault and harassment of black women by white men.

  64. anne

    oh crud. eaten by the spamulator! retry

    yttik, Your theories on the origin of “honky” makes even more sense considering the etymology of “horny” which equates an erect peen with a horn. And also the largely forgotten fact that the 60s civil rights movement started with protests against rampant sexual violence inflicted on black women by white dudes.

  65. Jezebella

    Anne and yttik, you are both operating under the assumption that the derivation of slang terms is always sensible. Also, yttik, nobody’s “blaming” the Hungarians, but rather, the people that came up with the slur against them. And if wikipedia is to believed, the slur as a term for white people is un-recorded until 1946, which is less than a hundred years ago. So, you know, maybe it has to do with honking at prostitutes, and maybe not, or maybe it’s both. Sheesh.

  66. Alex

    “I’m pretty sure that if they ironed their son’s dicks instead it would achieve the desired result.”

    I cracked up when I read this. No, most people don’t get it, or you. That’s the price you pay for being unique, smart, and funny. C’est la vie. I’m right there with ya.

    As for the folks who don’t understand how this practice came about: I considered, briefly, becoming a man to escape the male gaze. Think how much more a mother would do if she thought it would protect her daughter, especially in a place like that.

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