On Rape Culture: What Bill Cosby Has To Do With Breast Ironing In Cameroon, Africa.
When I was a little girl back home, I witnessed a practice called breast ironing. It’s a practice done to girls when they hit puberty and mothers press down their growing breast with hot (nearly burning) stones, in order to stunt the breast growth. The hope is to delay womanhood as long as we can because they know what happens when a girl shows signs of womanhood. She become vulnerable to men who feel entitled to a woman’s body simply because she exists. You might be led to say “not all men”. don’t. Understand that sexual assault is prevalent enough, and goes unpunished enough, that body mutilation is considered a valid practice. I witnessed breast ironing, held a girl’s hands while she cried, saw the burn marks.
I was young but I remember witnessing breast ironing as my earliest evidence that my body wasn’t mine to own. It was my earliest understanding that a girl’s voice is often not the priority, that she likely won’t be believed anyway, and from then on I saw evidence that a man’s reputation had priority over a girl’s body and it’s violation. I learned to keep quiet when men fondled my teenage breasts. I learned to keep quiet when an old man forced his lips on mine when he met me in the kitchen where I had gone to get a glass of water for him. I learned to laugh off the wandering hands of my math tutor, because he was a respectable man. I learned to trade off stories of sexual assault with my friends, as if we were just sharing tips on the best pads to use for our period. That was the rite of passage. Get your period, get excited about buying the training bras, and learn how to keep quiet about men who feel entitled to your body. Silence is a skill you learn quickly.
People will read this possibly be outraged, and call my culture primitive for the burn marks on our girl’s breasts. But please don’t, because I see here too the ways in which we’re told our bodies don’t matter and don’t belong to us. I see the 60 women who accused Cosby and were vilified for destroying his reputation, because bodies matter less that a TV legacy. I see the woman who was raped and the judge decided to give her rapist Brock Turner a light sentence, so as to not get in the way of his budding swimming career, and his father said his son’s life could be ruined because of “20 minutes of action”. I see Daniel Holtzclaw who managed to sexually assault up to 36 women, carefully choosing the type of women who don’t fit the “respectable woman” profile, women whom nobody would believe anyway. I see POTUS 45. I see the insults when we don’t respond to your catcalls. I see you guys who refer to our sexual history as “mileage”, to devalue our bodies. I see your anger when we say no. I see you telling us we’re asking for it. I see you telling us that sex is our marital duty. I see you and the way you see us.
I just want to know, what does it look like to live in a society in which a woman’s body is really hers, not the land of men’s Manifest Destiny fantasies. What’s a world in which Bill Cosby’s TV legacy doesn’t take precedence over justice? What’s a world in which a girl’s breast don’t have to be burned to protect her from predatory men?
Do better. Do better. Please do better.