Breast Ironing in Cameroon July 23, 2010

Breast Ironing in Cameroon

When I was a child, I remember hearing a myth that if I pushed down on my sister’s head, she wouldn’t grow taller. (She never liked when I acted on this hunch…) Of course, it made no sense. If people are going to grow, they’re going to grow. There’s really nothing I could do to stop it.

Looking back, that was harmless teasing.

This, however, is just frightening.

Breast ironing… it’s exactly what you think it is and it’s happening at a startling rate in Cameroon.

Girls as young as 9 have their breasts ironed as soon as they start to develop, which is happening earlier and earlier as nutrition improves. According to CurrentTV, half of young girls under age 9 who develop early suffer from the practice. Not surprisingly, breast ironing causes numerous health problems, such as burns and abscesses — to say nothing of the psychological damage it must do.

The purpose is to make young girls who develop early less attractive to men.

If you’re able to stomach it, watch this (NSFW) video:

Ironically, while breast ironing is all too common in Cameroon, female genital mutilation is rare there.

Horrified much?

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  • littlejohn

    Perhaps things are different in Cameroon, but I can’t imagine a psycho rapist in America being serious deterred by scars on a woman’s breasts.
    If he cared about her appearance, he’d be asking her for a date, not assaulting her.
    How about rounding up the men who can’t control themselves and cutting their penises off. That would be more effective.

  • I think penis snipping would be better for rape offenders. One inch per offense.

  • Ben

    Add this to the other things that are designed to deny our sexuality and biological function: circumcision of both sexes and now breast ironing. Disgusting.

  • Female genital mutilation is less common in Cameroon because of an education campaign regarding the harms… it sounds like they are going to try to combat the problem of breast ironing with an education campaign as well. Hopefully it will be successful.

  • How to stop prevent unwanted pregnancy=birth control and comprehensive education and making sure men share responsibility. Breast ironing, really? It’s sickening.

    And these are clearly some misguided ideas about males as well as females, assuming that males only want sex from women or are only interested in breasts.

  • Rocktopus_Jones

    The way I understand this practice is that it is done by mothers to their daughters to stave off marriage, so that they can attend school longer. That is not to say that the practice itself isn’t abhorrent. I think it speaks volumes about how some societies value women that they have to be mutilated in order to be “off-limits” to men.

  • BeamStalk

    @littlejohn – Exactly, rape isn’t about looks, it is about control.

  • @ littlejohn, good point about the rape. It’s not the fault of the women for having breasts and “getting themselves raped,” it’s a rapist’s desire for control.

  • littlejohn

    I know this is going to sound like some sort of Jay Leno joke, but I don’t mean it that way, given the seriousness of what is being done to these women.
    It’s no secret that not every man is a “breast man.” We males do tend, especially in our youth, to fixate on particular body parts.
    But for every guy who admires a woman’s bustline, there’s another who finds himself drawn to shapely legs, pretty eyes, or whatever. (Of course, the overwhelming majority of us manage not to rape anyone, no matter how attractive.)
    My wife admits to fixating on well-built men’s biceps, which is why I still occasionally lift weights, so I assume this isn’t purely a male thing.
    But what’s next, thigh ironing? It makes just as much – or just as little – sense.

  • Hitch

    All the multitudes of horrifying ways to control sexuality in bad ways because the good ways are evol per some misguided people.

  • Courtney

    From what the mother in the piece said, I do not think that the attractiveness of the breast per se is the perceived ‘problem,’ so much as the development of breasts on a female is seen as a sign of sexual maturity and by extension, readiness for sexual intercourse.

    I believe the point is to make the girl look young enough that she will be perceived as not having yet reached puberty. I do not know if the targeting of young girls as rape victims is common in this country, but if it is, I understand why a parent may believe that this sort of trauma is preferable to the trauma of sexual assault and/or rape, especially if repeated assault is common.

    Cameroon also has a rate of HIV amongst adults of about 5%. (For comparison, the rate in the United States is about .6%) If condom use is not common–and I think the piece indicates that contraception is not common, much less STI infection mitigating forms–avoiding sexual encounters is probably the only practical way to guarantee not contracting HIV.

    If access to education and contraception, especially condoms, was a practical reality for these women, they might turn away from this practice.

    However, it is also important to encourage the belief that women are people who deserve to control their own bodies–both in the sense of avoiding mutilation and teaching potential assaulters not to harm others. Unfortunately, this remains a radical idea in many places.

  • L.Long

    I know that culture counts for a lot in various locations. BUT for a mother to physically harm their children has no right to be called a mother! period!
    Any father who puts his public rep ahead of his kids may be called a breeder but is no father!
    The really sad part is after going thru all that pain the little girls will grow up into mothers that will do the same to their girls.
    Hopefully the education will sink in fast!

  • I’m too afraid to watch the video, so maybe this is mentioned… But don’t they want these girls to eventually get married? Don’t they need to look attractive to attract a mate? Or are all marriages arranged?

  • JD

    So mothers assault and tortures their daughters with a deeply physically scarring device to “protect” the daughter from the risk of rape? Sounds to me the cure is worse than the disease.

  • Courtney


    I find your comment somewhat distressing, as it not only implies that a female’s primary function is to find a mate, but that her only means of doing so is through conventional physical attractiveness.

    It appears that women have little legal protection as far as their rights to control their person and live autonomously in comparison to men. The commodification of women is already a strong part of the culture, so approaching the issue from a perspective that further commodifies women is not a net benefit.

  • I believe the point is to make the girl look young enough that she will be perceived as not having yet reached puberty.

    Yes, that’s what I got from the story. They attempt to stop the breasts of their young daughters from growing because they don’t want them to be targeted for sex and impregnated by (one would assume) older boys and men. They’re actually trying to protect their little girls, but ignorance and all-around lack of education means that they’re harming and disfiguring them instead.

  • Canadiannalberta

    I can’t watch. I cried though. I hope the education makes this come to a stop. No child should have to suffer for no reason.

  • Steve

    Just when you thought humanity couldn’t possibly get any more fucked up…

    I can certainly understand that a culture would have a negative few on sexualizing young girls and that breast development would be perceived to make them vulnerable or something. There is a rational basis for that view.
    But how can that justify physical mutilation? If you don’t want them to show breasts, just bind them. That would be really simple.

  • Courtney

    I have mixed views on this subject.
    Yes, breast ironing is a painful and horrific thing no young girl should ever have to experience. But we should focus on the cultural issues that lead to it happening.
    These mothers do this to protect their daughters from the sexual advances of men, because if the daughters get pregnant, they will have to leave school and get married. The mothers only want their daughters to get a good education, so they can better lives.
    If this activity is banned before the other issues are addressed, more girls will suffer. The underlying causes need to be addressed first, and then there will be less need for breast ironing at all.

  • EdmondWA

    Geez, they have all KINDS of righteous crazy in Africa, don’t they?

  • Aaron

    I don’t think the goal is to stop rape, but rather to prevent the girl from getting a boyfriend too soon.
    I doubt it works, the Lizette lady at the beginning is rather attractive. I doubt that she never had a romantic relationship.

  • Dan W

    Ugh! What a terrible thing to do to girls. I watched the whole video. Whether the motivation for this is to try to prevent rape or to keep girls from becoming sexually active too early, it’s just horrible. There need to be more people willing to educate their fellow Cameroons on the fact that breast ironing is just bad and wrong, like the woman in the video. It’s really sad for humanity that people do things like this.

  • blueridgelady

    This is taking victim-blaming to an extreme.
    Rapists rape- rape victims do not need to prevent rape. People need to stop raping- not the other way around.
    That’s all I will say about the subject. I make no apologies when I suggest that people stop telling women how to “not get raped” while our culture doesn’t shame men who rape women. That is not to say that a woman can’t be a rapist- and she should be equally accountable.

  • Todd

    Funny how the burden of restraining sexual impulses is so often placed upon the woman (e.g., the burqa). Do Cameroonian men bear no responsibility for their own self-control?

    How about some penis ironing? That would solve the problem in a hot minute (no pun intended). One would think the threat alone would be sufficient.

  • Courtney


    I 100% agree that victim blaming is unacceptable, and that rape prevention programs pretty much everywhere fail because there is little to no emphasis on telling people not to be rapists and a whole lot on telling women* how to bind and box themselves up through restrictions on clothing, behavior and movement to “not get raped.” And that’s in countries in which women are actually supposed to have equal protection under the law.

    Unfortunately, since Cameroon is a country where a man can have a rape charge dismissed if he agrees to marry the woman he has victimized, and with levels of violence against women high, I would guess that these women are doing the best they can with the information and resources they have.

    Banning their actions while not making any changes to the law that forces them into second class citizenhood seems like the wrong way of going about things.

    *I do not want to erase or minimize male rape victims, but rape prevention programs and campaigns are generally targeted exclusively at females.

  • muggle

    God, no, I do not have the stomach to watch this. And, please, on the excuses for it! Like being flat chested alone is gonna stop the men when the society doesn’t make rape taboo.

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