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Critical Feminist Studies Paper #2/ Breast Ironing

kscire's picture
Breast Ironing in Cameroon
Paper #2.rtf48.21 KB


Anne Dalke's picture

Condemning the Crime

I'd never heard before of "breast ironing," kscire, so thank you for calling my atttention to the practice, and for your reviews, both of what it entails and why it happens.

Your condemnation of breast ironing, and your clear sense that it must be punished--"although it is good that mothers are jailed for doing this to their daughters, it would be even more effective if men were jailed for sex-related crimes...authorities need to take away the rights of those who take them away from others"--reminds me very much of the position Alice Walker took, years ago, on female genital surgeries:

"staking out a universalist position that valorizes a basic, transcultural category of the female body, especially as and when that body is disfigured on account of patriarchal ideologies." For Walker, "the practice of genital mutilation served to contain women sexually and socially; above all, it is a violation of each woman's right to the integrity of her body." Like you, she had no patience with "cultural relativism," and condemned such bodily disfigurements as clear-cut cases of human rights violations.

So much of what we have been reading and talking about in class during the past month problematizes this position, and asks why Western women are themselves so invested in protecting the bodily integrity of women who live in other places. Our discussion, in particular, of third world women who may reject "rights language," because it values personal autonomy and mobility over communal ties, @ the neglect of social responsibilities, seems relevant here.

It would be helpful for me to see you place your commitment to universalist feminism in the context of the challenge to that position that's been articulated in class. Why is the Cameroon practice of breast iriong "of most interest" to you? What relation does it have to your own life, your own values? How does it intersect with them, and from what position do you issue your condemnation of the practice?