The difference is not so different

Today is the first I’ve ever heard of breast ironing:

Worried that her daughters’ budding breasts would expose them to the risk of sexual harassment and even rape, their mother Philomene Moungang started ‘ironing’ the girls’ bosoms with a heated stone.

“I did it to my two girls when they were eight years old. I would take the grinding stone, heat it in the fire and press it hard on the breasts,” Moungang said.

“They cried and said it was painful. But I explained that it was for their own good.”

“Breast ironing” — the use of hard or heated objects or other substances to try to stunt breast growth in girls — is a traditional practice in West Africa, experts say.

Normal anatomy puts the child at risk. The incorrect question, which is the only one asked, is not unique. Do the potential benefits of physical alteration (avoiding sexual harassment and rape) outweigh its harmful effects (physical damage, future health complications)? Is that reasoning familiar? How about this?

“You ask me why I did it?” said Moungang. “When I was growing up as a little girl my mother did it to me just as all other women in the village did it to their girl children. So I thought it was just good for me to do to my own children.”

African girls and American boys aren’t that different. Both seem to be the property of their parents, the integrity of their bodies at the mercy of the flimsiest whims of their parents. Subjective standards allegedly justify a bizarre cultural practice, and as such, allow its imposition. It’s considered normal. Good, even. As outsiders, we condemn it for the unjust violation it is, while ignoring the equivalent violation in our own hospitals. Or we feel it’s not our place to say something because who are we to force our beliefs on another culture?

Meanwhile, the mutilations continue.