The politicisation of the female breasts
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Sunday, 12 September 2010

The employment of the female breasts and sexuality in Nigerian politics has shown that nothing is too sacred to be involved. The erstwhile cultural implication of the female anatomy is beginning to lose its relevance as it has been railroaded into the mainstream of Nigerian politics. KEHINDE OYETIMI writes.

FROM time immemorial and of all the unique structures that make up the anatomical configuration of the female, nothing seems to arrogate much attention to itself than the exterior twin organs of the female chest – otherwise referred to as the breasts. Unlike in males, which of course are just a couple of buttons attached to the chest, the breasts of the woman have always been objects of much interest, whether overtly or covertly. Apparently, the breasts of the woman are secondary sexual organs, but the peculiar curve and arch of the breasts, their sensitivity to contact or touch, their role in the suckling engagement of infants, lend ever-abiding credence to both their artistic beauty and functionality.

In virtually all societies, the body of the woman is an object of interest, while it is a taboo to give an explicit detailing of the female anatomy, in other climes, the female body is worshipped. In pristine societies (settings that were not yet tainted with the vagaries of modernity), the female was held in awe and typified in utter sacrosanctity. African culture and so many others usually do not openly place much discourse on the female breast. Many cultures whose historico-cultural progress could not be documented hold varying but unique perspectives on the body of the woman – especially the female breasts. Any attempt towards the interpretation, perception and understanding of the placement of importance on the female breasts would naturally yield both cultural and conventional elucidation.

The Amazonian women, as captured by Greek historians, are depicted as a collection of a nation of female warriors. In world history, nothing more captures this unique gathering of women-warriors.

Records show the Amazonian women-warriors with their left breasts usually exposed, while the right ones were covered. This, of course, was done for the purpose of warfare. It was believed that in warfare, the left should be exposed so as to aid the handling of the arrow when shooting with the bow.

In pristine African milieus, women typified fertility. The female body commanded cosmic energy and it was therefore a taboo to misrepresent the body of the woman. In fact, of all the chambers of the female body, none assumed such spiritual connotations than the breasts. It was an act of utmost sacrilege for the female body to be exposed in near or total nudity. The breasts of the woman in African cultural settings were instruments, not just for the sexual gratification of the invasion of the male character, but had far reaching cosmic influence on monarchs. Monarchs who have lost their political and social relevance were cursed with the exposure of the female breasts, in protest. The breasts of such women were weapons of social and political change. Two very sacrosanct parts of the female anatomy in traditional African societies were the breasts and the vagina, the exposure of which attracted a curse to the male viewers. The deliberate exposure of the female body was the height of a man’s or monarch’s undoing.

Mordecai Sunday Ibrahim, President, Southern Kaduna Youth Vanguard, stated that “As far as I am concerned, it is an indecent act. A woman for whatever reason is not supposed to expose the sensitive parts of her body in the name of asking for change. We witnessed this in the 30s and the 50s, but of course in the 21st century we can see that these things are affecting the morals of our children. We should begin to think of better ways of pushing our case. What is wrong with hunger strike? What is wrong with carrying placards? Exposing the breasts is not decent. Neither Christianity nor Islam advocate this nonsense. Anywhere culture goes against your faith, you should drop culture. If we want to go into that then we should go on to wearing bante which my grandfather was wearing.”

Dr (Mrs) Gloria Olushola Adedoja, Department of Teacher Education, University of Ibadan, found no basis for the practice since other avenues are available. “I am not sure if that cultural implication of exposing the female breasts for change is still there. But in those days, it was there. Exposing the breasts is not the only way by which women can champion their causes. Women can make their reactions known by saying them in the dailies, writing notices to the people that are in charge. Even there could be the use of dialogue. Grievances can be made known through different fora. I doubt if such acts are relevant in our societies because people do not really recognise them. Now some of them could even be paid to do so but in those days it was not like that. When women came out like that, in those days, it meant that it was an issue that men could no longer handle,” she advised.

Dr Sola Olorunyomi, of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, saw a modern relevance of the practice. “When such interventions are made, they must not be used flippantly. I don’t necessary think that it has been misused. The Ekiti incidence was a show of the miscarriage of justice. There was really need for some kind of response by the people. Roads and infrastructure would come only when governance is good. Governance is foundational. If there is one thing people should response to, it is actually governance. I think it still holds some relevance,” he opined.

Unfortunately, in modern times, female breasts have been commoditised and commercialised. The media have constantly used the woman in the sale of goods which have no immediate relevance to her. Yet unfortunate is the fact that there is a gradual shift in the politicisation of the feminine power of the woman. Nigerian politics has invaded the sacrosanctity of the female energy housed in the female body. Threats using the female sexuality have become the norm in the Nigerian political space.

A bit of the horrendous act was demonstrated last year in Ekiti State during the electioneering engagements that almost marred the peace of the state. Women with tired, sagging and flabby mammalian glands came out in their droves carrying placards. The sickening aspect was the sensuous irrelevance of such breasts in display. What must have helped the Amazonian women in warfare, that Nigerian women must quickly adopt, was the distraction that their exposed left breasts caused their male opponents. Of course, what would be more disarming to a warring man than the incapacitating influence engineered by visual contact with the undulating, sensuous movement of youthful, firm breasts? The recent threat in the contemporary documentation of such incidents was the “No Jonathan, No sex” campaign of the Organisation of African Women in Diaspora, which was reported last month. The politicisation of the feminine sexuality is of course beginning to lose its power of suasion and social relevance. The same appeal to such sexuality was witnessed at the beginning of this month in Cross Rivers State when a group of aged women from Erei, Biase local government area stormed Calabar half dressed protesting what they collectively termed the “disenfranchisement and illegal arrest of their sons.” It would not be farther before the nation witnesses the use of the female breasts in electioneering, since it has been nationally inaugurated by the campaign for a Jonathan presidency in 2011.

In 2002, a group of women threatened to bare it all in the Niger Delta in protest against the incessant abuse of their environment by oil producing firms. Speaking, Terisa Turner, an anthropologist, argued that by exposing the breasts and the vagina, “The women are saying: We all came into the world through the vagina. By exposing the vagina, the women indicate that we hereby take back the life we gave you. It is about bringing forth life and denying life through social ostracism, which is a kind of social execution. Men who are exposed are viewed as dead.” If the baring of the female genitalia would do the nation good, perhaps it would now. There are more pressing demands now within the Nigerian socio-political landscape now than ever before. One wonders if the only negotiating tool possessed by the female gender is couched in her sexuality.

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