Tag Archives: CNN

Demeaning cultures: Chinese foot binding

chinese foot binding 2

When I look at the world we live in today, of the things I appreciate most is the fact that women are more independent and empowered; unlike in past eras where a woman’s worth was solely determined by the type of man she could attract.

Sometimes when I look at some cultural practices I totally fail to see their relevance, because if one was to look at the reasons why such practices are carried out, it’s mainly to please men; foot binding for instance.

It’s a Chinese practice that was outlawed around 1912. According to Wikipedia, foot binding, also known as ‘Lotus feet’ is the custom of applying painfully tight binding to the feet of young girls between ages 4 and 9 to prevent further growth. I wasn’t aware of such a practice until yesterday, when on CNN I saw this elderly woman, who’s one of the few remaining survivors of the out-dated practice.

Her toes were folded in what appeared to be a deformity and as she talked to CNN correspondent, Kristie Lu Stout, she told her it was an ancient tradition practiced by Chinese women and one of the reasons it was encouraged was because it ensured women would always be dependent on their husbands.

Curious, I went online to find out more about foot binding, and I must admit, I cringed as I read in-depth accounts of how the practice was carried out: first each foot would be soaked in a warm mixture of herbs and animal blood; this was intended to soften the foot and aid the binding. Then the toenails were cut back as far as possible to prevent in-growth and subsequent infections, since the toes were to be pressed tightly into the sole of the foot.

Cotton bandages were prepared by soaking them into the blood and herb mixture. To enable the size of the feet to be reduced, the toes on each foot were curled under then pressed with great force downwards and squeezed into the sole of the foot until the toes broke.

The broken toes were held tightly against the sole of the foot while the foot was then drawn down straight with the leg and the arch forcibly broken down. The bandages were repeatedly wound in a figure-eight movement, starting at the inside of the foot at the inside of the foot, and around the heel, the freshly broken toes being pressed tightly into the sole of the foot.

At each pass around the foot, the binding cloth was tightened, pulling the ball of the foot and the heel together, causing the broken foot to fold at the arch, and pressing the toes underneath. The girl’s broken feet required a great deal of regular care and attention.

The most common problem with bound feet was infection. Despite the regular care, toenails would in-grow becoming infected and causing injuries to the toes. Sometimes, for this reason, the girl’s toenails would be peeled back and removed altogether.

The tightness of the binding meant that the circulation was cut off, and as a result injuries to the toes were unlikely to heal and were likely to worsen gradually leading to infected toes and rotting flesh. If the infection got to the bones, they would soften and eventually some toes would fall off. This, however, was seen as a benefit because the feet could be bound even more tightly. Girls whose toes were fleshier would have shards of glass or sharp tiles inserted to deliberately cause injury.

Disease inevitably followed infection, meaning that death from septic shock could result from foot-binding, and a surviving girl was more at risk of health problems as she grew older. Older women on the other hand were more likely to break hips and other bones in falls since they could not balance securely on their feet and were unable to rise from sitting positions.

In Chinese culture, bound feet were considered erotic and a woman with perfect lotus feet was likely to make a more prestigious marriage. Qing Dynasty sex manuals listed 48 different ways of playing with women’s bound feet.

pair of red lotus

Sadly, men preferred never to see a woman’s unbound feet, so they were always concealed within tiny three-inch ‘lotus shoes’ and wrappings. They understood that the symbolic erotic fantasy of bound feet didn’t correspond to its unpleasant physical reality. The fact that the bound feet were concealed from men’s eyes was considered sexually appealing, because an uncovered foot would also give foul odour as various microorganisms would colonize the unwashable folds.

A feature of a woman with bound feet was the limitation of her mobility, and therefore her inability to take part in politics and an active social life. Bound feet rendered women dependent on men and became an alluring symbol of chastity and male ownership, since a woman was largely restricted to her home and couldn’t venture far without an escort.

chinese foot binding

As I read this all I saw was excruciating pain, and I kept asking, was it really worth it? The Chinese women went through intense pain and sometimes succumbing to the resulting diseases just to fulfil some male fantasy. What did they gain from having their feet bound? In my opinion, nothing really! In any case, it robbed them off their freedom, making them just property, that men could lay claim to.

They were left taking care of self-inflicted deformities, and all for what? Just to impress men, who didn’t even want to see their bound feet, because they knew behind the beautiful lotus façades lay smelly wounds and deformed feet. Honestly, I’m so glad the practice was outlawed, because women shouldn’t live at the mercy of men.

When I think of such practices, I feel girls/women should be educated; because I have a feeling such demeaning practices would be mainly attributed to illiteracy on their part. It’s the only sound reason why loving mothers would put their daughters through such agonizing pain just so they could be eligible for marriage.

What do you seek? Perfection or Holiness?

holy

I was watching the breaking news on CNN, when my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID; it was my mom, and I immediately figured what she wanted to tell me.

“Have you heard?” She jumped straight to the point the minute I picked up, skipping all the usual pleasantries. “The Pope’s resigning!” Her voice was frantic.

“Yes, I have,” I replied nonchalantly. I was glad my voice didn’t betray me; I was in extreme panic mode, as I tried-with immense difficulty-to wrap my mind around the shocking announcement. I had figured it wouldn’t do any of us any good if I also let my anxiety take over. One anxious person was enough, so for sanity’s sake I chose to act calm. “They say it’s for health reasons,” I added.

“I don’t know what’s supposed to happen, this has never happened before.” She said, still anxious.

I didn’t know what to tell her; I was beside myself with anxiety and that was interfering with my reasoning. I took a while, dug deep into my heart then replied, “Relax mom, just believe it has happened that way because that is how God wills it. So everything will work out eventually. We just have to wait and see.”

To my relief, that eased her angst. We talked for a while before hanging up. As I sat there staring blankly at the TV screen, my mind drifted back to when I was small. I always felt the Pope was the holiest person on earth; subconsciously I likened him to Jesus, so I had this eerie thought that the world would come to an end the day he died.

Apparently, He-Pope John Paul II-died in 2005 and the earth’s still rotating on its axis, everything’s still intact; I was wrong, obviously. Nonetheless, that didn’t erase my earlier presumptions, that the Papal throne has a very sacred significance to it. Its first occupant was St. Peter (referred to by many as Simon), who was given the keys of the kingdom of Heaven by Jesus…(Matthew 16:18) and watching the process of electing a new Pope only confirmed what I already knew; it is an intricate process, with a divine touch.

I couldn’t understand how/why the Pope would resign from a post I always thought was a till-death-do-us-part thing. Was it even allowed? I had many thoughts running through my mind, and the more I thought about it the more I got nervous. The last Pope to resign was Gregory XII, in 1415, almost six hundred years ago, so who/what had inspired Pope Benedict XVI to make that surprising move? I imagined the Holy Pontiff was supposed to hold on to his post until he breathed his last. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t normal.

I thought about what I had told my mom; if God didn’t want him to resign, he wouldn’t let him, so if it was happening, God really wanted it that way. I focused all my attention on those words, to calm any negative thoughts. The announcement was made on Monday, 11th February, and the lent season was starting 13th February, on Ash Wednesday, two days later.

Of all lent seasons, it’s during this year’s season that I feel I learnt a lot. I’ve learnt to look at things differently. Normally, those who know me think I’m a real optimist, but truth is my everyday life is a constant inward battle; I’m constantly trying to quell pessimistic thoughts which flow in my head, without me even trying.

The Pope had about two weeks before resigning on 28th that same month. I was waiting anxiously to see how things would unfold, as I had nothing to reference his resignation to. When the lent season started, I made a personal commitment to travel the way of the cross every Friday evening. Basically it entails retracing the final steps Jesus took before His crucifixion; it’s like a miniature pilgrimage to the actual places in Jerusalem. It was particularly the 13th station, which opened my eyes regarding the Pope’s resignation:

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross.

My Jesus, it was with deep grief that Mary finally took You in her arms and saw all the wounds sin had inflicted upon You. Mary Magdalene looked upon Your dead Body with horror. Nicodemus, the man so full of human respect, who came to You by night, suddenly received the courage to help Joseph take You down from the Cross.

You are once more surrounded by only a few followers. When loneliness and failure cross my path, let me think of this lonely moment and total failure-failure in the eyes of men. How wrong they were-how mistaken their concept of success! The greatest act of love was given in desolation and the most successful mission accomplished and finished when all seemed lost. Is this not true in my life, dear Jesus? I judge my failures harshly. I demand perfection instead of holiness. My idea of success is for all to end well-according to my liking.

As I read this prayer, the one thing that came to mind was the Pope’s resignation; how I’d felt he wasn’t doing the right thing by resigning. I realized sometimes God doesn’t intend for things to end the way we think they should.

That thought subsequently reminded me of the times I felt disappointed when things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped they would. I realized that sometimes we achieve so much more when we feel like we’ve lost; sometimes there is success in failure.

For most people, success is measured in terms of how much/long one can endure a difficult situation; our pride makes us feel like giving up on a difficult task would be deemed a failure, so we keep tolerating things we don’t like, afraid that people will judge us. I learnt that so long as one is doing what’s right in the eyes of God, it is okay to  ‘call it quits’ sometimes. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, He only expects us to lead holy lives.

So instead of feeling like the Holy Pontiff had made a wrong move, I applauded his courage. He resigned when he knew people would judge him for it; he did something rare, but the thought that he said he was at peace with himself after seeking God’s guidance on the matter, made me feel it was okay too.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect; He knows we’re only human.