Tag Archives: Education

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.

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All kids are born artists

One of the songs I’ve always loved is Celine Dion’s Power of the dream.

Deep within each heart
There lies a magic spark
That lights the fire of our imagination
And since the dawn of man
The strength of just ” I can “
Has brought together people of all nations

There’s nothing ordinary
In the living of each day
There’s a special part
Every one of us will play

Feel the flame forever burn
Teaching lessons we must learn
To bring us closer to the power of the dream
As the world gives us its best
To stand apart from all the rest
It is the power of the dream that brings us here

Your mind will take you far
The rest is just pure heart
You’ll find your fate is all your own creation
And every boy and girl
As they come into this world
They bring the gift of hope and inspiration

Everytime I listen to this song, I feel each person comes to this world talented, with a special role to play in this world. Problem is, many people never get to realize their talents because their parents/guardians didn’t help them discover and nurture their gifts when they were still young.

‘Geniuses are not born, they are made.’ I’ve heard that statement severally. Recently I was watching TED talks, where the speaker-Sir Ken Robinson-was saying, all kids are born artists. He was talking about how parents push their kids into getting into college to get diplomas and degrees they might never use in their lives. Many parents don’t like it when their kids pick up anything that has to do with arts. So most of the time someone decides to do music, poetry, dance…etc. professionally, they do it behind their parents’ backs.

Personally I’ve met people who have university degrees, but chose to do something different entirely. Most parents only agree to it, when their kids have taken a shot and succeeded, and given that not everyone’s lucky, some of those who fail end up feeling like miserable failures, especially if their parents/guardians were against it from the start.

all kids are born artists

The speaker also mentioned that the value of education is slowly depreciating, saying that when he was young, anyone with a college degree who didn’t have a job failed to have one out of their own volition. Nowadays, many young people are jobless, yet they have all the credentials they could need to secure well-paying jobs; and even those with jobs feel underemployed because the jobs they hold don’t match their credentials. This is attributed to the fact that nowadays bachelor’s degrees aren’t as valuable as they were back then. People with master’s degrees and PhD’s are given first priority when seeking employment.

This same people who suffer day after day because they don’t have jobs, are very talented people. They feel stuck because they don’t realize they could earn a living from using their talents, because the society we live in disparages arts.

When asked what they want to be when they grow up, most of the kids will say, “I want to be a doctor/neurosurgeon/lawyer/teacher/pilot/accountant…etc. Very few say they want to be painters/actresses/musicians/dancers/writers/athletes/poets…you know, careers that have to do with our natural talents. When all’s said and done, many talents end up undiscovered.

Once when I was in high school, a motivational speaker asked, “Do you know where you can find the most talent?” It sounded somewhat rhetorical, so no student cared to answer. “At the cemeteries,” he finished. Confused, we all stared at him, waiting for him to expound. Thankfully he did. “Many people don’t do anything to nurture their talents. If you ask, some will even tell you they don’t have talents. Eventually, they take their undiscovered talents to the graves with them when they die.”

He gave me something new to reflect on. It’s unfortunate that some people spend all their lives, oblivious to the beautiful gifts they possess. As Celine sings, “Every boy and girl, as they come into this world, they bring the gift of hope and inspiration.”  We all have an important role to play in this world. Everyone has the power to dream; and if one can dream it- if they’re determined- they will achieve it.