Tag Archives: freedom

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.

The truth will set you free

the truth will set you free

‘The truth will set you free.’ How many times have I heard this statement? Too many times I lost count. This statement could be viewed from many perspectives, but I want to look at it from the blackmail point of view. When someone is being blackmailed, I feel like they’re in a prison with invisible bars. You see one walking on the streets, but deep inside they know they’re caged.

People err, that’s human nature; but sometimes one feels they’ve done something that’s so wrong so they choose to keep it to themselves. Unfortunately someone else finds out accidentally. They hold it over their head, using it to hold them prisoners. One ends up becoming a prisoner of their own sins.

A priest in my church told a story about a young boy; he lived with his grandmother and sister. His grandmother had a cat she loved so much, but one day while playing with it, he accidentally killed it. He freaked out, so he told his sister about it, asking her to keep it a secret. His sister was reluctant; she wanted to tell on him, but after he pleaded with her not to tell their grandmother, she agreed, but on one condition: he would have to do all her house chores.

The boy agreed gladly. If the sister had some chore to do, she would ask him to do it. The boy did it all stoically; it was better than their grandmother finding out what he had done; he was afraid she would be so furious with him; that she would punish him. If their grandmother asked his sister to do anything, she would call him and ask him to do it. He’d become his sister’s prisoner. After a while the young boy realized he couldn’t put up with his sister’s blackmail, so he decided to come clean.

Meekly, he walked to his grandmother and told him what he had done. The grandmother just smiled and told him, “I already knew my cat died. I was watching you play with it when it did, but I already forgave you. I was only waiting for you to find the courage to come to me.”

“So you’re not mad at me grandma?” The boy asked, surprised and excited at the same time.

“No, I’m not,” his grandmother smiled.

The next time his sister asked him to do her laundry, he refused. “I’ll tell on you,” she threatened.

Courageously, he just told her, “Go ahead.” His sister was shocked; she hadn’t seen that coming. In life we find ourselves in such situations. One does something, but because they are afraid of the consequences they let people blackmail them; and the thing with blackmail is that once a person falls into that hole, it starts to feel like an abyss; falling deeper and deeper into it, without feeling like there could be a possible way out.

Depending on the magnitude of what they did, some people feel like sinners; slowly they pull away from God, because they feel they are unworthy. They become prisoners of their sins. Like the boy’s grandmother, God sees the things we do, and forgives us long before we go to Him. So while one is slowly drifting away from God, afraid of His retribution, He already forgave them.

In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), when the son who had strayed found his way back to his father, his father had a banquet set for him. He didn’t reprimand him; the thought that his son had repented was enough for him.

God is so willing to take us back even when we feel we’ve committed the worst of crimes; He doesn’t hold grudges. He only wants us to realize our mistakes and repent, because it’s only by being penitent that we can rid our conscience off the heavy load. Once we confess we cease to be prisoners. If one was being blackmailed they find the courage to face their blackmailers.

Freedom is an integral thing in life; without it life feels miserable. When one tries to conceal something they did, even if no one blackmails them, they become tormented by their own conscience; that is bondage, and penance is the way out; it liberates us.

Personally I believe in Heaven, purgatory, even hell; all these are the afterlife destinations, which I know not many people like discussing because firstly it’s scary and two, not everyone is a Christian. From what I’ve gathered though, one doesn’t automatically go to hell because they did something everyone considers wrong. One could spend they’re whole life killing, and still end up in heaven; because it’s not the nature or the magnitude of the sin that matters, but if one repented it.

Take Paul for instance, formally known as Saul (Acts 9:1-19); he was a persecutor of Christians, but that didn’t stop God from forgiving him. What does that say about God? His love and mercy knows no bounds.

Miss Independent

miss independent

Ne-yo loves Miss Independent; apparently I love her too. My damaged past has taught me a lesson or two concerning independence. For starters-I don’t mean to step on any toes-but I feel the only reason most men ask their wives to stay home, is so that they can control them. Some cite love and concern, but honestly, I feel there’s more to it than meets the eye. Again, I apologize if my opinion appears skewed. It’s just that the ‘culprits’ I know personally haven’t convinced me otherwise.

My dad for instance; when I was about nine, he asked mom to quit her job; he said he would take care of her. At first mom was reluctant; she wasn’t sure that was what she wanted…but dad could be charming at times; when he’s not fighting he could be really sweet. Mom fell for his charms; she went ahead to hand in her resignation letter.

I have reason to believe those few years she stayed out of work are her worst to date. It’s like by giving up her job, she had also given up her freedom. She was at dad’s mercy. He had the last say in everything, even when it came to basic necessities such as food. If she wanted anything, she would have to consult dad. She had willingly, handed him the reins of power…I don’t fault her really; she trusted him, but apparently he took her for granted.

If mom was alone, things would have been easier I know; but she had three little mouths to feed. Even with the struggle, she had to take care of us. I think it’s at that time when their run-ins intensified because mom wasn’t satisfied with the treatment dad was giving her, and dad wasn’t willing to make it better.

One night dad came home past midnight, drunk. He hadn’t been giving mom any money for replenishing our food supplies. We couldn’t sleep; it was difficult to fall asleep hungry. We stayed up; hoping dad would be kind enough to bring us some fast food. The minutes ticked away, and as the clock struck midnight, we knew this would be one of those nights we went to bed hungry.

Finally he came home, reeking of alcohol and roasted meat. Obviously he was full. Mom asked him why he was being so unfeeling. She was hurt. We hadn’t eaten, and dad was doing that on purpose, because he knew she didn’t have money at the time. Mockingly, he threw money on the table. He didn’t seem bothered by the dejected looks on our faces.

Mom snapped, “You’re giving me money? At this time? What do you want me to do with it? Slice it up in their plates and feed it to them or what?” She was hurt, angry, and frustrated. In his drunkenness dad snapped too and they started fighting. We went to bed ravenous with our eyes red and puffy from all the crying, and our hearts heavy.

The next morning mom used that same money to buy us breakfast. I watched miserably as she struggled to cater to our needs; it was just humiliating. She had to suck up to him so she could get money for whatever she needed. I noticed everytime she needed money, dad wouldn’t give it to her without a fight.

Mom got tired of the vicious cycle and she started looking for a job. But as it turned out, it wasn’t a very simple task. It took longer than she had anticipated and all the while she had to endure his torturous deeds. She contemplated leaving him, but then she figured if she left we would suffer the consequences because he was still the one paying our school fee. So she put up with him, with all the frustration.

Mom, determined to get her life back on track, started her own business with the little money she had been saving up. It was difficult because dad was against it, but she pressed on. It didn’t bring her enough income, so she closed up and continued looking for another job.

It wasn’t until mom found a job that I saw her truly happy. She had gone through so much humiliation; I always opt to block those memories out of my head because they’re just so many and extremely heartbreaking. Sometimes it’s just easier pretending it didn’t happen.

When she went back to work, her fights with dad reduced remarkably; she didn’t need anything from him. She was independent.

A few months ago he was asking her to quit her job; but this time, it was different. He asked her to quit her job so she could take care of him, so that she-in his own words-could serve him. I impenitently laughed in his face. “Seriously?” I asked, then I started laughing again. Honestly it wasn’t funny in a rib-tickling way, but I found it ludicrous. He was clearly offended-that’s what I was hoping to achieve (I hate myself for that, but it’s the least I could do to let him know what I felt. He rarely lets us speak our minds). I doubt mom would ever fall for that again. No one in their right mind would forget the humiliation she went through.

I learned that it doesn’t matter how much one’s partner has; if it’s not mine, then I’d rather do without it. There’s just something about having money that one has worked for; it’s liberating. I love miss independent; the freedom; the peace of mind…

Oh there’s something about

Kinda woman that can do for herself

I look at her and it makes me proud…