Footbinding: Domination Or Choice? Essay

1410 words - 6 pages

Although no definite reason or person has been identified as responsible for the birth of footbinding, there are a few theories. One deals with the Shang dynasty's last empress' malformed feet. Some say she had club feet, bound them in attempts to distil beauty from malformation, and convinced her "spouse to make the compression of feet obligatory for young girls" (Levy, 37). Another scenario involves the Mongols attempting to impair the health of the Chinese women in order to weaken the Chinese. Still another theory, and possibly the most credible, involves the Chinese women attempting to attain greater appeal. Footbinding was not started by women for want of greater self control, nor did it originate from foreign powers. Well bound feet brought honor to the girl's family. Binding feet was even thought to improve other parts of the feminine figure. Footbinding increased attraction by males, which led to a better match. Overall, all the main reasons for binding one's feet, or one's daughters' feet, arise from masculine desires and wants.

Daughters were expected to be mild mannered, do their chores, and be completely submissive to any male figure in their lives. If these basic goals were achieved by the parents, the daughter was considered good, fit for marriage, and brought honor to the family, until she left the family. If these ideals were not met, dishonor would be bestowed on the family. Footbinding helped with this. After having their feet bound, women and girls had trouble walking, which almost forced them to stay in the inner quarters and do their chores. In a nineteenth century play, one character states that "the purpose of footbinding was to control women so they couldn't wander about lewdly and as they pleased" (Levy, 44) It was also a tool for more abusive forms of control. Their feet became so sensitive, if a man stomped on a woman's feet, she would be in excruciating pain. Power relations were enforced with the practice of footbinding.

Filial piety was even strengthened by footbinding. After the pain wore off, the fact that a daughter's parents were willing to exert that much pain on someone they love, and through doing so cause pain to themselves, is often regarded with respect from the daughter. There are accounts of the aunt of the daughter or another relative carrying out the binding because of the pain it caused the actual mother.

Footbinding was also an investment in the future. Not only would people think more highly of a well bound woman than a woman with pig feet, but walking in bound feet was believed to help other parts of the female anatomy grow in quality. "The difficulty of walking caused strength to be concentrated in the buttocks, which became larger," (Levy, 141) said Chang Ching-sheng, as well as the development of the vagina. The relationship of the large buttocks and thighs to the tiny feet also had relevance, as it "made it easy for her to turn herself about in bed.... By...

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