Footbinding in China
Footbinding in China
Fashion and clothing has been part of cultures through out the world. Many cultures distinguish themselves from other cultures through their clothing. Since the beginning of time, people have been known to have three basic needs. These are food, clothing and shelter. Clothing has evolved from just plain bundles of leaves to cover the sensitive areas of a person to sophisticated dresses today. Clothing plays a big role in cultures and it also gives distinction to people with power or its social status.
The social norm we have even in the ancient times is that women are inclined to be conscious of their fashion and clothing while men are less inclined to theses kinds of interests. Cloths have been used to showcase the prestige and wealth of people. In the ancients times, the chief of ancient villages wear the most extravagant and exotic cloths. The Chinese’s emperor wore cloths made from the finest fabrics and most expensive materials in the world. That being said, nobility in the European regions also wore cloths with distinct designs as signs of their power and wealth.
The importance of clothing involves also the battle of sexes. Women are thought to be cautious of their dresses or clothing. The female gender has been said to be the fashionable of the two sexes. According to Jennifer Craik, author of a book regarding fashion, “Women are fashionable but men are not”. Men on the other hand are more focus on the procurement of money and power. In medieval times, men used to be the ones doing business, finding jobs for their family and providing for the household. Women in return were domesticated and lived lives in service of their husbands.
The value of clothing as a commodity is often times the one we see. Clothing provides more than just a need but it is also a part of our lifestyles. Clothing can give us various information. It can tell you if a person’s mood, personality and social status. People who are not that rich often don’t wear extravagant expensive cloths. People who are in big businesses and are rich wear nice and more expensive cloths. Ladies who are in the mood to have fun and mingle with men would wear revealing and sexy dresses.
Women who are not in the mood to have fun would rather wear plain clothing that does not attract that big attention. Clothing plays big roles in various cultures. In China, there used to be a famous practice among Chinese families. In between the 10th century to the early 20th century the Chinese culture has a practice that involved little girls aged 4-7 to undergo a ritual called foot binding. The goal of the practice is to achieve a “lotus foot”. Lotus foot is deformed foot in which foot binding was done. The start or origin of foot binding has no clear historical text that explains its beginnings.
Stories from historians believe that a certain prince in the Tang dynasty had a concubine with little feet and it became a trend among people in that time to have small feet. Tang dynasty was famous for their dancers who had small feet. The practice was famous among the higher class societies in the Qing dynasty. “…many women in China did not bind their feet due to ethnic and class barriers. It remained primarily an elite upper-class until the eighteenth and nineteenth century…” (Ko, 2002, p. 12). The foot binding practice is done by wrapping the child’s feet until she is at an age of late adolescent.
The feet are wrapped s tight that it will not allow the feet to grow over 6 inches in length. The result of this practice is permanent damage the feet of women who underwent the ritual. The foot is prone to infection and diseases. In the process of foot binding, the foot usually gets fractured and deformed. Women that were footbinded would walk in a manner where they would sway in a particular form while walking since they have deformed feet. The Chinese cultured was said to see this kind of walk as sexy and erotic. They call this kind of walk “lotus gait”.
The reason for foot binding is always a question even historians can’t give a definite answer. Some people say this practice is done to make sure the women who are subjected to footbinding will be forever dependent to their family or husband. We should also take note that the Chinese culture is famous for arranged marriage. This means that the family of the male usually buys or arranges the marriage of heir son to a girl even before they reached adolescent. The practice could signify the dependency and submission of the girl to her husband.
For some who practices this kind of ritual, it is also a sign of chastity in the part of the girl. The main question now is if this kind of practice is a turn on and sexual fetish or not at all. Based on historical context, the Chinese culture in ancient times valued males over females. Emperors, traders, educated citizen etc were always males. Females were viewed as their sexual object and only left at home to be housewives. The male dominated society of China sees footbinding as a form of foot fetish. Foot fetish comes in a form of submission.
Like many sexual fetishes, submission in Asian culture is one dominant fetish. For binding is not forced upon the female sex. In fact, it is usually parents that initiate this kind of practice so their daughter can get a good husband in the future. This practice is a kind of submission because it makes the females owned by their husbands or lover. The feet have been one of the fetishes of humanity. The shape and contour plus the fact that it is hidden make it more exciting in terms of sexual excitement. Many cultures see the feet as sexy and erotic. Foot fetish could also be the cause why footbinding started.
It could be that Chinese culture in the past sees small feet and “lotus gait” as seductive and sexually exciting. The foot binding ritual is a proof that the foot is also an erotic part of the body. We usually find things hidden or kept from us exciting. Like the breast and genitals, the feet of girls are also hidden most of the time. This is why footbinding is a form of erotism and a form of foot fetish. Fetishes come in various forms in different cultures and era. It just so happens that the foot fetish in ancient china used this kind of body modification to gratify their lust for foot fetish.
Although many people protested even in the 10th century regarding this unnatural practice, the practice was done till the late 20th century. The practice became really popular because in the time when foot binding was rampant, husbands tend to choose girls with small feet. Mothers think that in order for their child to have husbands; they have to have small feet. The only way to prevent it from growing is to bind it. In a way, it is also being sexually attractive. To further explain this, our generation today sees women who are well endowed with nice breast as more attractive.
Girls who are not endowed with nice breast opt to have breast enlargement surgery to be more confident and attractive. It has always been the battle of self-esteem. Girls who are inferior in terms of sexual attractiveness will most likely marry and have a partner in life. The foot binding practice is not far from cosmetics surgery today. As we know, humans are sexual beings. The feet is one part of the body we seldom incorporate with sex but the truth is that many people sees the feet as erotic and arousing. Many literatures tell us how the foot can elicit sexual energy.
In Qing dynasty, they had a manual in which it teaches 48 different ways of playing with the feet. This clearly shows that erotism through the feet is one of the reasons why footbinding was done. There can be many reasons why footbinding is done. Erotism, foot fetish, battle of sexual attractiveness of women, a way to ensure the future of a girl through a marriage because of being sexually attractive or it can also be just culture itself. “…foot fetishes likens a woman with bound feet to a ballerina soaring on toes or a person wearing a six inch heels…” (Ko, 2002, p10. )
The fact that this kind of practice is not mandatory and they are done even by parents shows that this practice starts out to be not a submissive practice in nature but can turn into a form of submission later on. If a man marries the girl because he is attracted sexually with her feet then it can be said that the girl submitted to the husband due to her feet’s “attractiveness”. Another way of seeing this is that footbinding would not be a fad and practice if men in china did not show any inclination to girls with small feet. Today, footbinding is almost non-existent even in china.
The Manchu had a campaign against it and it was seen as a bad practice. In the 20th century, the western countries created another foot fetish kind of fad. This is the high heeled shoes. Although footbinding is not similar to wearing high heels, some of the reasons of using high heels are the same as footbindings. The similarities of these practices are that both of them are sources of foot fetish erotism . Both footbinding and high heels gives emphasis on the beauty of the feet. It makes it more erotic and sexual. Wearing high heels makes women stick their buttock out and walks a sexy gait.
Footbinding also makes women walk in a sexy gait. The differences of these two are quite more than their similarities. In terms of period of practice, the foot fetish is practices at the 9th century to 19th century. The high heels was started at around 14th century in France. The place and continent in which these were created was also different. It was an asian practice while the other is European or western. The permanency of wearing high heels ends after removing the shoe while footbiding is permanent. High heel shoes does seem to have lots of negative effects on the body especially the back but it can be helped by avoiding it.
Footbinding is a permanent state. The damage done to the foot is irreversible and the pain is also far more than high heels. The decision of wearing a high heeled should depend on the person while mothers are the ones who decide if their daughter will be footbinded. Footbind tends to be a submission in nature while high heels can make women submissive or dominant in terms of nature of the wearing it. While there are similarities, footbinding and wearing high heels are different. It can be called modern day footbinding in terms of its erotic appearance but the permanent damage done by footbinding to please men is far too extreme.
I would compare cosmetic surgery to footbinding more than wearing high heels. Today women undergo surgeries just to please their confidence that they are attractive to men. These practices make us realize that humans have the tendency to do extreme behaviors in terms of pleasing the other sex and society. In conclusion, after the removal of foot binding in china, women today in china does not need to undergo this kind of practice to be respected. They are seen to be equal to men and are starting to be a dominate proponent of social change.
Women today are not anymore pressured to have small feet just to ensure men will like them. The image of women as sex object is slowly being replaced by great women who influence the Chinese society. Footbinding is part of China’s ancient practices. It serves as a lesson that humans can do extremes things to their body just to please others. It is a part of china’s history that shows us how out world today understands and accepts that men and women are created equally and must be treated similarly. References Jackson, Beverly. Splendid slipper: A Thousand years of an erotic tradition.
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