Footbinding: Domination or Choice? Essay

Footbinding: Domination or Choice? Essay

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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 the...


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... the people, or a despicable husband" (Levy, 81). It seems as though the pain, control, and oppression caused by footbinding indicates a lack of voluntary beginnings. Men had all the reasons they needed to force women to start binding. To control the woman, shape the feminine body, accentuate the differences between man and woman, and even increase sex appeal, men had their reasons. After the practice was started, a combination of obligation and encouragement kept the practice going. If one has only known the world to work one way, it will most likely keep working that way. Fortunately, it finally fell out of favor, at which point, due to women's newfound freedom and lack of obligation, the practice of binding all but died out.

Works Cited

Levy, Howard S. Chinese Footbinding: The History of a Curious Erotic Custom. 1923, Neville Spearman Ltd., London.

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