Chinese foot-binding is perceived today as unusual, gruesome, an antiquated fetish, an erotic tradition.
For decades in China, young girls’ bones were transgressed and their feet tightly bond in a painful process that would eventually make them appear more desirable to men, according to historians. Their deformed feet, known as lotus feet, were tucked into embellished shoes and viewed as delicate and goody. It was a route to show off their social status. It was, at the time, chic.
One study, however, suggests that there was another reason girls were subjected to the practice — and it wasn’t all about beauty or sex.
Research published in the book Bound Feet, Young Hands suggests that some women’s feet had been bound at a very young age so they could be trained to sit still for hours and help create textiles and dres for the family.
” What’s groundbreaking about our work is that[ foot-binding was] not confined to the elite ,” Laurel Bossen, the book’s co-author, told HuffPost. The study, Bossen added, dispels the view that the goal was only to try to please men.
To uncover this little-known history of foot-binding, Bossen and the book’s co-author, researcher Hill Gates, interviewed over 1,800 elderly women in remote villages across China and found that foot-binding was widespread among peasant populations, shattering the faith that foot-binding was a status symbol of the elite.
All the women surveyed were born when foot-binding was still an accepted tradition. It’s unclear when the practice began exactly, but Bossen believes foot-binding in China goes back as far as 1,000 years.
” As the last generation of these foot-bound girls vanishes, we fortunately managed to interview many of them ,” Bossen told HuffPost.” There is no other body of data based on interviews with foot-bound girls that is as comprehensive as this. It was genuinely a last chance to do it .”
The type of foot-binding practiced in rural communities was a form of discipline, the book argues. Moms bound young girl’ feet so they would stay still and work with their hands, making yarn and spinning thread, among other things, which families could use or sell.
” Women who bind their daughters’ feet had their best interests in controlling the labor of young girls and young women ,” she said.” We reject the view that females were exempted from run, treasuring their precious bound feet and not economically important. They developed hand skills and worked with their hands throughout their lives .”
These new findings, Bossen believes, prove that women in rural areas who had bound feet didn’t get the recognition they deserved.
” Chinese women were contributing more to society than they received credit for ,” she told of the rural women with bound feet.” They were constructing very important contributions in the form of textiles[ that have] been undervalued and largely just forgotten .”
And while this new research suggests that this painful practice wasn’t solely for men’s desire, it doesn’t induce the practice any less oppressive.
Bossen explained,” It robbed young girls and then women throughout their lives of their ability to do other things, to move around and play, to have more choices. Of course it’s oppressive .”
The practice of foot-binding began to be banned in the early 20 th century, though some women, like those interviewed by Bossen, kept their feet bound their entire lives. Bossen believes the stories of the women she interviewed might have gotten lost in history as their generation passed away.
Still, Bossen and Gates’ volume doesn’t deny that” lotus feet” were created to make a woman seem more desirable. Accounts written by feet-bound women in 19 th century China, published by the University of Virginia, show that women often believed the tighter the foot-binding, the better the husband they’d attract.
The research does, however, show that these women were more than merely sexualized objects. They worked hard to contribute to their families and to the larger society.
” We often underestimate how important handwork was in China’s pre-industrial economy ,” she told HuffPost.” The intense pressure on women to work with their hands, to spin, weave, sew, and sew cloth, bedding and textile products for their families and for sale has gone unrecognized .”
Their research, Bossen added, aims to look at the whole both women and not just her bound feet.
” Somehow, people have been so fascinated by the feet that they ignored the rest of the woman and what she did ,” she said.
” It’s very rare to find people who notice the role of handwork in the lives of foot-bound women or who ask these elderly girls what work they did when they were young girls .”
Read more: www.huffingtonpost.com