My husband, Marty, is a retired podiatrist. He worked in pockets of New York City that were poor and largely immigrant. When he first started his practice, he treated women from China whose feet had been bound. Despite being officially outlawed 1912, footbinding was still being practiced well into modern times. He saw these patients in the 1970s and 80s.
For those who don’t know what it is, young girls, as young as 3-5 would have the bones in their feet broken and then the feet bound with cloth strips. Every few years, the feet would be broken again until the desired result was created. To create that affect, the toes would be flattened against the bottom of the foot and arch would be so broken and damaged that the heel would curl back to the front of the foot. At each of the breakings the girl would need to learn to walk again. One can only imagine that pain of walking on foot bones that had been repeatedly broken. And here is an especially chilling part. The mothers would do it to their own daughters. I won’t go into further gruesome details because they can be easily looked up on the internet. It left the girls crippled for life.
When they came into my husband’s office, their feet would have ulcerating infections. Many had to have amputations to save their lives. He still speaks about the footbinding practice with anger in his voice. Here is some of what he told me:
“Sometimes they would even start younger than 3 because the bones aren’t formed yet making them even more malleable.”
“Their feet would constantly ulcerate because the foot is not structured to weight-bear in those areas.”
“The women never came in with their husbands or other men. They only came with other women.”
“Some had to be carried. Others were in wheelchairs.”
“They had dangerous weeping ulcers. Some we healed. Some needed amputation.”
“Some just never returned. We thought that might be because they feared they would have gotten in trouble by asking for help.”
No one knows for sure how the practice was started, but through the centuries, it is estimated that two billion girls had this done. It was a status symbol, a prerequisite for marrying into money. The smaller the feet, the greater the dowry. According to the Smithsonian Magazine there was a ranking for the smallness of the feet. The three-inch foot was known as a “golden lotus” and four-inch foot was a “silver lotus.” A foot of five-inches would be “dismissed” as an iron lotus and those women were not as valuable. This practice has been so hard to eradicate that the last factory making lotus shoes only closed in 1999.
The Smithsonian adds this line in their discussion: “A small foot in China, no different from a tiny waist in Victorian England, represented the height of female refinement.” No difference? Excuse me? Perhaps on a spectrum of controlling women and using our bodies as weapons against us, but a huge difference in the crippling and traumatizing effects.
For centuries, the Chinese girls had no voice. Their culture, their families, their parents, made the decision to maim them and they had no voice to resist. And then when they would grow up, they would do it to their own daughters.
Abortion is the front-line issue here in the US now. Look at someone like Amy Coney Barrett, and other women (not to mention men like Kavanaugh who has two daughters) who use their power to keep women under the thumb of patriarchy.
But unlike the Chinese girls, we do have a choice. Girls have voices. We have voices. We need to raise and amplify each and every voice, especially the young ones. If we don’t stop the patterns of patriarchy now, they will continue in one form or another in perpetuity: footbinding, small waists, genital mutilation, forcing women to become mothers and on and on. This is our chance, now to say NO! In that vein I want to amplify the words of 12-year-old Addison Gardner from Buffalo Middle School; She spoke at a public hearing in West Virginia legislative looking at restrictive abortion legislation. She had 45 seconds to speak, and boy did she use that to speak truth to power with special poignancy.
But first, I want to share the evangelical beliefs about what “helping a young girl” means. This is from an interview by Rabbi Jack Moline with a former anti-abortion leader, Rev. Rob Schenck. The interview appeared in Mother Jones where Rev. Schenck described evangelical thinking: “The thinking is basically this: God creates life in the womb. It is life from the very moment of conception and continues until natural expiration without any assistance. During that time, God places supreme value—no pun given our present context—supreme value on that life so you must preserve life at all costs. That means risking the odd, rare chance that something like this 10-year-old’s rape and pregnancy might occur. But after all, if we give her support, and we pray for her, we surround her with love and we provide her with resources, she can come through that and will likely in the end be stronger for it. That would be the thinking.”
Addison’s words: “I play for varsity volleyball, and I run track. My education is very important to me, and I plan on doing great things in life,” she said. “If a man decides that I’m an object, and does unspeakable, tragic things to me, am I, a child, supposed to carry and birth another child?”
“Am I to put my body through the physical trauma of pregnancy? Am I to suffer the mental implications, a child who had no say in what was being done with my body?” she continued. “Some here say they are pro-life. What about my life? Does my life not matter to you?”
And speaking of youth voices – a shout out to another remarkable youth – Olivia Julianna
Afternote: After I wrote this, the Kansas population voted to protect abortion rights, several state legislatures have been arguing about how draconian to make the servitude of pregnant people. Indiana has passed their legislation against abortion. We have a long way to go! Patriarchies tentacles are deep, deep, deep.
BIO: Janet Maika’i Rudolph. “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE QUEST.” I have walked the spirit path for over 25 years traveling to sacred sites around the world including Israel to do an Ulpan (Hebrew language studies while working on a Kibbutz), Eleusis and Delphi in Greece, Avebury and Glastonbury in England, Brodgar in Scotland, Machu Picchu in Peru, Teotihuacan in Mexico, and Giza in Egypt. Within these travels, I have participated in numerous shamanic rites and rituals, attended a mystery school based on the ancient Greek model, and studied with shamans around the world. I am twice initiated. The first as a shaman practitioner of a pathway known as Divine Humanity. The second ordination in 2016 was as an Alaka’i (a Hawaiian spiritual guide with Aloha International). I have written three books: When Moses Was a Shaman, When Eve Was a Goddess, (now available in Spanish, Cuando Eva era una Diosa), and One Gods
Categories: Body, Feminism, Feminist Awakenings, Feminist Ethics, Gender and Power, General, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women and Community, Women's Agency, Women's Rights, Women's Voices