Recently I read a book set in China at the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th. It followed much of the life of a young girl, through her foot-binding and the inevitable higher marriage. It was designed of course for the reader to cringe, as they described the pain of the binding, the attempts to walk on breaking bones, and the resultant hobbling of so many women. A modern woman, with the soles of her feet firmly (and flatly) on the ground, I of course find it almost impossible to imagine. I cannot understand why someone would get the idea in the first place that this might be a good idea, and do it to the first woman, let alone how it could grow to be such a widespread practice.
But as I both rail against the idea that women were so crippled and controlled through this barbaric custom, and shake my head at the fact that this practice was perpetuated by women, I can understand why. I can understand that the cultural acceptance of foot-biding had become so prevalent that the mothers felt that it was better to force their daughters through this excruciating pain rather than leave them to live the life of poverty and servitude (beyond even that of a typical woman and wife in China at the time) that was inevitable for those with big (ie natural, unbound) feet.
But it got me thinking. Have we really come so far? I wear high heels occasionally. I like the way they lengthen my legs in proportion to my body, and that my legs and ankles look slimmer in high heels. But I don’t like them that much. For a start, I don’t like towering over my friends, although I don’t mind towering over male colleagues. I don’t like the fact that high heels in effect hobble me; that I have to be careful walking across the street, or going down stairs. I don’t like that they take away the power I feel in being fit and nimble and ready for anything. I want to walk easily on this earth, as well as lightly. I don’t want to feel like the weak female. And yet, high heels make me feel exactly that. I mean, look at this example of women being unable to walk (or even stand) without assistance, and this (not that I have any idea who this woman is). I think modern women like high heel shoes because they give us a degree of power (sexual power, that is). But if we were honest, they take away so much more.