Foot Binding By Ashley dykes

In the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe the main character Okonkwo is very brutal on his three wives, and he is angered when Christian missionaries threaten tribal traditions. In part one of the novel it is explained how men in Igbo society often beat their wives, and treat them with disrespect. The tribe also has strong traditions and customs which are weakened when Christian missionaries invade their territory. In part three Okonkwo has had enough of the missionaries, and ends up taking his own life to end his suffering. The novel shows the reader a series of gender differences, and the importance of tradition along with showing the consequences of sin.

In the novel there are many examples of gender differences, and gender roles, and the affect they have on each sex. Throughout Chinese history the practice of foot binding showed the separation between men and women. Women deliberately bound their feet in order to conform to men's view of beauty. Women with smaller feet were seen as more beautiful. For men foot binding was not only seen as beauty, but as power for the man. If one had many wives it showed how wealthy they were because they were able to feed all of their wives. The women's feet also gave the man power because she was unable to walk far distances or work in the fields. Therefore the man was the sole provider for the family. It was the “golden lily feet” that were the most prized because the feet were 10cm long. Also the women had to walk differently with such small feet which lead to male sexual satisfaction. The practice of foot binding showed that the women were inferior to men and dependent on them. The voluntary practice of foot mutilation meant that the woman had devoted her bodies’ energy into reproduction. Mothers would often bind their daughters feet in hopes of them marrying into a wealthy family. It was said that if one did not have bound feet then they could not marry. The law stated that women could not choose their husbands, but the man would choose his wife. Wealthier men would choose the woman with the smallest feet. The painful process of foot binding began when a girl was just four years old before the arch was fully developed. The process lasted until age nine, and then the feet had to be continually wrapped and cleaned to keep the shape.

When the christian missionaries came to the Igbo villages they threatened the strength of traditions and customs throughout the clansmen. A similar incident took place in Chinese culture during the 19th century when christian missionaries gradually outlawed the tradition of foot binding. Foot binding began around 960 during the Sung Dynasty, it started within the wealthier class of people . After some time the practice began to spread throughout all of the socioeconomic ruling classes. During the 1840s, Western missionaries spread Christianity throughout China causing rebellion, and spreading heretic views. Once christian missionaries began influencing China, it was only a matter of time before foot binding became outlawed. Foot binding became illeagal in 1911, but it was not actually eliminated until 1958 by the Communist Party under Mao Zedong. Women were forced to unbind their feet, however, many women took pride in their small feet. This is a photograph of Liu Shiu Ying and her husband. Liu voluntarily bound her feet to ensure that she would have a good future, and could marry into a more affluent family. Some women saw the practice as a mark of beauty and continued to wrap their feet. From 1966-76 government officials went to people's homes and forcibly removed the bindings on women's feet. Then officials would hang the bindings in the windows to shame them. The tradition of foot binding built strong bonds. Before the elimination of foot binding , women would gather together and sew their shoes.

The Igbo tribe and the missionaries have two very different views of sin which ultimately leads to Okonkowo's death. In China the Christians viewed the tradition of foot binding very differently from Chinese women. The Chinese government was overthrown by communism in 1949. It was during this time that the government was trying to take control of all religions, however, Christianity had already spread to three million people. A Christian Missionary stated that "Most emphatically do I say it is wrong, morally wrong; a sin against God, and a sin against man" (J.G. Kerr, M.D.). Kerr is referring to the crippling of women do to their distorted feet. Cruelty to animals is morally wrong. The Christian's said the life-long cruelty to women should not be regarded any differently. Missionaries also feared the practice would make an obstacle for achieving grace divinely appointed, and necessary for advance in Christian life. Kerr also mentioned that "The custom is established and fostered by pride and lust, both of which are condemned by our holy religion". The missionaries saw their tradition as a lustful sin. Missionaries felt that the unnatural deformities went against God's creation of each individual's body. Christian's felt that the sin of foot binding was utterly inexcusable.

In the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe the main character Okonkwo is firm in his beliefs and traditions. The art of foot binding has close connections to the themes of the novel. In the novel as well as Chinese culture men and women were highly segregated because of their gender. In both cultures women were inferior to men, and only valuable for their child bearing ability. A man could have several wives in which the marriages were often arranged without much say from the women. Each society also experienced trouble with western expansion and their Christianity movements. Traditions and customs were seen as sinful, and their beliefs were said to be fake. Overall the novel is centered around gender roles, and the importance of tribal traditions, and the affect that missionaries had on the ideals of sin.


Created with images by ralphrepo - "Foot Bound Girls, Liao Chow, Shansi, China [c1930] IE Oberholtzer (Probable) [RESTORED]" • ralphrepo - "Jeunes Filles Chinoises [c1901] René Parison [RESTORED]"

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