This week I read “‘Night to his Day’: The Social Construction of Gender” by Judith Lorber, which was an excellent read on gender. I agree with many of the themes in this excerpt, and I think that gender is greatly influenced by society. What I mean by this is that it is clear to me that in our society, it is easy to pick out the “feminine” or “masculine” traits, hairstyles, clothing, etc. However, I never thought about what these same portrayals of genders look like in other cultures. If I traveled to another country, would I be able to pick out the most “feminine” look? I started thinking about this as I read through page 4 of Lorber’s excerpt. Judith Lorber stated, “Many cultures go beyond clothing, gestures, and demeanor in gendering children. They inscribe gender directly into bodies” (Lorber 1994: 4). To support her claim, she went on to describe the traditional ways that Chinese, Jewish and African cultures genderize their children. Something that stuck out to me was the Chinese traditional practice of making a female child’s foot size much smaller to “enhance their sexual attractiveness” (Lorber 1994: 4). I have never heard of this before so, as I am naturally curious, I researched the tradition.
I came across an article on npr.org titled “Painful Memories for China’s Footbinding Survivors”, which made this tradition very real to me. Much to my relief, I found out this practice was banned in 1912. However, Wang Lifen lives on to tell her story of foodbinding. From my understanding, footbinding is essentially the act of breaking a young child’s feet and toes multiple times until the foot fits into a tiny shoe. According to Wang Lifen, it was common for men to look for, or even be required to find, a woman with bound feet. The image I attached below is an image from the npr article that shows how small Wang Lifen’s feet were made when she was a child. To my surprise, small feet was not only a physically attractive quality, but it also signified high status. What really hit home for me was Zhou Guizhen’s confession that she regrets her decision to have her feet bound many years ago. Zhou regrets her decision because she can no longer walk or dance properly. Although she regrets it now, she recalled, “…If you didn’t bind your feet, no one would marry you” (Guizhen 2007). What a terrible position to be put in. The idea that these women had to inflict brutal physical pain upon themselves in the hopes of finding a husband is heartbreaking to me.
I guess “pain is beauty” goes back further than I ever imagined. The theme of gender and gender roles this week really made me realize how far people go to just to fit into a certain category. Today, plastic surgery is a way to deconstruct your body to fit an image, just as these Chinese women recalled doing. I could go on about this article, but I posted the reference below for you all to read through and learn about this Chinese tradition and its relation to gender roles.
Lim, Louisa. “Painful Memories for China’s Footbinding Survivors.” Npr. 19 Mar. 2007. Web. 30 May 2016. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=8966942>.
Lorber, Judith. 1994. “‘Night to his Day’: The Social Construction of Gender.” Pp. 13-36 in Paradoxes of Gender. New Haven: Yale University Press.