Modern Day Footbindings and the Oppression of Women
I have never been one to think about my predicament. It’s a common predicament-- I have to face it every day of my life, and it indirectly causes me problems wherever I go. I can’t walk alone at night because of it. I can’t look a male stranger straight in the eye because of it. I have to worry about the kind of clothes I wear, the implications of the statements I make, and even the way I walk because of it. But I’ve never given it a second thought.
My predicament is that I am a woman. At first it doesn’t seem to sound like a predicament at all, but the more one thinks about the lack of freedom sentenced to a woman solely because she is a woman, the word ’predicament’ becomes more of an understatement. In this male-oriented society, women are reduced to objects: pornography sells more than the top news magazines, the videos that MTV broadcast flaunt the woman’s body for just anyone to see, and instances of rape are at an all time high. Women today are held down by forces that are blind to many - society has evidently become a jail cell so large that its prisoners cannot even see the bars. But there are bars, and if we only look for them and see them for what they really are, we may then be able to make the changes that will make this society a more equal one. And a safer one.
In China, one man created the custom of wrapping up the woman’s foot so tightly that it restricted the woman’s walking because it caused so much pain. It was a way for men to be sure that women in their society were entirely dependent on them. In many third world countries, women are forced to wear dresses that cover up their entire body, for one man has no right to look at another man’s possessions. They call it tradition. If this is so, then tradition dehumanizes the woman.
Even in the United States these bindings are all around us, and these indirect restrictions are so commonplace that we have failed to notice that they are even there, keeping us “in our place”. I will only give one example. I feel that only one example is necessary.
I used to get a subscription to a women’s magazine. I enjoyed flipping through the pages of Glamour, even if it did only make me feel inadequate as a woman and as a person. As I read, as I flipped through the pages and saw the photographs of beautiful women staring me in the face telling me that I was no good unless I was beautiful and was able to attract the best looking men, I began to feel that I had to change my image in order to become the objectified model that society had typecast to be “the best”. These women’s magazines devote about one fourth of their contents to careers, and probably about three fourths of their magazines to looking good. These magazines focused on looking like the stereotypical woman, looking sexy, and doing this all for a man. That’s half of the problem right there.
But just the other day I looked through a neighbor’s recent issue of Glamour magazine, and I came to a startling realization. As I flipped through the colossal number of advertisements that appear in the first half of these magazines (you often can’t find an article until you reach page 50), I looked at the women. I looked at the underlying messages that these advertisements were relaying. And I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Here is an example that illustrates my point. “Every Valentine Needs A Hero.” The quote itself, from one of the first ads that I saw, gives the impression that a woman needs a man in order to survive. As romantic as the ad may look, I couldn’t help but notice the subtle signs: the woman is lying down on the bed, looking up at the man; the man is standing over her, looking down on her. Her back is turned to the camera, so that you can’t see the expressions on her face and so that you can’t see her humanness. The woman’s arms are crossed, evidently covering herself. A rose is placed right in the middle of the tray (remember-- nothing in advertising isn’t planned). Yes, the man is the hero, and the woman needs him for support. How would she function otherwise?
“Valentine... I got you just what you wanted.” This ad, as I looked at the couple plastered on the page, seemed to scream “submission” to me. As the woman’s face is turned toward the man, she is turned away from the camera - and becomes more of a body than an actual woman. Her arms are folded around him in a way that makes the viewer feel that she is clinging on to the only thing that matters to her. Furthermore, the two wide silver bracelets on her hands give the impression that she is handcuffed-- attached to the man, whether or not by force. The man, however, is merely smiling (maybe “smirking” is a better word) as he looks away from the woman. His happiness seems to stem from the fact that he has this relatively valuable possession.
Even the words in this advertisement are misleading. How handy it is that the woman has given her man just what he wanted. And she should, too. It’s her duty. She’s a woman. And what exactly did she get him? Why, “she got him a year of...” wait a minute, let’s put a little pause in there, one just long enough to make your mind wander... “GQ”. This relatively innocent ad has taken on a different meaning altogether in this new light.
Then I turned the page and saw another advertisement--and it appeared to be a centerfold. My only question was: how on earth is a clothing company supposed to advertise clothes when the clothes are barely on the model? Then, I’m afraid to say, I answered my own question. This company, like most others, isn’t advertising for the product that they are selling, for their products have become the means to another end, as opposed to the end itself. They are advertising an image-- an image of the woman being dependent on her looks in order to achieve success. Keep in mind that this - good looks - is the possible extent of a woman’s success. The concept of talent has seemed to fall by the wayside.
After looking at the images that bombarded me, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was reacting rather harshly. But then I began to think: what about the images that you see on billboards? What about the flaunting of women on television programs and commercials? What are these images teaching the children of today - the adults of tomorrow that will shape society? I couldn’t help but wonder if these signals were related to the increase in crimes against woman that are so prevalent today. If they are related, when will this ever change? Or will we be forever bound to the system?
Needless to say, I don’t get those magazines anymore. I try to explain to others how women are metaphorically abused inbetween the glossy pages of these magazines. But it’s only one source. One of many. And it seems that even if we as women were capable of removing one form of this degradation, other bars would still be up to keep us in our cell. Only until we break down the walls will we be able to say that we are free.
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