Courage When It Stands Out? She Refused To Bind Her Feet

Today I’m sharing a story of courage to inspire you. Sometimes we all need a reminder to think for ourselves with wisdom, compassion and practicality. So here’s a story from my heritage to help you with that.

Have you heard of foot-binding? 

It was a practice in China for about 1,000 years, where women were expected to have tiny feet. We’re talking ideally 3 inches in length; 4 inches was acceptable, but a woman had no good prospects for marriage (i.e. socio-economic status or stability) if her feet were 5 or more inches.

How could grown women have tiny feet?

The process was painful and began in childhood. It involved breaking the bones in a girl’s toes and foot arches. I won’t go into more details, but the result was permanent.

And if you’re wondering what size the “lotus shoes” were that would fit these tiny feet, they’re about the length of an iPhone, and less than an inch wider.

From status symbol to subjugation

Foot-binding was originally a status symbol and a mechanism for upward social mobility. But then this socially-inflicted physical disability turned into a subjugating practice. It made women increasingly dependent on men. It also meant women were physically unable to run away or otherwise take care of themselves.

Foot-binding was periodically banned throughout history. In more recent history, it was banned in 1912, but many continued the practice nonetheless. After all, a millennium of values, practice and aspiration doesn’t just leave the mindset of a people simply because it has been outlawed.

Why am I talking about this?

As I’ve mentioned, I have Chinese heritage on one side of my family. My great-great-grandmother was a mother to a little girl in the era when foot-binding was both legal and socially expected. 

But my great-great-grandmother did the unthinkable.

She refused to bind her daughter’s feet.

From the oral history passed down in my family, she decided that foot-binding was a cruel practice and outright refused to inflict this pain and limitation on her daughter.

This was gutsy, and really risky.

Firstly, she was using her mind and actually thinking about the practice without just blindly doing what everyone around her had done for centuries. Secondly, she knew it would risk the social outcomes her daughter could achieve.

But my great-great-grandmother had bound feet herself, and she decided that the possible benefits were not worth the certain pain and limitations. Ultimately, this served her descendants well, as expectations of physical labour created excruciating circumstances for women with bound feet during the Communist Revolution.

Anytime I have a glimpse of worry about what others might think of a decision I’m making, I remind myself of my great-great-grandmother who made a very difficult, but practical and compassionate decision that others around her at the time couldn’t understand. I hope it also inspires you.

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