Monday, February 13, 2017

Book review: "Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Year of Erotic Tradition" by Beverley Jackson

You're probably thinking, uh Wesley? Erotic tradition of shoes? I don't understand. Are we talking about plastic high heeled platforms? Erotic shoes? Wha?

You know what, I wish we were talking about stripper shoes, but you know what we are talking about instead? Mutilation of children as young as 3, and the people that did this to them? Their friends and relatives. We'll be talking about the tradition of foot binding in China.

So it's going to be more talking about bones breaking than....let's say...Quentin Tarantino sexual foot fetish but we will cover both.

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I know Ron. I know.

So let's talk about how this book got on my TBR. It was mentioned in one of the first episodes I ever listened to of one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Missed in History Class. The episode was graphic and interesting and eye opening. I just assumed that foot binding was something the aristocracy did to be like "hey, look at my wife. She doesn't have to work because I'm so rich so she's got these tiny ass feet and boy aren't I rich". But I figured there was more to it than that and I listened to the episode and I was right. This book was mentioned several times and I finally got it from the library. I'm going to be honest with you. If you're like, wow that sounds like an interesting book but I don't want to actually read it, listen to the podcast. (But you'd be missing out on all of the pictures of the crazily embroidered shows which would be a mistake!).

I'm going to broadstroke the process of footbinding because it's gruesome and gross and sad. It usually started for girls between the ages of 3 and 5 because the bones in their feet hadn't really developed and it was cartillagey yet. There were a couple of ways that the foot could be broken to achieve different types of bound feet, but no matter what you usually ended up walking on the tops of your toes. The ideal length of a foot was no more that 3-ish inches.The bones would need to be rebroken several times and the bindings were wrapped very tightly to keep the feet in place. I either didn't read it or just tried to gloss over it but I don't remember what they actually used to break the bones and I don't want to know. The chances of this going really badly and leading to infection and who knows what other medical problems would be really high. Though, most women would risk infection and death than to have their foot amputated if something did actually go wrong.

A couple more facts:

- There'd be Christian orphanages and they would allow the practitioners of foot binding to come in to the orphanages and bind the young girls feet, otherwise NO marriage prospects

-As you can imagine, having to hobble along on tiny 3 inch feet lead to almost universal back and spine problems for these women.

-If you were being trained as a young boy to be an actor and it seemed that you were going to be doing ladies parts (like how in Shakespeare's time men would often play the women's roles) they would get their feet bound to be more authentic.

The shoes that these women would wear were intricately embroidered and considered prized possessions. Many men also considered them HIGHLY erotic just to see them, and often women would pin their shoes to their clothing so no man could just push them down and snatch off their shoes and make off with them.

When a woman (I should say young girl, because let's be honest, that's what it was) would get married she would have a very special pair of red shoes. On her wedding night she would leave them by the bed, and put pornographic pictures in them for her husband to find, and then after viewing them together they would consummate their marriage. (Though it's worth noting here that only VERY rarely would a man see his wife's unbound feet. Probably something to do with the terrible smell that could be a problem and because of how gruesome it looked. Women would wear very soft, nonrestrictive shoes to bed). 

I'm just going to copy this sentence from the book "There is said to have been a special training manual for prostitutes which detailed in great variety how to use their feet during sex".(Basically what you're thinking is what happened).  Also, there seemed to be a lot of drinking games with the prostitutes involving their shoes. Like, basically beer pong with teeny shoes. So much drinking alcohol out of tiny shoes, but they were basically the size of a shot class so...

So, just to put a pin in the feet fetish section, bound feet played a HUGE part in getting a good husband, having sex with said husband, and keeping harmony in the marriage. Which is funny because I don't think my husband could pick any of my shoes out of a line up.

This is already a hella long review so I will just say that if you are interested in cultural differences, women's history, pictures of tiny shoes, and have questions about bound foot porn (because that's a thing, please don't google that at work) this book has all that and more. This book kept me intrigued, but it mainly made me feel sad for these generations of poor hobbled women who could barely walk without assistance.


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