Pain in the Name of Beauty?When I first looked at images of crushed feet, it was difficult to understand that foot binding was an accepted tradition in Asian society. Today it seems gruesome and even disgusting. However, that is a statement said without acknowledging the society in which it was practiced. Foot binding was used to increase beauty and thought of similarly to the way people in the United States think of high heels. It was thought of as a painful necessity.
I struggle to think of when I have heard anyone tell girls not to wear heels, or that they would look great without them. In the United States heels are a part of our culture. We are taught as females that they make our legs look better, maybe even make us look sexy, yet they are painful. This is thought of as socially acceptable, but it makes me realize how quick we are to judge other cultures.
I understand that there is a difference between the temporary pain caused by heels and the lasting pain from foot binding. Foot binding is hard to understand from a different cultural perspective since it alters the physical anatomy, creating what we would consider a deformity. While I agree that it is good that it is no longer required and since banned, children do not have to lose opportunities (such as working and walking normally), it is not easy to say that within Asian culture foot binding was "bad". It is hard to know where the line lies from being acceptable to unacceptable when talking about another culture.
When looking at this circumstance, it is important to think about cultural relativism and the societies it is found in. It would be ignorant of me to say that because it was too painful, foot binding was necessary to be banned. Every society has different sentiments on what level of pain is acceptable. So where can we draw a line? Is it okay to say a society should stop doing something I do not agree with because I have not had exposure to it? As much as I do not want to see people crushing their feet for beauty I cannot denounce this practice or any other practice without further insight into a culture's practices.
I think much of our beliefs are formed from societal influences. Westerners find heels attractive because we were taught that they look good and that dealing with the pain is okay to feel sexy for a night. So why do we find this acceptable when we judge foot-binding as totally incomprehensible?
Part of that is just from our lack of personal experience and knowledge about the matter. Yet there is an idea that I cannot seem to deviate from, despite my understanding that it is biased. I believe in universal human rights such as not having to endure permanent pain without the ability to choose. That is not a sentiment all cultures believe in and I need to consider that, but right now that is still difficult.
With foot-binding there was not a decision because the child was too young to decide for herself. Yet, they still endured it. However, just because I think that it is unacceptable, does not mean that everyone feels the same. Right now, it is difficult for me to understand if there is a place we can draw a line or create boundaries for other cultures. I do not know if it is alright to make rules for other cultures or where that line for cultural relativism and human rights can be drawn. I hope to learn in this class, how to determine when something is more than a cultural misunderstanding versus a practice that is ethically wrong. Are they the same? Can something be both a cultural misunderstanding and ethically wrong? Or are things that seem ethically wrong only wrong because we do not understand the culture they come from? I hope this course challenges my preexisting beliefs about "right" and "wrong" and helps me continue to think about these concepts on a deeper level as the previous discussion prompted.