Re: Mutilation as a legitimate object of inquiry

Marie K Conrad (mkconrad@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU)
Mon, 15 Jul 1996 10:06:25 -0400

> Well, yes, it is clearly a violent practice, a monstrosity not to be
> paraded before the public . . . to us, now. However, hangings used to be
> public spectacles relatively recently
For some very interesting accounts of the behavior of the public
and the condemned, take a look at Robert Hughes "The Fatal Shore: the
epic founding of Australia." In short, there were a number of
circumlocutions used to describe hanging (the "Paddington Frisk" being my
favorite), the condemned often went to the gallows dressed in wedding
finery, and the crowd had a regular field day. Also, he goes into great
detail regarding the use of public flogging of transportees to Australia.
It might be interesting to note that there was an element of sexual
humiliation involved when many women were flogged, as opposed to the
flogging of men.
> Foot binding was not a public
> affair, and neither
> was the closest European equivalent of whalebone corsets - but perhaps that was
> because of the sexual implications, not the violence? After all, I doubt the
> respective cultures viewed these practices as monstrous . . .
There is a book, published by Prometheus Books, which deals
entirely with the practice of footbinding - the process, the accoutrements
(shoes, bindings, etc.) the names given to the tiny (3" long, for an
adult) foot, the intense pressure that young women were subjected to in
order to keep their feet bound for the requisite period. This pressure
came not only from parents and grandparents, but the parents of future
grooms, who demanded that his future bride has tiny feet. The question of
a sexual element comes into play with the concept of the "willow walk" the
gait assumed by full-grown women with 3" feet (or stumps, actually) which
accentuated the movement of the hips, the use of the foot as a fetish
object, and the fact that a woman with 3" feet can't run - and can't get
away from her husband. She was literally bound to the house. The book is
written for a mass audience, and the author obviously has a "thing" for
bound feet, but it has some instructive value.
So, in this instance, we can see that a damaging and terribly
painful process, inflicted on female children, was done in private, but
was not only publically sanctioned, but approved and/or desired. I think
that the same can be said for whalebone corsets. It was recognized that
over-tight lacing caused "green sickness" and "vapours" in young ladies,
but the response was to create the "health corset," not to abolish the use
of corsets altogether.
Just my .02. :)
Marie Conrad