A society’s culture can greatly impact what is perceived as feminine. The different ideas, behaviors, and norms that exist within a society’s culture help to shape what is deemed as feminine and what is not. Every society is different, and cultures within the society have even more variety. What is deemed as acceptable and a sign of beauty here in the United States might not carry over to other countries.
In China foot binding was a way to symbolize wealth and elite status. Women would get their feet bound as early as 3 years old, and the process required a lot of patience. As young girls, they would go through weeks and weeks of extreme physical torture as they were forced to walk on their misshapen feet. The goal of this was to make the toes break so that the foot could be made into a smaller shape. This was seen as dainty and elegant to the Chinese during this time. The process of binding one’s foot took a lot of money, and after this process was done the women could no longer work in the fields or earn money through physical labor. This would mean that the women who had this process done came from a wealthy family or had money saved, because they wouldn’t have a means to make any more money through labor. Another reason that the Chinese bound their feet was to be “marriable”. They felt that in order to be eligible to be married, a woman had to have her foot bound as it was the ultimate sign of elegance, class, wealth, and obedience. Foot binding was a way that families could achieve social mobility. Families would often bind one of their daughter’s feet with the hope that they would get married to someone who was wealthy. Small feet was a sign that a woman would be disciplined and showcased her ability to endure the pain of childbirth, as well as any misfortunes that might lie ahead. Once this practice was outlawed, the process of foot binding stopped and Chinese culture shifted. (See)
Cutting female genitalia serves as a rite of passage into womanhood, and speaks to faith and religion, and shows that the woman will be faithful and a good wife. It functions as a way to draw the male to the female and it showcases that she is clean and attractive. Although Americans believe that those who undergo this procedure are being stripped away for their sexuality and femininity, females who undergo this process believe the exact opposite. Instead, they see it as a way to become a moral person and enter womanhood. If this practice were outlawed, the culture would be greatly impacted. This process is an important part of the women in this culture’s lives and if it were stripped away from them then they would probably not even feel like women anymore. These women aren’t ashamed of genital mutilation–they embrace it and claim it as a rite of passage into womanhood. It shows devotion to religion and faithfulness as a wife, so I imagine if the practice were outlawed all those positive feelings would be taken away from them.
Similarly to foot binding and genital mutilation, plastic surgery in Western society is another beautification process that involves mutilating the skin. There are tons of different cosmetic surgical procedures that are done to aid in the physical appearance of one’s body, and it’s so popular that both men and women participate. These procedures similar to foot binding and genital mutilation in the sense that it makes women feel beautiful and feminine. In Western culture, larger breasts and buttocks are a sign of feminity. Breast enhancements and fat injections to the butt are some ways that women are able to achieve this look. Looking youthful is another sign of feminine beautiful, and procedures such as botox injections to fill in wrinkles on the face help to achieve this look. Though these procedures might be seen as unacceptable in other parts of the world, they are commonplace in the United State and other regions in the Western Hemisphere. If these procedures were outlawed, it would stifle women’s right to be happy with their bodies.
See, Lisa. “Snow Flower and The Fan.” Footbinding, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.1-See.pdf.