For our May book club at C Public Library we read Snow Flower and the secret fan by Lisa See. I had already read the book and recommended that the club read it. When I first read the book I was fascinated by the culture and customs in China, especially those surrounding foot binding and the lives of the women in the story. The second time I read it I was able to pay even closer attention to the "clues" I missed the first time. After rereading the book I realized that initially I identified with the inexperienced and unlearned Lily, but the second time I was reading from the view of Lily's mother. Both times I could not comprehend having my own feet bound, nor binding the feet of my only daughter. Yet, after the discussion tonight I realize that in our own ways, both at home and in society, we are binding young girls everyday, it is just not as blatant as it was in China.
Women in China bound their daughter's feet to make them more marriageable and to give them a better life than they had. Although we do not wrap our daughters feet and make them walk until their bones break (so we can mold them into "Golden Lilies") we do have the expectation that they will have better lives than us, that they will have more choices, that they will make different and better choices than we did, that they will be more beautiful than we were, that their spouses will treat them better and love them more, that they will follow their dreams and secure their passions, that they will be everything that we are not. In China women were judged by the size of their feet and it was estimated that 10% of girls died during foot binding. In America women are judged by the size of their breasts, their physical beauty and their weight. I wonder how many girls today are dying from eating disorders, drug and alcohol related deaths, and suicide?
Unfortunately, the standards today are tough, tougher than they ever were. It is not good enough for a child to just be involved in extracurricular activities, she must excel at what she is doing or choose something else. Mothers are starting their daughters in dance classes as soon as they can walk and demanding perfection and acceleration in their schoolwork (because they WILL be smart and get a good education). Our daughters mistakes are pointed out at all times so they can do better next time, we expect that their clothing and hair is not an embarrassment to us, we put them on diets so their bodies are not revolting in their tight clothing, we push them and pull them, we offer breast augmentation for their sweet 16th and nose reconstruction for graduation, we demand perfection because we are under the illusion that perfection brings happiness and success. Are we are no better than the Chinese women trying to secure their daughter's future by foot binding?
Finally, we are forgetting to teach our young daughters to say no. And not just "no" to someone that is trying to be physically too close, but to those who expect more from them than they WANT to give. We are not teaching them to say no to us. I'm not implying that our daughters should be given free reign, but that we need to be careful about what we expect and why we are expecting it. At times they should be pushed outside their comfort zones but allowed to return GUILT FREE to where they find solace. We need to know when to guide, when to observe and when to offer resources. We need to loosen their bindings so they can run free.