Tuesday, August 02, 2011

One Man's Mutilation

An ad I saw the other day in the New York Times sent my mind spinning. And it made me recall what was so much fun about teaching.

There are many things I loved about teaching, but far and away my favorite part has always been having spirited class discussions.

Soon after I returned to teaching, at the local community college, I learned that a new essay text was going to be picked. When the writing coordinator asked if anyone wanted to help select it, I volunteered. We ended up picking a neat text of essays (called Every Day, Everywhere) that included a wide range of delightful readings.

Early in a semester, I would assign Germaine Greer's incisive essay titled "One Man's Mutilation is Another Man's Beautification." You can read it here, if you like.

To get students' minds working, I would show them various photos--here are some samples.

from top left, clockwise: Neck elongation; skin scarification; henna painted hand; lip enlarging using wooden disk; bound foot (pointing straight down); and filed teeth.

Invariably, students would react negatively. The one practice that really seemed to bother them was foot binding. A spirited discussion always followed my showing that photo.

Of course, I was lying in wait for them. After the students got lathered up in discussing the barbarian practice of foot binding, I would ask--you mean you wouldn't submit to such a practice? Of course not, they indignantly replied.

And then I showed them photos such as this.

What's the difference? I asked. And then the discussion really heated up.

I am particularly interested in the answer. Shoes with such a high heel go in and out of style. I remember spike heels. I wore some when I was younger. I do NOT wear anything like that today. I wince and hobble with bad knees, even if I am bare foot, or have my favorite pair of Clark's on my feet. Super high heels? Well, you may as well tell me to have my feet bound.

Of course, what I am tapping into with the discussion is the cultural variations we all exhibit. And that's what Germaine Greer meant by her provocative title.

Bound feet...
Super high heels
Body piercings...
Teeth filing...
Teeth capping...

Ah, the ad? Well, it was those photos of women's super high heels. Inflicted cruelty in the name of fashion, if you ask me, resulting in long-term mutilation all for the sake of short-term beautification.

One man's (or woman's) mutilation is indeed another man's (or woman's) beautification. OK, class, discuss among yourselves.


Anvilcloud said...

I guess it got them "pumped" up.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I guess today's beautification is body art. Even my son has a small tattoo, no piercing yet!

Ironically, I read an article about a group of Alaskan Eskimos who traditionally did tattoo and it is dying out as a custom.

You could have added to your list body building and sumo westlers. Not to mention male and female circumcision.

I knew a young woman who wore very high heels all the time. She had to. Her achilles tendon was shortened which made walking on bare feet painful.

I guess my only body decoration is my full beard, since 1967.

dmmgmfm said...

I'm a tennis shoes and comfy sandals gal myself. I don't wear makeup, I don't dye my hair, I don't wear a push up bra. I am what I am. Not that I don't think it's up to each person to decide, it's just that I've made my decision, and natural is me.

NCmountainwoman said...

This is a fascinating subject. Hard as it may be to understand some of the cultural mutilations, the fact remains that the practices are reasonable and necessary to the people involved.

That is a great lecture topic. I imagine the students gave some lively responses.

I'm so old I still remember my mother taking me to buy my first girdle. Talk about painful beautification! Oh, and those "merry widows" we wore under our prom dresses!

Nance said...

For me, the appearance of stilettos on the fashion scene was a sign that American women had either forgotten that feminism is a movement that requires tending (they'd taken it for granted) or they'd given up on feminism entirely.

When the women who claim an interest in running for President in America wear such abusive shoes as a matter of pride and to establish their aggressive chops, I know they do not actually care for women and they don't represent our daughters' best interests.

I remember as a child reading Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid. There was a moment when the mermaid's mother fastened shells to her tail as decoration and admonished her daughter when she complained that they were painful, saying that women must tolerate pain for the sake of beauty. I was very young and I still knew that a wrong was being done in the name of love and that the mermaid would have to shake off her heritage altogether. I should look up that passage; it's been so long and I recall it so vividly.