I have recently watched a few of these programs where a workaholic woman from London spends a month with a tribe in some remote jungle in Indonesia or Africa.
The woman gets a very different perspective on life, and the tribeswomen get to have a good laugh about the fact that she’s 38 and not married yet!
One thing that strikes (and bothers) me is the number of tribes in which women undergo some form of ritual mutilation such as teeth sharpening. In many cases, the mutilation must be extremely painful. In some cases, men are also mutilated but these mutilations tend to be of the “short sharp shock” type from which the men recover, whereas women often have things inflicted on them which will affect them for the rest of their lives.
For women, the mutilation is often about being “beautiful” and acceptable for marriage.
Of course such mutilation has happened in many societies over the years, from corsets in Victorian times to the horror of foot binding in China.
These “customs” often render women less strong and capable and more compliant and dependent on men than they would otherwise be, as explained with regard to foot binding:
“During the 1100s the governor Chu Hsi criticized the wornen of Fujian Province for being unchaste and enjoying too much freedom, and ordered them to bind their feet to the extreme. The tiny footed women would then no longer be free to leave the household as they pleased, or engage in the sexual freedoms enjoyed by men.”
One of the strangest aspects of these mutilations is the way the women accept and even embrace them because they are brought up to think of them as natural, normal and necessary. In fact older women often inflict these horrors upon their children and grandchildren.
Foot binding seems to us to be obviously horrific and abusive. But could something similar be going on in our culture?
How many women in our culture want to look like this?
How many girls starve themselves because they want to be “slim and beautiful”? How many women wake up thinking about what they are going to eat, obsess about food all day and go to bed vowing to be “good” the next day? What could they achieve if that energy was put into other endeavours?
The woman is this picture may be naturally this shape (although her breasts don’t look very natural!) or she may have an eating disorder. She’s almost certainly airbrushed. Is wanting to look like this really so different from wanting 3 inch long feet?
Will future cultures look back at our culture and its obsession with slimness and marvel at the insanity of it just as we do about foot binding?