And the boys too… although I hadn’t planned on it turning out that way.
I’m part of a book club which is rereading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. The club is rereading the book authored by Lisa See for two reasons:
- It has been dubbed the club’s “all time favorite”.
- It will be coming out as a movie this summer.
I was not part of the book club when this book was initially read so I enthusiastically ordered it off of Amazon when the club decided to reread it. It was mentioned at nearly every book club meeting that I had ever attended and my friend, E, really loved it in particular.
I’m only three chapters into it (including the introduction) and it already brought up an issue which I felt compelled to explore here. You see, if you hadn’t already picked up on it upon reading the title, the book is set in China and starts in the early 19th century and introduces the reader to a six year old girl named Lilly. Why is this important? Because one of the very first significant acts that occurs in the book is the foot binding of Lilly, her cousin, and her younger sister.
I am not an on expert on foot binding but let me give you a brief explanation of what it consists of and why it happened. Young girls would have their feet nearly bent in half and shaped so that they would ultimately become more marriageable. As Lilly explains in the book:
“All I knew was that foot binding would make me more marriageable and therefore bring me closer to the greatest love and greatest joy in the woman’s life – a son. To that end my goal was to achieve a pair of perfectly bound feet …. seven centimeters — about the length of a thumb — is the ideal.”
I knew that I would be squeamish reading about Lilly’s foot binding experience (it was actually very tastefully written if that is even imaginable). It turns out that it was worse. After reading the first third of the foot binding chapter, I began to shake. They were big shakes and not those attributable to being chilly (although I at first assumed it was so). As I read on, I realized that I kept flexing my feet and standing on my toes, and was, in that moment, in agony for Lilly and all of the real women who she represented. As I thought about my size 8 feet and the years they’ve spent running in the grass, along the Pacific ocean, pushing a clutch in my manual transmission car, and most importantly, twirling around in dance class, I was so grateful for the time and place where God has placed me. And then, I became dumbfounded.
I went to work the next day and discussed the book’s events with my boss. I had so many questions. How could men think that turning women’s feet into animal hooves was attractive? Why were they mystified? I wanted to do more research to understand when the practice began and when it finally stopped. My boss politely listened to my commentary and then made the most unfathomable observation. “J,” she said, “you realize that foot binding also prevented the women from running away…”
I then became infuriated. Is this what God had intended when He formed Eve out of Adam’s rib? That women’s feet would be bound at the age of six (little girl’s bones have a higher water content at this time) or that they be genitally mutilated (an act that still occurs today)? NO – of course not! I immediately desired solace from God’s word, affirmation that women were not only important to Him but cherished. That He, in His omnipotence, omnipresence, and sovereignty was particularly outraged over the sins committed against women in past, present, and future.
When I returned from work, I logged into my study Bible and performed a word search of “woman” confident that there would be something to quell my tension. My aim was to write a post listing all of the verses which affirmed women, creating a spiritual storehouse where I could turn to for consolation. There were 358 results. I read all of them. There wasn’t one verse which even remotely struck me as useable.
I realize that this is where this post could be considered dangerous if one stopped reading here. Surely, the comments included in the prior paragraph would lead some to call me “ungrateful”, a “blasphemer” or a “heathen”. To be honest, I felt this way. Most (as in more than 50%) of the verses in the English Standard Version translation of the Old Testament referencing women did so in regards to the fact that they would be adulterers if they had relations with another man while married, were considered unclean in their menstrual impurity, and that they writhed with the pain of labor. As I moved onto the New Testament, the gospel references detailed women who participated in Jesus’ ministry or were beneficiaries of His miraculous healing whereas the epistles detailed how married women were to submit (it’s not a bad thing!) to their husbands.
‘Jesus’, I prayed, ‘where is the justice that I know you provide?’
Faithfully, Jesus stepped in as I read the study notes of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 11 (a chapter which is often misused as it addresses marital roles in the family) where I read the following:
1 Cor. 11:7–9. Woman is the glory of man probably uses “glory” in the sense of “one who shows the excellence of.” Paul argues that a woman, by the excellence of her being, also shows how excellent man is, since she was taken out of man at the beginning (1 Cor. 11:8) and also was created as a helper for man at the beginning (v. 9; see also Gen. 2:20–24). Paul does not deny that the woman was also made in God’s image, something that Gen. 1:27 explicitly affirms, nor does he deny that the woman reflects God’s glory.
Immediately, my heart knew that my approach had been wrong. I had run to God’s word eager to find support for my cause rather than His truth. Where I had hoped to find votes for the value of women, I found that God would not take sides on the gender war as the defilement of His creation through human sinfulness has already done such a terrible disservice to His children.
The truth of the matter is that we, man and woman alike, were truly created in God’s image to be loved by Him and be in relationship with Him. In the sight of Jesus, we are all His children: equal but undeniably different. As I reflect on this, I am so thankful that collectively, we are invited into the presence of God. It was Him after all who promised the following:
And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.