Snowflower and the Secret Fan describes a culture that few members of western civilization can comprehend. The oppression of women has been a general theme throughout the majority of time and crossing the bulk of cultural demographics. The Chinese may have been the people to perfect the art of cruelty to women. Lisa See vividly demonstrates the physical torture of foot binding along with the practices of female isolation, emotional abuse, and mental deprivation.
As the mother of a six year old girl I felt dazed by the words describing the process of foot binding. When Lily’s mother tightly wrapped her feet and then forced her to walk on them until the bones broke so they could be reshaped into a “marriageable” size, I wondered what happened to the Chinese people’s natural affection a mother should feel for her child. At what point does a woman become better off crippled than physically able to care for herself and those around her?
The book describes the tradition of foot binding as a method of sexual stimulation for the all powerful men. However, after observing the other torturous activities that were expected of the women I believe that binding a woman’s feet was simply a way to further their image of inadequacy and provide physical validation of their worthlessness. Had the ladies in the village not been bound to their ‘upstairs chambers’ they would have had the ability to visit their neighbors, play with their children, see the sunshine, and experience a life of friendship, love and neighborly kindness. Although their lives were difficult in the sense that there was often not enough food they could have lived rewarding lives in spite of their difficulties. Without bound feet, women who were in abusive relationships would have had the power to run away and seek refuge from their circumstances; they could have found solace in one another.
When Lily and Snowflower were forced to spend the winter in the mountains hiding from the effects of war they witnessed many woman, who had lost their husbands, committing suicide because they knew that without the status of being a ‘married lady’ they would suffer far greater than they were willing. I realize this is a cultural influence that is difficult for others to understand, but I also believe that we, as human beings, are given a natural instinct to care for ourselves. Years of oppression stifled this cultures instinct.
The secret women’s writing of Nu Shu was a valuable tool for many to communicate between their places of confinement. This concept gave me hope that there was some effort being put forth to fulfill their mental state of mind. If only the secret writings hadn’t all been burned at funerals…
Lily and Snowflower her Laotong (closest friend for life) went through many trials together. In the beginning, as very young children, the girls lives were very different and it appeared Snowflower was the luckier of the two. However, be it luck or fate, Lily ends up with the happier life. Living to be the almost unimaginable age of her late 80’s Lily lives much of her life with feelings of deep remorse for the way her relationship with Snowflower dissolved. A simple misunderstanding and a few harsh words were enough to leave a valuable relationship in pieces. Unfortunately many of us also suffer from the guilt of having done something or said something that would ultimately ruin a friendship.
Looking into my own culture I wonder what things about me and my life would cause others eyes to widen and jaw to slack in shear amazement…