Shoe-throwing appears to be the latest form of political protest. Iraqi broadcast journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi was arrested and jailed after hurling his shoes at former US President George W. Bush at a Baghdad press conference on December 14, 2008. Earlier in the day, Bush arrived in Iraq unannounced before proceeding to an official visit in Afghanistan. Speaking at the news conference, he said that “the war in Iraq was not over and more work remained to be done. ” Al-Zaidi then suddenly stood up and shouted in Arabic: “This is your farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.
He threw his shoes at Bush, both of which narrowly missed the latter. Security guards wrestled Al-Zaidi to the floor before hauling him to prison. Al-Zaidi’s lawyers say that he was charged with assaulting a foreign head of state, a crime punishable with incarceration for up to 15 years. In Arab culture, shoe hurling is considered the worst possible insult. Calling someone a “dog,” meanwhile, is regarded as an extreme affront. On February 2009, an unidentified protester hurled a shoe at Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during a speech at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.
Wen was about to finish an address on the global economy when a shoe was thrown at him from the back of the wall. The protester then shouted at the audience, “How can the university prostitute itself with this dictator? ” Although the shoe did not hit Wen, the protester was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence. Those who are familiar with Middle Eastern and Asian cultures are no longer surprised if the two aforementioned incidents of shoe-throwing generated so much controversy. The Arabs and the Asians believe that the feet as the cesspools of the body.
The shoe, particularly the sole, is therefore regarded as the lowest and dirtiest part of the body. Hitting a person, or his or her image, with a shoe is implying that he or she “is less than the dust beneath (his or her) feet. ” Operating on the same premises, most Asian societies use the practice of shoe-pelting to punish individuals who are guilty of violating societal norms. In China, for instance, a woman who has committed adultery was traditionally punished by having people on the street throw shoes at her.
A Chinese man may likewise hurl shoes at his wife to demonstrate his superiority over her. A woman who engaged in sexual relations outside of marriage was branded a “broken shoe” – a Chinese epithet for prostitute. Indeed, shoes play an important role in the history of women in China. To begin with, shoemaking was conventionally known as a woman’s job. Despite various innovations in shoe manufacturing, women in many towns and villages throughout China continue to produce handmade footwear. In the process, shoes became a means of perpetuating the patriarchal belief that men are superior to women.
In Western countries, shoemaking was a male-dominated industry because footwear produced in these regions required a wooden last and specialized leather work. Only men had the physical strength to operate sophisticated shoemaking machinery. In sharp contrast, traditional Chinese footwear for both men and women was made out of silk or cotton. Given the delicate materials in which traditional Chinese shoes were fashioned of, the lighter and more pliable hands of a woman was rendered more suitable for its manufacturing. Shoemaking ultimately ended up as an essential feminine skill.
However, this was so only because women spent more time repairing shoes than actually making new ones. Traditional Chinese footwear proved to be very fragile, its upper and lower soles requiring constant replacement. Despite this dilemma, innovation was unwelcome. Confucian ethics mandated all women, regardless of age and social status, to “work diligently with (their) hands. ” Simply put, the ideal Chinese woman was known not for her physical beauty but for her ability to perform nugong or “womanly work” – manually doing chores such as mending a sock, sewing a garment, spinning thread or making shoes.
But requiring the Chinese woman to carry out all her errands in a physical manner had a more obvious reason – it would keep her tied to the home. In the process, her husband, brothers and sons would be able to pursue an education and or work in the fields without worrying about preparing meals on time, doing the laundry and keeping the house clean. Advances like the cotton loom, however, gave Chinese women the opportunity for economic independence by enabling them to produce more in a shorter span of time. In order to maintain China’s patriarchal status quo, the custom of footbinding was devised.
Footbinding was initially practiced by the upper classes, as the latter can afford the luxury of having unproductive family members. But by the 18th and the early 19th centuries, the tradition had already spread to the lower classes. During these periods, the Chinese textile industry was rivaling Europe’s in terms of efficiency and quality of output. Some European entrepreneurs therefore resorted to importing China-made fabrics instead of buying those that were made from their respective countries of origin.
The high demand for Chinese textiles, in turn, meant that many of China’s lower-class women could finally abandon shoemaking and instead venture into the more lucrative industry of cloth weaving. For those who wished to continue making shoes, weaving and selling cloth even for certain periods would allow them to purchase equipment that would make shoe manufacturing more productive. Either way, China’s lower-class women would finally become self-sufficient. They would be able to provide for themselves even without the support of a husband.
As a result, many mothers from China’s lower classes forced their daughters to undergo footbinding. Any apprehensions about the economic costs of having idle relations were most probably overshadowed by the fact that Chinese looked down on unmarried women. The crippling effects of footbinding virtually imprisoned poor Chinese girls in their respective houses. In the process, prospective husbands were given the assurance that they would be good wives – they would literally spend all of their time inside the home working for the family. Women with bound feet suffered from health problems such as arthritis, eczema and gangrene.
Those who attempted to remove their bindings due to extreme pain and discomfort were punished by their mothers, most likely by hitting them with a shoe. Unable to run or defend themselves, some women with bound feet experienced more shoe beatings from abusive husbands. In the long run, the shoe – once the honorable hallmark of the Chinese woman – was turned into a weapon of subjugation. Instead of taking pride at their ability to make shoes, Chinese women were made to feel that their worth as persons were far less than the dirt on the soles of their creations.
It also did not help that certain mores in Chinese culture reinforced the social acceptability of shoe-throwing. In South China, for instance, weddings involve the tradition of the bride presenting her husband with a pair of shoes. This custom is not without deep cultural symbolism. Shoes represent the only industry that is traditionally dominated by Chinese women. By giving her husband a pair of shoes, therefore, the bride is placing herself completely under his control.
She would entrust him with all aspects of her life, including her very means of survival. Another Chinese wedding custom requires the bride to throw her shoes out the car window. This tradition is called qu xie – a homonym for “getting rid of evil. ” It must be noted, however, that in Chinese culture, shoes are considered both as “dirty” and the products of a “woman’s work. ” Thus, in throwing her shoes out of the car window, the bride is abandoning something which society views as deviant but is likewise an integral part of who she is.
The bride has no choice – she has to do it in order to appear desirable to her husband. For thousands of years, Chinese culture regarded shoe-throwing as an act that was meant to humiliate women. Although shoemaking in China was known as a “woman’s industry,” religious and cultural norms turned the shoe into a means of subjugating women. For their attempts to become independent, Chinese women were made to feel that they were worth less than the dirt that clung to the very footwear that they themselves created.
Furthermore, their worth was determined by whether or not they were beaten up with a shoe. It is thus very ironic that in the case of Bush and Wen, the act of shoe-throwing became a form of political dissent. Not everyone may agree, but hurling a shoe at despotic leader is definitely more forgivable than waging a costly and senseless war and or violating a people’s right to self-determination. If women are thrown shoes at for simply desiring to be independent, what more leaders with graver offenses such as Bush and Wen?