All too often, historical events have unintended consequences, some of them beneficial.
When Mao Zedong unleashed the revolution that would lead to the Communist takeover of China , it also signalled the liberation of women from their traditional roles. One of the small ways that womens lot was improved was that when the Communists came to power they immediately outlawed the practice of foot binding. Since ancient times, upper class and middle class families in China had regarded small feet as a mark of female beauty.Thus they used cloth tightly bind the feet of their girl children so that their feet would fit into three inch slippers. What this did was to crush the bones of a girl’s feet so that they could fit under her heels. What agony it must have been for the children and, over the centuries, how many millions of them must have suffered this barbaric practice ! Foot binding also meant that for the rest of their lives girls would only be able to totter about on tiny feet , using canes to balance themselves. With the outlawing of foot binding, girls were able to enjoy more normal lives though the Communist revolution had it’s own pitfalls , particularly during the Great Leap Forward. Whatever the pros and cons of the Communist takeover, the ending of this tradition was an unalloyed benefit.
Reading about this issue reminded me of an incident that happened when we were on a short tour of Japan some years ago. While in Tokyo, we took a day trip to Mount Fuji. It was a great excursion and, along the way, we stopped at a roadside stand where I had the best chicken yakitori that I have ever tasted. But I digress ! Our tour guide was a very personable middle-aged lady and , as she kept up a running commentary about the scenery, she gave us a capsule of modern Japanese history. One of the things she said that , personally, she was glad for the American victory in WW II because it ushered in the liberation of Japanese women. I remember being shocked at her words even as I understood her sentiments. It was only in the post-war period that women began to assume roles outside the home and that womens education began to be more widespread.
Another example of unexpected side effects is the one child policy adopted by China some decades ago. Since families had only one chance at an heir, ( who presumably would take care of them in their old age) , they went to extraordinary lengths to make sure that it would be a boy.Some of the worst practices included using ultra sound to determine the gender of the unborn child and aborting it if it was a girl ; female infanticide was another. What this did was to spawn an era of lone boys who were pampered by their parents . Their every wish was granted and , without siblings to share things with , they grew up to be selfish , and often very often overweight. At one time , the Guiness Book of World Records listed the heaviest child in the world as a thirteen year old Chinese boy who tipped the scales at over 450 lbs. The same book also listed the maximum weight loss by a child, another Chinese boy who shed 150 lbs .
The fixation with having a male heir also had another consequence: decades later , when these boys reached maturity and wanted to get married, there were few girls around. For a while, there was a lucrative business kidnapping North Vietnamese girls and smuggling them across the border to sell as them as brides for Chinese youths. In India too, the insistence on having a male heir , led to similar situations with marriageable girls having their choice of swains. Long term though, there has been the growing realization in both countries that a girl child is just as good as a boy, perhaps better. As the old saying goes, ” A son is a son till he takes a wife but a daughter is a daughter all her life. “