Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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Tiny feet and moral turpitude

I note that in the current volume of the Datlow/Link/Grant Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology, there are two stories in which the male villain is described as having tiny feet.

Jack Cady's "The Souls of Drowning Mountain". [Sims is Evil Greedy Cruel Mine Owner]: "Sims had a bald spot, a sizable gut, and dainty little feet. He seemed cheery. He had jowls like a pig, and a sneer that could push people backward."

Jay Russell's "Ding-Dong Bell", a Secret Origins story about J. Edgar Hoover. "[Hoover] sat back down, resting his tiny feet on the massive desktop."

I propose: tiny feet in a male is a marker for Evil. Why? Who knows, but if I had to guess, I'd blame the usual sexual stereotypes. Society says men are to be big, brawny, muscular. Women are to be tiny, dainty, delicate. For a man to have a feminine characteristic such as tiny feet violates the natural order of things. Thus, male with tiny feet == evil.

[The reverse may not be true: Cady's story has a brawny woman who is one of Good Guys. Proposed explanation: if society believes that men are the superior sex, and women the inferior, a woman with male characteristics does not demean herself, but a man with female characteristics does. Note that in real life, the majority of women can wear traditionally male clothing such as trousers, but it's the rare het male who feels comfortable wearing a skirt.]

About a year ago, Jed Hartman complained about a trend he was seeing of writers using 'fat' to denote 'Evil'. Perhaps this is more of the same, just a different physical trait.

Everyone has been told you don't judge a book by its cover, that beauty is skin deep but ugly goes to the bone, that any beautiful Dorian Gray may be hiding a portrait somewhere that looks much worse... and yet we really, really want physiognomy to correlate with personality, especially with moral standing. We want unattractive people to be evil. Writers shamelessly exploit this desire and belief to communicate with readers.

Hell, those in the plastic arts are praised for doing this, without qualification: for revealing the character of their sitters in the physical depiction of them. After all, artists have no other means for communicating about their subject. Depiction of physical appearance is their stock in trade. Consider those lines from Ozymandias:

                      a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.

Or Goya's famous portrait of the Spanish royal family, in which Goya's opinion of his subjects is all too clear. Okay, so the late Spanish aristocracy were a bunch of vultures. But was it because they looked like vultures?

A modern, more disturbing example: Time photoshopping the mugshot of O.J. Simpson to make him appear more sinister. Because dark people are sinister, you know.

I think about this a lot, when writing. I've about decided I really dislike using physical attributes to denote moral state.  An 'ungenerous mouth', 'greedy eyes', a 'weak chin': fie on them all. And the tiny feet can join them. I am skeptical of any proposed connection between tiny feet and moral turpitude.

Actions are okay. A confident voice, nervous hands, wagging the finger or the cane: those are fine. They're visible actions that reflect invisible emotion or character. But using inborn physiognomy to define character is just not right.

It's hard to do. I think our idea that beauty == good, ugly == evil is so inbred, so ingrained in our culture and literature, that one writes this kind of thing without thinking. I'm sure I've done it. Still, I'm uncomfortable with it, and I've been making an effort to extirpate it from my writing when I notice I've done it.


meaning: palace, lord, Mr.

妃殿下 == hidenka == (noun) princess, Her Royal Highness
湯殿 == yudono == (noun) bathroom

'Somewhat obscure' etymology. Top left radical is 'buttocks', right radical is 'strike' (top element 'axe', bottom element one of the 'hand' radicals). It originally meant to strike a person on the buttocks, making a 'TON' sound. Its current meanings are borrowed. Henshall suggests taking the left bottom/inner radical as 'together' (共), and as a mnemonic: 'Strike buttocks together at lord's palace.'

Info from Taka Kanji Database
List of compounds including this character from Risu Dictionary

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