The Sena tribe in Malawi and Mozambique have a proverb: ‘Never marry a wife with bigger feet than your own.’ The Chinese have an astonishingly similar message. And in Telugu, too, prospective husbands are warned away from women with long feet.
In cultures all over the globe, sex and gender issues have been expressed in proverbs—the world’s smallest literary genre. This irresistible book provides revealing insights into the female condition across centuries and continents. The hundreds of proverbs complied here also perpetuate contrasting views of men and women—men are inexorable tyrants, as well as insecure, fearful beings or easily seduced lovers while women are lamentable victims, and yet extremely powerful. These contradictions are exposed directly and surreptitiously in the examples collated here, speaking to all of us.
Never Marry a Woman with Big Feet collates the experiences of women through proverbs from 245 languages, both culturally and physically—women’s bodies as a whole, and each body part; their beautification, ageing and death. The vivid and earthy proverbs also reflect the phases of life—from girl to bride, to wife or co-wife, from mother to mother-in-law, widow and grandmother; the joys and sorrows of love, sex and childbearing; women’s work, their talents, and their power. They delineate the feminine ideal and vilify her fear-inducing counterpart—the talented, intelligent, powerful, defiant or occult woman.
Mineke Schipper’s stylish critical anthology is an entertaining rough guide showing us how far both sexes have progressed, through the timeless yet ever-evolving nature of cultural sayings and proverbs from every corner of the world.