Sunday, April 22, 2007

erotic symbolism

Of all forms of erotic symbolism the most frequent is that which idealizes
the foot and the shoe. The phenomena we here encounter are sometimes so
complex and raise so many interesting questions that it is necessary to
discuss them somewhat fully.
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It would seem that even for the normal lover the foot is one of the most
attractive parts of the body. Stanley Hall found that among the parts
specified as most admired in the other sex by young men and women who
answered a _questionnaire_ the feet came fourth (after the eyes, hair,
stature and size).[13] Casanova, an acute student and lover of women who
was in no degree a foot fetichist, remarks that all men who share his
interest in women are attracted by their feet; they offer the same
interest, he considers, as the question of the particular edition offers
to the book-lover.[14]

In a report of the results of a _questionnaire_ concerning
children's sense of self, to which over 500 replies were
received, Stanley Hall thus summarizes the main facts ascertained
with reference to the feet: "A special period of noticing the
feet comes somewhat later than that in which the hands are
discovered to consciousness. Our records afford nearly twice as
many cases for feet as for hands. The former are more remote from
the primary psychic focus or position, and are also more often
covered, so that the sight of them is a more marked and
exceptional event. Some children become greatly excited whenever
their feet are exposed. Some infants show signs of fear at the
movement of their own knees and feet covered, and still more
often fright is the first sensation which signalizes the child's
discovery of its feet.... Many are described as playing with them
as if fascinated by strange, newly-discovered toys. They pick
them up and try to throw them away, or out of the cradle, or
bring them to the mouth, where all things tend to go.... Children
often handle their feet, pat and stroke them, offer them toys and
the bottle, as if they, too, had an independent hunger to
gratify, an _ego_ of their own.... Children often develop [later]
a special interest in the feet of others, and examine, feel them,
etc., sometimes expressing surprise that the pinch of the
mother's toe hurts her and not the child, or comparing their own
and the feet of others point by point. Curious, too, are the
intensifications of foot-consciousness throughout the early years
of childhood, whenever children have the exceptional privilege of
going barefoot, or have new shoes. The feet are often
apostrophized, punished, beaten sometimes to the point of pain
for breaking things, throwing the child down, etc. Several
children have habits, which reach great intensity, and then
vanish, of touching or tickling the feet, with gales of laughter,
and a few are described as showing an almost morbid reluctance to
wear anything upon the feet, or even to having them touched by
others.... Several almost fall in love with the great toe or the
little one, especially admiring some crease or dimple in it,
dressing it in some rag of silk or bit of ribbon, or cut-off
glove fingers, winding it with string, prolonging it by tying on
bits of wood. Stroking the feet of others, especially if they are
shapely, often becomes almost a passion with young children, and
several adults confess a survival of the same impulse which it is
an exquisite pleasure to gratify. The interest of some mothers in
babies' toes, the expressions of which are ecstatic and almost
incredible, is a factor of great importance." (G. Stanley Hall,
"Some Aspects of the Early Sense of Self," _American Journal of
Psychology_, April, 1898.) In childhood, Stanley Hall remarks
elsewhere (_Adolescence_, vol. ii, p. 104), "a form of courtship
may consist solely in touching feet under the desk." It would
seem that even animals have a certain amount of sexual
consciousness in the feet; I have noticed a male donkey, just
before coitus, bite the feet of his partner.

At the same time it is scarcely usual for the normal lover, in most
civilized countries to-day, to attach primary importance to the foot, such
as he very frequently attaches to the eyes, though the feet play a very
conspicuous part in the work of certain novelists.[15]

In a small but not inconsiderable minority of persons, however, the foot
or the boot becomes the most attractive part of a woman, and in some
morbid cases the woman herself is regarded as a comparatively unimportant
appendage to her feet or her boots. The boots under civilized conditions
much more frequently constitute the sexual symbol than do the feet
themselves; this is not surprising since in ordinary life the feet are not
often seen.

It is usually only under exceptionally favoring conditions that
foot-fetichism occurs, as in the case recorded by Marandon de
Montyel of a doctor who had been brought up in the West Indies.
His mother had been insane and he himself was subject to
obsessions, especially of being incapable of urinating; he had
had nocturnal incontinence of urine in childhood. All the women
of the people in the West Indies go about with naked feet, which
are often beautiful. His puberty evolved under this influence,
and foot-fetichism developed. He especially admired large, fat,
arched feet, with delicate skin and large, regular toes. He
masturbated with images of feet. At 15 he had relations with a
colored chambermaid, but feared to mention his fetichism, though
it was the touch of her feet that chiefly excited him. He now
gave up masturbation, and had a succession of mistresses, but was
always ashamed to confess his fancies until, at the age of 33, in
Paris, a very intelligent woman who had become his mistress
discovered his mania and skillfully enabled him to yield to it
without shock to his modesty. He was devoted to this mistress,
who had very beautiful feet (he had been horrified by the feet of
Europeans generally), until she finally left him.

Probably the first case of shoe-fetichism ever recorded in any
detail is that of Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1806), publicist
and novelist, one of the most remarkable literary figures of the
later eighteenth century in France. Restif was a neurotic
subject, though not to an extreme degree, and his shoe-fetichism,
though distinctly pronounced, was not pathological; that is to
say, that the shoe was not itself an adequate gratification of
the sexual impulse, but simply a highly important aid to
tumescence, a prelude to the natural climax of detumescence; only
occasionally, and _faute de mieux_, in the absence of the beloved
person, was the shoe used as an adjunct to masturbation. In
Restif's stories and elsewhere the attraction of the shoe is
frequently discussed or used as a motive. His first decided
literary success, _Le Pied de Fanchette_, was suggested by a
vision of a girl with a charming foot, casually seen in the
street. While all such passages in his books are really founded
on his own personal feelings and experiences, in his elaborate
autobiography, _Monsieur Nicolas_, he has frankly set forth the
gradual evolution and cause of his idiosyncrasy. The first
remembered trace dated from the age of 4, when he was able to
recall having remarked the feet of a young girl in his native
place. Restif was a sexually precocious youth, and at the age of
9, though both delicate in health and shy in manners, his
thoughts were already absorbed in the girls around him. "While
little Monsieur Nicolas," he tells us, "passed for a Narcissus,
his thoughts, as soon as he was alone, by night or by day, had no
other object than that sex he seemed to flee from. The girls most
careful of their persons were naturally those who pleased him
most, and as the part least easy to keep clean is that which
touches the earth it was to the foot-gear that he mechanically
gave his chief attention. Agathe, Reine, and especially
Madeleine, were the most elegant of the girls at that time; their
carefully selected and kept shoes, instead of laces or buckles,
which were not yet worn at Sacy, had blue or rose ribbon,
according to the color of the skirt. I thought of these girls
with emotion; I desired--I knew not what; but I desired
something, if it were only to subdue them." The origin Restif
here assigns to his shoe-fetichism may seem paradoxical; he
admired the girls who were most clean and neat in their dress, he
tells us, and, therefore, paid most attention to that part of
their clothing which was least clean and neat. But, however
paradoxical the remark may seem, it is psychologically sound. All
fetichism is a kind of not necessarily morbid obsession, and as
the careful work of Janet and others in that field has shown, an
obsession is a fascinated attraction to some object or idea
which gives the subject a kind of emotional shock by its
contrast to his habitual moods or ideas. The ordinary morbid
obsession cannot usually be harmoniously co-ordinated with the
other experiences of the subject's daily life, and shows,
therefore, no tendency to become pleasurable. Sexual fetichisms,
on the other hand, have a reservoir of agreeable emotion to draw
on, and are thus able to acquire both stability and harmony. It
will also be seen that no element of masochism is involved in
Restif's fetichism, though the mistake has been frequently made
of supposing that these two manifestations are usually or even
necessarily allied. Restif wishes to subject the girl who
attracts him, he has no wish to be subjected by her. He was
especially dazzled by a young girl from another town, whose shoes
were of a fashionable cut, with buckles, "and who was a charming
person besides." She was delicate as a fairy, and rendered his
thoughts unfaithful to the robust beauties of his native Sacy.
"No doubt," he remarks, "because, being frail and weak myself, it
seemed to me that it would be easier to subdue her." "This taste
for the beauty of the feet," he continues, "was so powerful in me
that it unfailingly aroused desire and would have made me
overlook ugliness. It is excessive in all those who have it." He
admired the foot as well as the shoe: "The factitious taste for
the shoe is only a reflection of that for pretty feet. When I
entered a house and saw the boots arranged in a row, as is the
custom, I would tremble with pleasure; I blushed and lowered my
eyes as if in the presence of the girls themselves. With this
vivacity of feeling and a voluptuousness of ideas inconceivable
at the age of 10 I still fled, with an involuntary impulse of
modesty, from the girls I adored."

We may clearly see how this combination of sensitive and
precocious sexual ardor with extreme shyness, furnished the soil
on which the germ of shoe-fetichism was able to gain a firm root
and persist in some degree throughout a long life very largely
given up to a pursuit of women, abnormal rather by its
excessiveness than its perversity. A few years later, he tells
us, he happened to see a pretty pair of shoes in a bootmaker's
shop, and on hearing that they belonged to a girl whom at that
time he reverently adored at a distance he blushed and nearly

In 1749 he was for a time attracted to a young woman very much
older than himself; he secretly carried away one of her slippers
and kept it for a day; a little later he again took away a shoe
of the same woman which had fascinated him when on her foot, and,
he seems to imply, he used it to masturbate with.

Perhaps the chief passion of Restif's life was his love for
Colette Parangon. He was still a boy (1752), she was the young
and virtuous wife of the printer whose apprentice Restif was and
in whose house he lived. Madame Parangon, a charming woman, as
she is described, was not happily married, and she evidently
felt a tender affection for the boy whose excessive love and
reverence for her were not always successfully concealed.
"Madonna Parangon," he tells us, "possessed a charm which I could
never resist, a pretty little foot; it is a charm which arouses
more than tenderness. Her shoes, made in Paris, had that
voluptuous elegance which seems to communicate soul and life.
Sometimes Colette wore shoes of simple white drugget or with
silver flowers; sometimes rose-colored slippers with green heels,
or green with rose heels; her supple feet, far from deforming her
shoes, increased their grace and rendered the form more
exciting." One day, on entering the house, he saw Madame Parangon
elegantly dressed and wearing rose-colored shoes with tongues,
and with green heels and a pretty rosette. They were new and she
took them off to put on green slippers with rose heels and
borders which he thought equally exciting. As soon as she had
left the room, he continues, "carried away by the most impetuous
passion and idolizing Colette, I seemed to see her and touch her
in handling what she had just worn; my lips pressed one of these
jewels, while the other, deceiving the sacred end of nature, from
excess of exaltation replaced the object of sex (I cannot express
myself more clearly). The warmth which she had communicated to
the insensible object which had touched her still remained and
gave a soul to it; a voluptuous cloud covered my eyes." He adds
that he would kiss with rage and transport whatever had come in
close contact with the woman he adored, and on one occasion
eagerly pressed his lips to her cast-off underlinen, _vela
secretiora penetralium_.

At this period Restif's foot-fetichism reached its highest point
of development. It was the aberration of a highly sensitive and
very precocious boy. While the preoccupation with feet and shoes
persisted throughout life, it never became a complete perversion
and never replaced the normal end of sexual desire. His love for
Madam Parangon, one of the deepest emotions in his whole life,
was also the climax of his shoe-fetichism. She represented his
ideal woman, an ethereal sylph with wasp-waist and a child's
feet; it was always his highest praise for a woman that she
resembled Madame Parangon, and he desired that her slipper should
be buried with him.
Shoe-fetichism, more especially if we include under this term all
the cases of real or pseudo-masochism in which an attraction to
the boots or slippers is the chief feature, is a not infrequent
phenomenon, and is certainly the most frequently occurring form
of fetichism.

The predominance of the foot as a focus of sexual attraction, while among
us to-day it is a not uncommon phenomenon, is still not sufficiently
common to be called normal; the majority of even ardent lovers do not
experience this attraction in any marked degree. But these manifestations
of foot-fetichism which with us to-day are abnormal, even when they are
not so extreme as to be morbid, may perhaps become more intelligible to us
when we realize that in earlier periods of civilization, and even to-day
in some parts of the world, the foot is generally recognized as a focus of
sexual attraction, so that some degree of foot-fetichism becomes a normal

The most pronounced and the best known example of such normal
foot-fetichism at the present day is certainly to be found among the
Southern Chinese. For a Chinese husband his wife's foot is more
interesting than her face. A Chinese woman is as shy of showing her feet
to a man as a European woman her breasts; they are reserved for her
husband's eyes alone, and to look at a woman's feet in the street is
highly improper and indelicate. Chinese foot-fetichism is connected with
the custom of compressing the feet. This custom appears to rest on the
fact that Chinese women naturally possess a very small foot and is thus an
example of the universal tendency in the search for beauty to accentuate,
even by deformation, the racial characteristics. But there is more than
this. Beauty is largely a name for sexual attractiveness, and the energy
expended in the effort to make the Chinese woman's small foot still
smaller is a measure of the sexual fascination which it exerts. The
practice arose on the basis of the sexual attractiveness of the foot,
though it has doubtless served to heighten that attractiveness, just as
the small waist, which (if we may follow Stratz) is a characteristic
beauty of the European woman, becomes to the average European man still
more attractive when accentuated, even to the extent of deformity, by the
compression of the corset.