Sigh. When have shoes ever been intended as comfortable? Well, women’s shoes at least. My collection of shoes, for certain.
I know. There’s something a little awkward about admitting in hundreds of words your love for high heels, but I’m about to do just that. When I put on heels to go out, I’m not thinking about the binding of women’s feet in some countries to achieve a gender expectation. I’m not thinking about conforming to my own country’s idea of what a woman should be. Yes, you know what, my boyfriend does love when I wear heels, but I think that’s mostly because he knows I love them (I suspect this because he’s the same amount of happy when he sees me in my favorite pair of lounge pants or when I announce I’m going out in no makeup—he likes when I’m happy being me). When I’m doing any of these things it’s because I want to. (Also: while we’re on the topic of gender roles and expectations, you should definitely, definitely purchase Side B’s recently released gender issue.)
Last night to dinner I tried to capture the evaporating warm weather by wearing a new-to-this-summer pair of startlingly high red wedge sandals. Glorious.
Damn the comfortability, I love the way a high heel looks. Sometimes I get emails from shoe stores and internet shoe sites about sales, and I have to pause and breathe a little whimpering breath while I force myself to delete the message because, after all, I work at a non-profit and only have two feet to wear shoes on (but there ARE 365 days to the year). I’ve been known to put on high heels when I’m sad to make me feel better. There I sit, probably writing at my desk, sweatpants, ponytail, 4-inch, red, patent leather, peep toes. Sigh again. It’s a substance-free pick-up. Life is now beautiful again. I am so fabulous. Just focus on my feet.
And now, you’re questioning my feminism, aren’t you? You’re wondering why an intelligent, self-possessed, independent, multi-degreed woman needs a material symbol of gender repression to make her feel better?
Well, because they’re pretty.
And really, I’m not the only one. Entire industries have been built on the fact that women just like shoes. Not all women, sure. But many…many women. And those many of us seem to have a penchant for impractical shoes even while our podiatrist and chiropractors and general common sense tell us we are doing nothing good for our bodies. Where did this desire come from?
I suppose when you look at women’s shoes of times before ours, they look slightly different. But, more importantly, the intent was different. I wear high heels (sometimes) because I LIKE to. Women of generations before ours (and most of our mothers’) wore them because they were SUPPOSED to. Oh. There’s that.
The fashion trend of the first half of the last century was to dress (your feet, in this case) based on what was best for your body type. The heel height, toe shape, etc., was to make you look the *appropriate* height with legs that were long, but not too long. Glossy mags are still trying to convince us to do this. We still can’t get it. We understand heels give us some wonderful asset enhancements (see what I did there?), but the science is clouded by what’s in season. (Oh, let’s refer to that Katherine Hepburn quote about style v. fashion. It’s about more than picking the color of your pump.)
Vintage shoes are fun to look at. At stores there’s a lot of “vintage inspired” shoes for sale, but they’re more like a hybrid of retro ideas with all the modern nonsense—unmatchable colors, unrealistic heights, terrible crafting. A shoe from the 1940s is a good shoe. It’s well made. It doesn’t fall apart after regular, seasonal use. It needed to last. Women also, probably, didn’t have quite as many shoes filling their closet (unless they could afford to have many pairs of shoes in the 40s, 50s, or 60s…which makes me jealous on a whole other level). So the problem with vintage shoes is they just don’t mix with today’s style. Whoops. Oxfords, pumps, sandals, boots…we have the same words, we don’t have the same shoes. Military heels, Cuban heels, French heels—these things we don’t know.
There was also the practical high heel. We need to bring this back—but it has to still be fashionable. Is that accomplishable? Maybe I would even wear a practical heel to work and the grocery store—as long as it didn’t leave me looking like a movie’s retro nurse. You know what I’m saying. I know: you’re confused. I want to wear heels to work? I wish I could physically pull off the task of balancing all day every day atop stilt-like shoes. Triple sigh. I know, I know. It makes no sense.
Let me tell you, I searched for at least an hour trying to find this very brilliant quote my professor in a Gender Studies class once relayed to us. It was about a woman (I cannot, for the life of me, remember the particular feminist) going to work, being accosted by another woman—also considering herself a feminist—due to the first woman’s wearing of high heels. The first woman, protagonist of this anecdote-I-cannot-find, says something phenomenally phrased about how feminism is supposed to be about choice. Feminism is supposed to be about how you, as a woman, should be able to live the life you want to live whether it lies within regular gender construction or not—especially if they are. However, as we get further into feminism—second, third waves, etc.—I think we forget about that. (It’s kinda like this theory I have about Christianity. It’s supposed to be a religion about “Love Thy Neighbor” but sometimes…well, it’s the same “do-it-only-this-way” problem. I should mention, I give these opinions as both a feminist and a Christian. These are probably problems to discuss at another time, yes?)
My feeling is you should be able to strut in your five-inch, double platform, patent leather, triple-buckle stilettos if you feel like walking-the-walk in them. You refuse to own, entertain, or even give a look at a high heel? Hey, I get you, my friend. I have my own little personal rules about high heels. I’m doing a lot of running around in the day? Flats it is. I work fourteen hours between my two jobs that day? Flats at the day job it is. I’m filling in as hostess at the restaurant? It’s probably wear heels, bring back-up flats. Going to dinner with complimentary valet? Oh, bust out sky-high, expensive pumps. (I keep joking I’m trying to be as tall as my 6’6” boyfriend…which, with me being 5’7” is never going to happen. But at least I don’t have to worry about the social construction of being too tall for him.)
It’s funny—while we’re informed in our society that we aren’t supposed to be taller than our dates I never worried about it with my shoes. After all, I had a wonderful role model in that realm. My mother, just under six foot, was probably two or three inches taller than my father. Yet, she rocked multi-inch heels daily because she liked them. She liked how they looked with her outfits. And I suspect they made her feel powerful. I can see it. Is that something we need to bring up in our feminist argument—if something makes you feel like the powerful woman you are, why should you be denied it?
Then…we go back to the 1940s, and remember the rosie-the-riveter-esque women working in factories in a hairnet, apron…and heels. Oh, there’s that. Right. See, while my mother (and I) had a choice on what was on our feet, maybe our grandmother’s didn’t.
Let’s examine popular shoes of the time:
An “oxford heel” was supposed to be more purposeful, more study, more serious. A “small heel” or “kitten heel” was for home or for comfort. Yet…we’re all still wearing heels in these scenarios. So, see? Something is wrong with this picture. Maybe I am understanding the rally against high heels as the tides of feminism come in. Do I want to do something I’ve been forced to do if given a choice all of a sudden? No, I suppose I very well might want to check my options. Even sandals of the time are not the ground-flat gladiator sort that are currently filling the shoe-cubby-holes of my closet (sadly, sniff, sniff, to be packed away in the coming weeks, seeing as I live in a temperate climate of the northeast).
So, I couldn’t find that quote. I’m going to keep looking. If you need further reading, I highly suggest Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards’ Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (it tells us we can still wear heels, thongs, red lipstick, whatever AND be feminist—ha!), or, of course, Side B’s brilliant, beautiful new issue on Sex, Gender, and Sexuality, available HERE.
This isn’t an argument that’s going anywhere. Especially this week as waif models pummel the fashion-week runways in their stilettos and high-heeled booties a few hours north of me sitting on my loveseat right now, last night’s 5-inch rope platform sandals still outside their box on the closet floor. They’re beautiful. My outfit was fantastic. I love the way I feel in them. Today I’ll put them back in their box, and put the box back in line in the closet with the dozens of other high heels. I probably won’t wear any heels today. I will wear sensible (but not unattractive—please) flats. I will wear restaurant shoes. I will wear slippers or flip-flops or maybe rain boots if the nice weather goes awry. But, no matter what I wear on my feet, I will be no less feminine for it. As a drunken guy once said to me at a bar, “Oh, you fit in where you get in.” And really, what’s more feminist than that?