I admit, I’ve been a bit obsessed with footwear lately, and not in a good way.
I’ve researched Chinese foot binding, have had a running commentary in my head about women’s fashion and how across cultures and continents women’s fashion has served to decrease our mobility. I’ve been thinking that even despite recent “equality” and participation in sports we expect each other to be “bad-ass” with the constraints of clothing that limit or alter our movement. In the old days we weren’t supposed to do anything but now we’re supposed to do everything — in heels.
Raising children has got me thinking as well. I’ve seen them all take their first toddler steps, learn to run, to play, and to compete in sports, but I realize that soon, though my boy will continue in this path, my girls will likely do the same tasks as my son — while standing on their toes. When they are older and allowed to, they may choose to re-learn how to walk in heels that are getting ridiculously high. I acknowledge that men’s ties and jackets, especially in Summer, are uncomfortable, but they usually don’t cause actual pain like some women’s fashions can. And even if men are hot and bothered, they can still walk and stand — even in grass or sand. (Rhyme unintended.)
When writer, director, producer and actress Lena Dunham won her Golden Globe, she literally hobbled up to the stage, needing help like an elderly lady. This woman is taking Hollywood by storm, but on her big night, she was unsteady. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, had the flu — but he could walk.
The thing is, Lena’s shoes didn’t even show, yet she chose to wear what, six-inch designer heels? See Fashionista.com. The fascination we have (and I’m not completely immune) with shoes is beyond the scope of this post, especially since, as I’ve said, I’m obsessed . . . but let me offer a true shoe story.
The night before the Golden Globes I attended a fundraising event. It was a dressy affair. As a volunteer organizer, I knew I’d be on my feet the whole evening. I also knew that parking was a problem and I’d likely have to walk blocks across a college campus to get to the affair’s location. So, I made a bold decision.
I did not wear dress shoes.
Instead, my shoes were clog like, the kind normally worn with jeans. Still honoring “cocktail attire” I wore dress black pants and a sequined top. Since, however, the pants were dressy they were longer than they needed to be (I’m assuming to compensate for the heels that women usually wear). My feet and my comfortable shoes were practically covered. And if my shoes did peek out, since they, too, were black they did not make a statement. No bows, no ribbons, no sequins, no sparkles, no spikes, no red bottoms, no color — no — nothing — on the shoes.
I deliberately chose not to call attention to my feet.
Are you thinking I went the old lady route? Are you gasping in horror? Are you laughing at my fashion faux-pas?
Well, I was no old lady. Au contraire, I was — sexy. I brought the attention north, you see. My top was the statement. It had spaghetti straps and silver sequined triangles draped over the breasts which accentuated “the girls” and my shoulders quite nicely. The blouse had a slightly see-through bodice with a sequined edge going all the way around the bottom hem. I’d just had my hair highlighted and wore it out with in waves of loose curls. I wore full makeup, including great lipstick/gloss and left my eye-glasses at home. Shiny earrings hung from the lobes but I left the neck naked — again to accentuate “the girls.”
A funny thing happened. I was complimented more than I had been in — in — I can’t even remember. Men and women told me I was “beautiful,” “elegant,” “lovely” . . . repeatedly. (Quite nice for my ego.) Drinks were flowing at this event and I received a few slightly inappropriate compliments and appraisals from married men. Since this was a fundraiser for high-schoolers they were there to perform and serve the adults. It bears mentioning that I even got a direct compliment from a 16-year-old girl along with looks of approval from her brethren — me, somebody’s mother! I told my son how his teacher, an attractive, recently divorced man who barely acknowledges me normally, stopped me to tell me (repeatedly) how beautiful I looked. After a moment of silence my son’s response was, “I’m sick of you.” Ha! — high praise for a mom in teen boy world.
All this, and it had nothing to do with the shoes.
Except that, because my feet did not hurt, I felt good. I danced and I didn’t have to take my shoes off to do so. And even though I was on my feet for six hours, I wasn’t fatigued or sore. You see, when you feel good, it’s easier to look good — sexy. I didn’t need the Barbie feet. I didn’t need the clack, clack, clack of the stilettos. (And yes, I own some.) But without them I could confidently cross the room without worrying about slipping, falling or hurting. I could even do stairs, all while being “elegant.” It was liberating, yet I still felt very, very feminine.
By all reports and stolen glances I must have looked damned good . . .
And it wasn’t the shoes. (Or was it?)
Just Me With . . . a true, shoe story.
For a fictional shoe story, see my Dressed for Success at The Indie Chicks.
Update: The Indie Chicks has closed its doors.
For an earlier decision to call attention to the girls, see The Summer of Cleavage.
If Lena Dunham had worn sneakers under that long dress (and had it hemmed accordingly), we wouldn’t have been the wiser and she could have taken the stage under her own considerable, impressive power.
Oh well, enough about her shoes. It ain’t about the shoes all the time. Congratulations Lena Dunham, Best Actress in a Comedy Series! Much respect.
Shoes oppress women and always have. From Colonial times until the 20th century, toddling girls wore cloth slippers, not fit for cold, mud, or wet in the outdoors, while boys were shod in leather shoes or boots, like men. Like men, they could toddle into the muck and mire of the outdoors, preparing them for a place of self fulfillment. Little girls were only expected to stay indoors, birth babies not work or go to school or even shop. Of course, some girls were shod in sturdy shoes just as some girls were educated like boys were.
You were comfortable and free of pain without heels. Females in heels, ballet flats, or any flimsy shoe that easily comes off or is made of soft leather or without sturdy soles makes it impossible for women to escape anyone pursuing them to hurt them. We are vulnerable. Yes, some men wear flimsy shoes or flip flops, but they have usually have shoe that are sturdier than those of women.
Women with their feet bound have to be carried. Their vulnerability makes them desirable to men who are willing to carry them. Women in heels and unsuitable footwear need a man to escort them because they cannot be independent in shoes not meant for running.
Shoes that mean we need protection are a perverted reason we love shoes. As women we have been taught that a man will protect us. So, we need to be vulnerable (gag) so that some man will want to protect us. No matter what we say or do, we all have been socialized that men are protectors. This socialization is not entirely without merit. Men are usually stronger, usually taller, usually have more upper body strength. Of course, some women are better suited physically to be protectors than are some men.
Add to that the fact that men were socialized to use weapons and fists in play and for real, we have a dependent bunch of women looking to men for protection. Yes, it is sick. But, we all want to have a dainty daughter even if she can run, shoot, fight, and beat the snot out of any man.
Walking on tiptoes is not conducive to feeling physically powerful. However, we all know men are drawn to the women in heels who usually have other attributes exaggerated that make them powerful (appealing) on many levels.
Okay, I will quit now even though there is more.
Everything I said can be opposed with a real-world attitude or example. (You always wear boots and never heels or ballet flats.) However, I am not talking of the individual, but the centuries of attitudes and examples we humans emulate and use everyday to socialize the next generation. Everything we do reflects and reinforces attitudes and practices.
Great comment. I started to write a long reply, that was so long my computer logged me out and I lost it. As I said, I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot.
But you made good points:
1. Ballet flats — hyped as an alternative to heels, are not much better. No support and not enough fabric to hold them on, and no protection from the elements. At least a woman can stand on grass in them, though. But brisk or prolonged walking or running wouldn’t work.
2. Inability to run makes us targets, and makes us reliant on our men. It also puts the men in danger. Imagine a couple walking home from an event and getting mugged. The man could run, hide, get help — but he would have to leave the woman, who can’t get away. Men might feel macho in protection mode, but no one wants to get hurt.
3. Yes, there are always exceptions. There are women who say they have no problem in high heels, can walk fine, never need assistance and it never hurts. And there are women who never wear heels.
4. Socialization plays a big part. Heels seem to give a message that the girl/woman has hit puberty, is sexual, straight and for some heels the message is supposed to show promiscuity (stripper or f-me shoes). Recently, heels by certain (male) designers are also a sign of prosperity — with such shoes carrying price tags of $400 or more. This is not unlike the Chinese Foot Binding — the unusual gait that the broken feet caused was seen as sexy, as well as having a very small foot (look at the size of a foot print of a sneaker vs a high heel — a woman in high heels appear to have very small feet), and only the wealthiest of families could afford to hobble their daughters (making them unable to work), so there’s the prosperity part again. And when a girl/woman is “made over” she puts on heels.
5. It can be divisive, just like with foot-binding and corsetted women, these desirable traits could only be achieved by wealthy women. Now, the focus is on age (If she can’t wear the 6 in heels, she’s too old) and available assistance — be it a man, a chauffeur, a cab, valet parking, short commutes, back-up shoes. Women sometimes exclaim that the women who talk openly about the effects of women’s footwear are simply jealous because they are too old or too gay or too fat or ugly to wear them. The weight issue is another one. The women who wear heels best are slim, and short — less weight put on the tiny stiletto and the toes. So heels show that a woman is rich, young and thin. Hollywood mothers are seen in their heels and the captions say that motherhood hasn’t made her give up her heels – again, it’s a sexuality issue — madonna/whore. Don’t want to look like a “mom”? Then chase your toddler in heels. The message is that — I’m still sexy.
Ugh. This is too long. I’m obsessed. Thanks for your comment.
Exactly. some of those thoughts were flitting around while I was trying to be concise. It’s too bad that the prevailing notion in society is that helplessness in a woman makes her sexier. There is a core of competent, straight women who can handle power tools or budgets or physical challenges and don’t care who knows. It’s just too bad little girls see “learned helplessness” as the key to being sexually desirable.
My thirteen-year-old daughter and I put in an ac without help from anyone. I explained how it was going to be done and how the ac had to fit on the window sill and how the window lowered onto ac to hold it in place. When It was all over and plugged in, she stood back and looked proudly. “Mama, I can’t believe we did it all by ourselves.” I reminded her women could do lots of things and not to forget it.
These were not high-heel-friendly jobs.
It was a small, 110 AC, and we could stand on the ground outside to lift it in the low window. (I was divorced.) However, they all saw me do things around the house that their father could not figure out. Or, they heard me tell him how to do it when he failed or could not comprehend.
Several years later, I told her about my bout with the element I put into the oven. She listened on the phone, rapt. “I just cannot believe you really did that, all by yourself.”
Back to shoes…lol. I read that the more education a woman has, the lower her heels. However, I reasoned that the more education a woman has, the older she is and therefore more likely to have given up high heels because she was a mother, overweight, over the whole “sexy” shoe deal. I think a study comparing women of the same age and differing levels of education might be a good companion to the study.
I know you’ve read my other posts and know that I’ve done so many “jobs” around the house that (stereo)typically a man would do — mount a TV, rebuild stairs, lay flooring, lay slate, put up a fence . . . etc. My girls have seen me do this. I preach to them that you where the right shoes for the right job — i.e. work boots. Come to think of it, though, my girls don’t usually say that they can’t believe I’ve done these things, they must think it’s the norm. I wonder.
Back to shoes — the possible education correlation is fascinating. But if a woman goes straight through school she can have advanced degrees well before 30. But if she does have advanced degrees she’s probably working outside of the home, possibly in male dominated fields (law, medicine, etc.) and can’t afford not to be able to keep up with the boys. Also, a working woman may be dealing with sexual harassment or the glass ceiling and it would not serve her well to appear at a work related ball in stripper shoes if she wants to be taken seriously. The movie and TV stars and reality show stars are generally less educated because they started working so young – and they are buying, wearing and being photographed in the super high heels, which seem to be required. Many educated, professional women love and wear them – just not all the time. Interesting.
I think she was doubtful when I told her we were going to put it in but trusted me. I know she was proud that she, a child could accomplish this. Her father and his new wife of five years (at th time) hired “Mexicans” to do everything. They even hired people to pack their closets when they moved across the country. Neither turned a finger. My ex honestly could not remember how to screw in a light bulb for all 14 years we were married. So, she had no model of diy for men or women, except for me. He put me down all the time and his wife openly ridiculed me in front of my children. So, she had a view of me that was not true. He also looked down on any man who did any manual labor, even our friends who “helped” him while he crossed his arms and just watched
Yes, you have done lots of work around your place. I admire any woman, especially a professional woman, who does some of her own handiwork. My PhD friends at the university impress me with their handiwork, remodeling their homes and repairing things.
The study did not explore whether the women worked or not, just what height heels and their educational level. I never heard how the study was conducted, where, and how they searched for the informants. But, you have many good points that I did not even think of.
Oh my, your Ex seems like a piece of work. Your daughter is lucky that she has you to emulate, not just as a woman, but as a person who takes pride in her own work and respects the work of others, whether or not it’s manual labor.
As a lawyer, I know that women in real life don’t dress like the woman lawyers portrayed on TV — at least not for long. The hours are too long to build in added fatigue from shoes, and skirts that are too short can be a problem as well, see, My Most Embarrassing Moment post.
Again, that study sounds fascinating.
I personally know at least seven female lawyers from social situations over the last 20 years. I have seen one in the courtroom. None are dressed like attorneys on tv. My own attorney, a female that I had never met, before dresses like the ones on tv, made partner and continued to dress that way, but toned down a little. I had to meet her somewhere on her way home from work. She had shed the coat and heels for the hour drive home. That would never happen on tv.
The female attorneys in this small town rarely dress in heels. If they do, they wear them and then only wear sensible heels in the courtroom..