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Feb 01 2013

Fashion Friday: High Heels and Feminism

Can you be a feminist and still like high heels?

Well, obviously you can. Plenty of feminists like high heels. A better question would be: Is liking high heels consistent with being a feminist?

high heels xrayThe most standard feminist reaction to high-heeled shoes is that they’re oppressive and sexist. High heels hurt. They’re terrible for your feet: they can do real injury, both short-term and long-term. They restrict your movement. They’re hard to walk in. They’re hard to run in, making women more vulnerable to attack. And the cultural equation of painful, disabling, restrictive footwear with beauty and femininity is oppressive and sexist.

I won’t argue with any of that.

blue suede high heelsOn the other hand… I like them. I don’t like wearing them all the time; but I like wearing them sometimes. I think they’re beautiful. I think they’re sexy. I think some of them walk an interesting line between fashion and fetish… a line that I find intriguing and compelling. I think some of them are works of sheer art. I think some outfits just don’t look right without them. I don’t want to wear them every day, or even every week… but for some special occasions, they make me really happy.

And as a feminist, my basic position on shoes is pretty much the same as my position on fashion in general, the same as my position on abortion and birth control and porn and sex work and weight management: My body. My right to decide.

So I read something recently that shed an interesting light on this whole question. It’s a piece about high heels in the Bitchslap column in McSweeney’s, by self-defense instructor and karate black belt Susan Schorn. Most of the piece is critical of high heels: specifically, it’s critical of how wearing high heels makes you look at the ground more, which makes you look (and possibly feel) weaker and less confident and more vulnerable. But she also says this:

Wearing high heels also shortens the calf muscle and Achilles tendon and stresses the toes. High heels contort your spine. They are bad for your body, especially for your feet. Of course, karate can be bad for your feet too. It has certainly taken a toll on mine. I’m currently re-growing the big toenail on my right foot for either the third or fourth time. I’ve lost count. I blew out the big toenail on the other foot once or twice as well. I’ve had a stress fracture in my right arch, and I’m pretty sure I broke a toe in my left foot at some point but I never got it X-rayed. I just know it hurts when the weather changes. Karate and high heels are probably equal offenders in terms of their impact on feet.

I wonder: How many anti-high-heel feminists would tell Ms. Schorn not to do karate because of how terrible it is for your feet?

So here’s what it is for me.

I don’t have an objection to high heels.

tom-ford-padlock-pumpsI have an objection to women being pressured into wearing high heels. I have an objection to the idea that you have to wear high heels to be beautiful or sexy or feminine. I have an objection to the fashion trends that make it almost impossible for a woman to be really dressy without high heels. I have a powerful objection to any expectation or demand whatsoever that women wear high heels in the workplace. I have a powerful objection to any social or economic pressures that make wearing high heels necessary for women to advance in their careers, or that give women who do wear high heels a career advantage over women who don’t. (As is the same case in some careers. And not just fashion.)

The reality is that, in a sexist culture, there is no way for women to win. It’s wrong if we dress too slutty; it’s wrong if we dress too prudishly. It’s wrong if we’re too feminine; it’s wrong if we’re too masculine. It’s wrong if we’re too pretty, we’ll get seen as trivial bimbos; it’s wrong if we’re too ugly, we’ll get dismissed on the spot. Navigating these impossible shoals, trying to express or even find your true self among all this noise, is baffling and exhausting.

So unless we’re doing something that actually and seriously hurts other people, then as much as possible, I want women to respect the directions that other women are taking when they navigate these shoals. If women say they love wearing high heels all the time, if they say it makes them feel powerful and commanding and generally awesome, I feel that I ought to take them at their word. After all, when I say that I love kinky sex, that I love watching porn, that I loved working as a stripper, I want other women to take me at my word. So it’s only right for me to return the favor.

I have no problem whatsoever with women choosing to wear shoes that hurt and damage their feet. Any more than I have a problem with women choosing to take up martial arts that hurt and damage their feet.

I just want a world where that’s really a free choice.

(Somewhat tangential side note, although it’s not really tangential: High heels weren’t always a marker of femininity, and weren’t always associated with women. They were originally created for men — specifically for soldiers to wear on horseback, as they kept feet more securely in stirrups. They then filtered into the aristocracy, where for a century they were worn by both men and women. A fascinating history, with lots of weird twists and turns.)

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  1. 1
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    There’s another thing: I want women to be as educated about the effects of high-heels as they are on the effects of smoking and drinking. If we then manage to remove the pressure to wear them, women can make an informed decision on whether to wear them or not. We do lots of things that are ultimately detrimental to our health for the sake of pleasure. That’s the whole reason why chocolate was invented.
    But I remember what people told me when I made and wore my first Victorian corset. *eyeroll*
    And actually, it’s a lot like with high-heels: They limit you while you wear them, they have serious effects if you wear them always, but it’s none of anybody else’s business.

  2. 2
    Nicole Introvert

    “I have an objection to women being pressured into wearing high heels. ”

    YES YES YES!

    I don’t wear high heels but I’d love to! My body does not allow it. I get severe achilles tendonitis whenever I’ve tried. One evening in a wedge will usually be okay, but continued use is out of the picture. I felt really awesome wearing heels at work when I had gotten a promotion to assistant branch manager at my job a few years back. Only to quickly be reduced to seeing members in my office, with BOTH of my feet propped in a chair with ice packs rotating every 15 minutes.

    Very thankful that my place of business did not give me any promotions because of the heels or thinks less of me because I wear more “sensible” shoes now. (New Balance makes some cute dress shoes under the name Aravon if you have sensitive feets like me!)

    Like the woman who does Karate, I have damaged my feet/legs enough with my running habit, and that is my preference.

    Also, the same ideas for heels can be said about make-up.

  3. 3
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    Heels give me an ass XD

  4. 4
    Gregory in Seattle

    “My body. My right to decide.”

    And the argument should end there: as long as a person is making her own informed choices, then they are her choices to make. Isn’t that the central message of feminism?

  5. 5
    Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion

    Yep. Pretty much just… yep.

    I personally detest high heels, for the sole reason that I can’t wear them without intense pain, leg cramping and possibility of death-by-uncoordination-related-falling-on-pointy-thing. I’d love for there to be more variety in shoes – like ‘sexy’ shoes that are wearable by us non-heelers.
    I went shopping the other day in a burlesque shop. GORGEOUS shoes, but I found every single pair that I wanted to complete my outfit was a high heel. Even a short heel isn’t any good, my calf muscles cramp if I so much as flex them the wrong way for too long. Heck, my -foot- muscles cramp more than twice a week.

    I like the look (in fact, if there were one kind of heel I’d wear for sexy purposes it’d be ballet boots. YES. VERY YES.) but I’d love a way to replicate it that didn’t involve massive amounts of pain, which I find decidedly unsexy.

  6. 6
    rowanvt

    I don’t wear high heels because for the most part I don’t wear dresses that would look good with them. But I’m also in the position where heels cannot hurt me when I do wear them.

    I actually learned to walk, as a baby, on my toes. I feel most comfortable to this day walking on the balls of my feet. It took me years of concentrated effort as a teenager to walk flat footed and for a long time it *hurt*.

  7. 7
    Gretchen

    Greta said:

    I wonder: How many anti-high-heel feminists would tell Ms. Schorn not to do karate because of how terrible it is for your feet?

    This question is beside the point, isn’t it? The feminist objection to high heels isn’t simply that they’re terrible for your feet. It’s that they’re terrible for your feet in the service of appearing sexually attractive. Incurring discomfort– sometimes severe discomfort– vulnerability, and possible injury for the sake of appearing sexy.

    So much of “sexy” clothing for women is not just impractical and uncomfortable, but actively restrictive and painful. And it sure seems like that’s part of the point. A woman who is restricted is more fragile, less mobile, more vulnerable– even if she’s a dominatrix carrying a whip at the time.

    There are a lot of dimensions to sexy clothing, I know. But– especially if the sexiness is on the part of a woman and directed to men– it can generally be characterized as restrictive, tight, and/or revealing. While tight and/or revealing clothing can also be restrictive, it doesn’t have to be. So I tend to skip that dimension entirely, because fuck being in pain to be attractive.

    Not as an absolute rule, and certainly not a rule for other people– they should do what makes them happy. But by and large, high heels make me anything but happy, no matter how sexy they might make me look.

  8. 8
    irisvanderpluym

    Sophia – I feel your pain (ha!). I was happy to see wedges and platforms come back in style (e.g. this). The upshot is the effect of a high heel without the extreme arching of the foot — and a much more stable footprint.

  9. 9
    Cuttlefish

    http://www.sinfest.net/archive_page.php?comicID=4532

    Today’s Sinfest seems appropriate.

  10. 10
    Strewth

    I am a man who sometimes wears high heels because they make me feel sexy. I would have to agree that the problem is the expectations that women are required to have heels to be sexy, and that women are required to be sexy. People should have free choice of fashion.

    It also occurs to me that in nature it is often the male animal which sports the extravagant, impractical feature or behavior, like the peacock’s tail or the bower bird’s collection. And yet this conspicuous showing off ‘I’m so amazing I can afford to make it easier for predators to get me, or afford to spend time gathering things other than food’ does seem to be an advantageous adaptation in some species.

  11. 11
    scramble

    In addition to the skeptic blogs, I cruise the sewing blogs, and Peter over at Male Pattern Boldness had a good post the other day comparing modern high heels to vintage high heels:
    http://malepatternboldness.blogspot.ca/2013/01/things-i-dont-get-vol-10-contemporary.html

    Basically, his assessment is that modern heels are much higher, narrower and harder to walk in than vintage heels (and he uses heels on the semi-regular, so he knows). My personal experience has been exactly the same. And, he made me think about another element in this conversation about choice-the lack of variety available to modern consumers of shoes. Not only are there very few dressy non-heeled shoes out there, there are very few dressy low-heeled, wide-heeled or cuban-heeled shoes out there. If you’re shopping for stylish footwear, too often you get to choose between stilettos and stilettos. Stilettos are *beautiful*, but they don’t express my personal style at all. Nor can I walk in them. Also, it’s just really boring and irritating when every shoe store carries the same damn thing. Variety, people!

    So, until modern shoe designers offer me something I actually want, it’s vintage heels for me. (Except you, Fluevog. You get a pass for offering a range of heels and heights.)

  12. 12
    roscoe

    This issue of female attractiveness has always fascinated me.

    I’ve seen many female friends/acquaintances shoehorn themselves into various fashion contraptions, squeezing and pushing and shaping themselves into something they think is “sexy” yet causes much discomfort. I used to ask them, “Why do you do this to yourself?” The response was always some variation of “I look good.” I then would say, “Shouldn’t you worry more about your class/job than what some man thinks of your appearance?” The response was always some variation of “I’m doing it so I look good, not for some man.”

    Seems like it’s the women doing it to themselves. No one forces them to buy high heels. Yet, there’s some (possibly genetic) compulsion to “look good.” Female self-esteem seems to be based (at least in part) on level of attractiveness. Looking good makes them feel good about themselves. Since the genetic component of this tendency isn’t going away anytime soon, is it even possible to shift attitudes away from physical appearance?

    As a side note, what about sneaker pumps? Are they as uncomfortable as standard high heels? Do they bridge the gap between fashion and function?

  13. 13
    Jadehawk

    I reject the notion that in order to accept and support a woman’s choices in navigating patriarchy, I can’t criticize the choices patriarchy gives us. I’m not going to criticize a woman for wearing heels (or makeup, for that matter); and if she finds pleasure or empowerment in this, that’s great. But that doesn’t mean I won’t criticize patriarchal aspects of high-heels (and make-up). That includes the extreme pressure to wear them, but it also includes the cultural construction of sexy = constricting/unhealthy, sexy=expensive, etc. which work by other means than peer pressure, but have similar results, nonetheless.

    And I say that as someone who does on occasion enjoy both heels and make-up (I am of this culture, too, after all)

  14. 14
    Jadehawk

    Yet, there’s some (possibly genetic) compulsion to “look good.”

    *groan*

  15. 15
    Jadehawk

    Since the genetic component of this tendency isn’t going away anytime soon

    citation needed, for both the existence of this component, and its non-malleability.

  16. 16
    bubba707

    High heels are bad for your feet, legs and back therefore my wife refuses to wear them. I fully support that. They make no sense at all from a practical standpoint

  17. 17
    Gretchen

    Jadehawk said:

    I’m not going to criticize a woman for wearing heels (or makeup, for that matter); and if she finds pleasure or empowerment in this, that’s great. But that doesn’t mean I won’t criticize patriarchal aspects of high-heels (and make-up). That includes the extreme pressure to wear them, but it also includes the cultural construction of sexy = constricting/unhealthy, sexy=expensive, etc. which work by other means than peer pressure, but have similar results, nonetheless.

    And I say that as someone who does on occasion enjoy both heels and make-up (I am of this culture, too, after all)

    Exactly. “Stupid cultural pressure.” Not “stupid victims of cultural pressure.”

    This is an easy distinction to make when the victims are where the harm stops. Muddier when the pressure causes them to harm someone else in turn.

  18. 18
    maddog1129

    I have had a lifelong antipathy to “women’s” clothing like skirts and what passes for fashionable shoes. It always impressed me as something invented by men to keep women trapped. Boys were never vulnerable to exposure merely by the wind, nor prevented from running by their footwear. I don’t “get” the fascination with “shoes,” although I have seen some things that strike me as artistic in form. I think people should wear what they want, and what they like. Personally, I don’t like and don’t wear high heels, or hard heeled shoes. I’ve been exceedingly lucky that it has not cost me, in the employment arena.

  19. 19
    Strewth

    Roscoe, did it ever occur to you that people – men and women both, sometimes like to dress their best to look good to THEMSELVES?

  20. 20
    erinmcc

    i have all the same objections that you do for why i dont like heels, but my biggest objection is the WHY women wear heels now. its to fit some fabricated ideal of beauty where long legs, height, and flexed calf muscles are almost required.

    whats wrong with feeling sexy as yourself? why do we have to paint our faces, squish our boobs together, and wear articles of clothing that damage our bodies? thats not sexy, its crazy. confidence is what is sexy. some women seem to get that confidence from doing those crazy things. i would rather women learn to be confident in themselves as beautiful, not that heels, makeup or fashion make you more beautiful.

    i havent owned high heels in 25 years. last time i wore 1″ pumps was probably when i got married 18 years ago, and that was only because finding nice flats is impossible. to me, wearing those things, regardless of the personal reason, condones the use of them against women. if we all are still willing to wear them, if we accept their use, then we accept that they can be used against us. if we all refuse to wear them, well…. solidarity and all that jazz.

    karate and heels, to try to compare the two is silly. karate has a lot of other benefits to weigh against the damage to feet, heels simply do not. i would never tell a woman not to do karate because of potential damage to her feet. but heels? yeah, dont wear those, they are bad for your feet, and feminism.

  21. 21
    Gregory in Seattle

    I was looking stuff up to respond to something, and I found this article in Psychology Today. It seems relevant to this discussion.

    Do Sexy Women Really Feel Good About Themselves?

    The sexualizing of women and girls is, according to many, pervasive in Western culture. Even as women gain footholds in many fields of employment, they are increasingly portrayed in the media in ways that emphasize their sexuality. Indeed, many mall store chains offer highly sexualized women’s attire, from Victoria’s Secret to Charlotte Russe, to take just two examples. The most stylish options for girls and young women include push-up bras, low-cut tank tops, ultra short shorts, sequined dresses, stilettos with heavy leather straps, and sweat pants that say “Pink” or “Juicy” across the back. Women see other women wearing these clothes, especially when those women are perfectly-endowed young adult female models.

    Some might argue that the wearing of these highly sexualized clothes is a form of post-feminist self-expression or a Circe-like way to exert power over men. Yet, the question remains about whether by presenting themselves in a stereotypically sexualized manner, women are actually subjugating themselves even more to a male-dominated society.

    The article was written by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., and published October 16, 2012, so at first glance there doesn’t seem to be room for dismissing it as male privilege or being outdated.

  22. 22
    Pieter B, FCD

    maddog@16

    Boys were never vulnerable to exposure merely by the wind

    Never? (mildly NSFW)

  23. 23
    Greta Christina

    i have all the same objections that you do for why i dont like heels, but my biggest objection is the WHY women wear heels now. its to fit some fabricated ideal of beauty where long legs, height, and flexed calf muscles are almost required.

    whats wrong with feeling sexy as yourself? why do we have to paint our faces, squish our boobs together, and wear articles of clothing that damage our bodies? thats not sexy, its crazy. confidence is what is sexy. some women seem to get that confidence from doing those crazy things. i would rather women learn to be confident in themselves as beautiful, not that heels, makeup or fashion make you more beautiful.

    i havent owned high heels in 25 years. last time i wore 1″ pumps was probably when i got married 18 years ago, and that was only because finding nice flats is impossible. to me, wearing those things, regardless of the personal reason, condones the use of them against women. if we all are still willing to wear them, if we accept their use, then we accept that they can be used against us. if we all refuse to wear them, well…. solidarity and all that jazz.

    karate and heels, to try to compare the two is silly. karate has a lot of other benefits to weigh against the damage to feet, heels simply do not. i would never tell a woman not to do karate because of potential damage to her feet. but heels? yeah, dont wear those, they are bad for your feet, and feminism.

    erinmcc @#18: And that is exactly — EXACTLY — the attitude I’m complaining about.

    Is it possible, as Jadehawk and Gretchen suggest above, for feminists to criticize the sexist aspects of high heels, and the pressures often placed on women to wear them — without turning against women who choose to wear them? Can we please have a feminism that acknowledges that other women make different choices about managing the tricky-to-impossible questions of how to participate in a sexist culture, and that other women experience empowerment in a sexist culture differently than you do? Can we please have a feminism that recognizes how difficult these choices are, and that supports other women in their right to make those choices however they damn well see fit? Can we please have a feminism where feminists aren’t the ones parsing and scolding other women about what they choose to do with their bodies?

    I have had a lifetime of being told, by other feminists, that I’m hurting feminism and am not in solidarity because I’m: using dildos, having sex with men, having kinky sex, taking joy in fashion and style, working as a stripper, watching porn, performing in porn, posing for a nude calendar, managing my weight. To hell with that. I want a feminism where women support each other in our choices about our bodies — not one that seeks to restrict those choices even further, not one that adds another voice to the ubiquitous chorus of, “You’re doing it wrong.” The only feminism I want to part of is the one that holds as one of its deepest principles: “My body. My right to decide.”

  24. 24
    naturalcynic

    What I am wondering about is the change i perspective that -5 in. high heels give to women. The added height should give a first impression advantage to women who are, on average, about 5 inches shorter than men. Looking at an average sized man eye-to-eye may give some of the added confidence that some attribute to high heels. As a man, I do seem to have a slightly different attitude towards women closer to my height as a first impression of some sort of power dynamic.

  25. 25
    maddog1129

    @ Peter B #20

    ;) In my local culture (USA) no one I grew up with wore a kilt. So, yeah, speaking from my own experience only, where boys wore t-shirts and jeans, “never.” Even in Scotland, that’s an outlier; most people don’t wear kilts. Though I confess to being something of a Caledoniaphile (my made-up Scots equivalent of “anglophile”), and I think a guy looks good in a kilt. Women, too, if it comes to that; I’ve seen plenty of women in kilts @ Scottish Dance competitions.

  26. 26
    erinmcc

    Greta Christina @#21

    i understand my position is exactly the position you were complaining about, which is why i put it out there. dissenting opinions are not necessarily bad, they just offer a different perspective. i believe we should often challenge our own ideas, one way to do that is exposure to those dissenting opinions.

    at this point in our culture, no i dont think we can have a feminism where women can openly participate in sexist culture and call it all ok. the participation keeps it going and marks it as acceptable. we may still eventually reach a point where it is no longer sexism and just empowering, but that point is much farther off than if we all just stood up right now and called it what it is. as long as women buy makeup and spend a fortune for a pair of heels, whether in the name of sexism or empowerment, then the sexism will continue for a good long while.

    is there that much of a difference in a man telling a woman she should wear heels because they make her sexy and a women telling herself she should wear heals because they make her sexy? external and internal influences, yes, but they are both predicated on the idea that a woman is only sexy when she fits certain ideals. rather than challenge only the external influences, i say challenge both.

    i dont think someone who is “anti-heels” is restricting your choices or telling you that you are doing it wrong. any more than you are trying to tell *me* that i am doing feminism wrong. or maybe i am confused, and you are? but i dont think so.

    if you want to participate in something that is innately sexist in a sexist culture, thats your right. but i dont think that any feminist has the ultimate right in calling everything she does non-sexist simply because its being done by a feminist and called empowering. it may be empowering, to you specifically, but it can also still perpetuate the stereotypes and sexism at the same time.

  27. 27
    Karla Porter

    I’m curious to know if this post was written to be serious or to be sensationalist in order to elicit passionate responses. In all my years of human capital management, workforce development, HR management, recruitment consulting and career coaching, I have never once had a woman bring up a dilemma regarding high heels. I have interviewed tens of hundreds of women over the years, many times as part of a panel interview or succession of interviewers and never heard comments on why a candidate had flat shoes on. I myself have not worn heels since 1988 even one time and have no questions in my mind that I have not been regarded incapable or undesirable as a candidate, director, consultant, keynote, organizer – or any other hat I wear. My feeling is that if there is the sense of pressure to wear a certain style of shoe it comes from within.

  28. 28
    Eristae

    whats wrong with feeling sexy as yourself? why do we have to paint our faces, squish our boobs together, and wear articles of clothing that damage our bodies? thats not sexy, its crazy. confidence is what is sexy. some women seem to get that confidence from doing those crazy things. i would rather women learn to be confident in themselves as beautiful, not that heels, makeup or fashion make you more beautiful.

    I think that the assertion that we should “feel sexy as ourselves” is bunk. Everyone allows for an interest in physical appearance; the only difference in what kind of interest is allowed. For example, are women allowed to buy fitted shirts, or must they wear unfitted clothing which, by nature, causes no physical harm but causes said women to look much heavier than they are? Are we allowed to throw away clothing that is stained, worn, and full of holes, but is nevertheless functional? Are we allowed to have hair, despite the fact that hair requires all manner of upkeep and can get caught in all kinds of things? If so, why do the rules change regarding things like makeup and hair dye? Because a lot of people would be perfectly fine with me spending lots of time/energy/money on having hair, but would sneer at any time spent dying my hair, despite the fact that the goal of both is ultimately physical appearance.

    Furthermore, insisting that women not alter their physical appearance doesn’t detract from the demand that women look a certain way; it only makes women unable to do anything to achieve it. An example from my own life would be that of hair color. When I was younger, I had bright red hair, and people regularly complimented me for it. As I got older, people began asking me more and more if I dyed it; when I said I did not, they expressed scorn for hair dying in general. And now that my hair is darker and less red than it was when I was younger, I find myself in an uncomfortable but enlightening position: When I naturally had red hair, I was allowed and even encouraged to love having red hair, but now I’m not supposed to want the exact same thing. Whether or not I was allowed to have such “pretty” red hair was (and still is) only socially acceptable if it was dictated by my genetics rather than my own desires. What the fuck is up with that?

    karate and heels, to try to compare the two is silly. karate has a lot of other benefits to weigh against the damage to feet, heels simply do not. i would never tell a woman not to do karate because of potential damage to her feet. but heels? yeah, dont wear those, they are bad for your feet, and feminism.

    Why wouldn’t you tell a woman not to do karate for her own physical health if you are willing to do so about heels? I ask this in all seriousness; I don’t understand where people draw the line kind of thing. I quit Tae kwon do precisely because of the encouragement to be willing to injure one’s body, to ignore pain and damage done to one’s body, and all in all risk one’s health in a way I wasn’t interested in. If I were interested in imposing my own personal feelings about personal body use on other people, basically any physical activity with a potentially competitive aspect or one that encourages continuing on in spite of physical pain would be out. No karate, no Tae Kwon Do, no soccer, no football, no tennis, no volleyball, no racquetball, no . . . well, you get the idea. If my personal preferences dictated how everyone acted, we’d all end up doing swimming or Yoga or something.

    But I don’t think that it’s good, helpful, or constructive to try to dictate the actions of others, both in regards to heels and karate. In the end, we all have to make our own decisions about what we’re willing to do with our bodies. Sure, I may not wear high heels at all (surprise surprise?), but I do spend a significant amount of time sitting at the computer (which recent studies say is absolutely terrible for your health) for no better reason than I like doing it.

  29. 29
    maddog1129

    I had another thought, suggested by other posts on FtB today … it’s “World Hijab Day,” apparently, and some people are suggesting that it’s a time for women to explore if they want to wear the hijab for themselves, and not because it is dictated by Muslim/Islamist rules or sensibilities. I have seen considerable pushback against women who say that they like and want to wear the hijab, to the effect that doing so in a time period when the hijab is symbolic of patriarchal oppression of women ends up having those women who choose to wear the hijab de facto supporting the oppressive culture. I wonder if women’s shoes (high heels) aren’t something of the same thing?

  30. 30
    Greta Christina

    erinmcc @ #24: A couple of smaller points, and then the larger one.

    There is a difference between a woman telling herself that she should wear heels because they make her feel sexy, and a woman telling herself that she would like to wear heels because they make her feel sexy. There is a difference between a woman thinking that she is only sexy when she fits certain ideals, and a woman thinking that she is sometimes sexy when she fits some ideals — or when she plays with those ideals, and mixes up the ideals with very- much- not- ideals in subversive ways.

    And I did not advocate for feminists to participate in sexist culture and call it okay. I spent significant space in this piece discussing the things that were not okay with this aspect of sexist culture. The alternative to participating in sexist culture is being a hermit. So I advocated for feminists to participate in sexist culture, when it comes to matter of their own bodies, in ways that work for them. And I advocated for feminists to support other women in those choices — or at least, to not scold them for hurting feminism and not being in solidarity.

    And nowhere did I say that everything a feminist does is non-sexist simply because it’s being done by a feminist and called empowering. I didn’t mean that, and I didn’t say it. My point is that the question of how we can participate in sexist culture, in a way that’s empowering and that doesn’t perpetuate sexism (or that reduces and limits how much we perpetuate it and attempts to counter-balance it) is a very complicated and difficult one, that it’s almost never a simple matter of either/or and usually a matter of “where on the spectrum” and “where does the balance lie”… and that it’s a personal choice. Especially when it comes to questions of what we do with our own bodies. And feminists ought to remember this when they’re tempted to scold other feminists for doing it wrong.

    Which brings me to the larger point.

    Who gets to decide?

    Who gets to decide whether makeup is sexist or not-sexist? Who gets to decide if high heels are sexist or not-sexist… and how high the heels have to be before they’re sexist? Is a one-inch heel okay? Two inches? Who gets to decide if porn is sexist? Some porn, or all porn by definition? Who gets to decide if weight management is sexist? Is weight management okay only for health reasons, and how serious to do those health reasons have to be before weight management isn’t sexist anymore? Who gets to decide if watching television is sexist? Which TV shows are okay? Who gets to decide if dildos are sexist? Who gets to decide if having sex with men is sexist?

    Do we really want a feminism where we’re constantly parsing these questions for each other, and scolding each other for doing it wrong — i.e., differently from how we would do it? Do we really want a feminism where, instead of wearing high heels because that’s what sexist culture tells us to do, we wear flat shoes because that’s what feminist culture tells us to do… without regard for what we, ourselves, want to do? Do we really want a feminism where you don’t get to be in the club if you don’t do everything right? And who gets to decide what’s right?

    You did tell me that I was doing it wrong. You told every feminist who likes to wear high heels that we are hurting feminism and not in solidarity. I’ve been through that. I spent way too much time during the Feminist Dildo Wars having every aspect of what I do with my body parsed by other feminists, and found wanting. I don’t want that feminism. I am more than fine with a feminism that speaks out about the ways in which high heels are sexist and otherwise harmful, and that speaks out against the pressures on women to wear them whether they like it or not. I am not fine with a feminism that accuses women of being bad feminists and not in solidarity because they weigh these issues in the balance and then make their own decisions about where they want their own bodies to be in that balance. I want a feminism that says, “These are hard questions, here is some information and some ideas that may help you decide… but this is your decision, and we will support you in that. Your body. Your right to decide.”

  31. 31
    Greta Christina

    In all my years of human capital management, workforce development, HR management, recruitment consulting and career coaching, I have never once had a woman bring up a dilemma regarding high heels.

    Karla Porter @ #25: The fact that the issue was never brought up openly, in words, does not mean it was not an issue. And even if it wasn’t an issue at all in your particular workplace, that doesn’t mean it isn’t in others.

    And yes, the piece is intended seriously.

  32. 32
    erinmcc

    Erista (aka Eris) @#26
    “Furthermore, insisting that women not alter their physical appearance doesn’t detract from the demand that women look a certain way; it only makes women unable to do anything to achieve it.”

    i would amend that to say it only makes SOME women unable to do anything to achieve it. some women will never be able to achieve the demanded appearance, putting them at even further disadvantage to those that can. my point is that if we ALL refuse to fulfill the demand, then the demand is null and void. to overly simplify it, if we all refuse to wear high heels to get a job, then the employers will have no choice but to hire those without heels (or men, granted, but that would give you a nice sexism case whereas with heels, you have nothing).

    karate, tae kwon do, and other athletics offer benefits such as health, confidence, and discipline that can outweigh the risk of damage to feet. furthermore, your instructors teaching you to ignore pain and injure yourself are poor instructors. its unfortunate that that teaching is so pervasive in some athletics, but you can participate in such things in a safer way. more importantly, they dont give these benefits in a sexist way. heels dont offer such benefits, and what women do get from it comes from a sexist basis.

    and i get you on the red hair. i, too, had copper hair as a young woman. its now a darker, duller color, and i lament the loss of my hair color that i loved. but i do try to be content with what i have now, as its ME, and perfectly acceptable. it does its job of covering my lumpy skull and keeping my ears warm when i go outside in 15 degree weather =) i colored it once as a treat to myself on mothers day several years back, but it just pointed out how little i am interested in keeping up on such a thing for appearances sake, no matter how much i miss my hair color.

    maddog1129 @#27
    succinctly said, exactly my point. participation in is acceptance of.

  33. 33
    malta

    I’m a very recent graduate and one of the messages that I got from career services was that skirts and high heels were a must wear at interviews. (I have, of course, consistently ignored this message and am pleased to say that I’m gainfully employed.) So I’m not sure how much of a different it makes, but it is definitely still a message being given to young women in the year 2012 and I know other people who follow that advice just to be on the safe side.

    Greta, I’ve enjoyed your posts arguing that clothing is a language and that we communicate through our sartorial choices. One of the reasons I don’t wear high heels or skirts at interviews or work is because I don’t want to send the signal that I think either is required for a professional outfit. I’m not really sure how to parse the line between my own clothing choices and culture because I don’t have a way to wear clothing independent of culture.

    To put it in atheist terms, if I really enjoyed church choirs and went to church on Sunday just to listen to the music, I would worry what other people assumed based on my attendance. Likewise, I think a man wearing high heels and a skirt to work would be a profoundly feminist act. (BTW, thanks for linking that article, it was great!) So I guess my objection to your proposal is that “Choose your choice!” has the potential to lock in place unequal paradigms (high heels = dressy) and gives cover to misogynists to say stuff like “oh, she just wears high heels because she wants to!”

    Or maybe I just don’t like heels very much and it’s nice to pretend I have a political message when I’m actually just wearing what I would wear anyway. (Gotta admit, this is probably the real reason.)

  34. 34
    erinmcc

    Greta Christina @#28
    “My point is that the question of how we can participate in sexist culture, in a way that’s empowering and that doesn’t perpetuate sexism (or that reduces and limits how much we perpetuate it and attempts to counter-balance it) is a very complicated and difficult one, that it’s almost never a simple matter of either/or and usually a matter of “where on the spectrum” and “where does the balance lie”… and that it’s a personal choice.”

    i would agree that it is a personal choice, and it is very complicated to live in the world we live in and navigate it the best way we can.

    but you asked a question, “Is liking high heels consistent with being a feminist?” and my answer to that was no. if it promotes sexism, even if your personal action “reduces and limits how much we perpetuate it and attempts to counter-balance it”, then it is still sexist and isnt strictly consistent with being a feminist.

    the question that should be asked is, can we like high heels and still be a feminist? that answer would be yes. we are each individuals, we are not only feminists. i highly doubt there are many, if any, women out there that completely uphold strictly to feminist views, some of which are subjective anyway as this entire argument points out. and its ok for any woman to choose to do something that is historically sexist, but it shouldnt be done under the guise that its totally empowering and not at all sexist, or that it doesnt hurt feminism because a woman is choosing to do it.

    i am not trying to tell you that you are doing feminism wrong. if i was, i would say exactly that, i am pretty blunt like that. but participating in something that perpetuates sexism? yes that does hurt feminism, probably not intentionally and for some women i am sure there is little real choice sometimes. but the consequences are the same regardless of intention or reason.

    i also wont try to make judgements on how high a heel has to be to be sexist, altho most of my comments are strictly about high heels. all those things you list, porn, dildos, sex with men (is that really a sexist claim??), weight management, makeup…. i would contend that most of them are often subjective, and therefore we each make our own decisions. how things are used matter when i make those judgement calls for myself, mascara to give yourself ridiculously long 1 ” eyelashes is not the same as foundation to cover burn scars. ultimately, its your choice and your right to say high heels arent sexist, but its also my right to say they are.

    i, too, want a world where the choice to wear heels or do karate is a free choice. and in this world, mostly it is a free choice. but it isnt necessarily a choice without consequences.

  35. 35
    Jadehawk

    I’m curious to know if this post was written to be serious or to be sensationalist in order to elicit passionate responses.

    I’m so glad you live in a universe in which this doesn’t happen: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2009/09/16/us-britain-shoes-heels-idUKTRE58F3WL20090916

  36. 36
    bubba707

    Hey maddog, I’m in the USA and I wear a kilt now and then just because I like to. The reactions I get from folks is a real hoot. Normally though I’m wearing BDU and cargo pants just because they’re practical for what I’m doing. As for footwear I stick with hiking boots or military boots for comfort and practicality. My wife is another one that goes for practical and comfortable and prefers flats and hiking boots.

  37. 37
    rocko2466

    @33 – Jadehawk, did you even read the link you posted? Read it the whole way through.

    It makes no mention of there being actual pressure on women to wear heels.

    In fact, the controversy was about whether or not the union was proposing to ban heels.

  38. 38
    Eristae

    @erinmcc

    I originally wrote up a different post in response to what you wrote, but ultimately I decided to focus on the issue that is most important to me.

    To be honest, the stance you are advocating for makes me want to weep because it is, ultimately, a demand that women disempower themselves. I believe that this is in fact the opposite of what you are aiming for, but it’s the truth, at least to me, because I lived for years subscribing to said stance.

    There has been no time in my life where I was less happy with my body than when I believed I had no right to do with it what I pleased, a time where I felt that my body must be subject only to physical processes that I could not control, had never been able to control, and would never be able to control. I cannot express to you how horrible that was, to be living in a body I felt I did not own, a body I felt I owed to other people. I mustn’t be allowed to trick people into thinking I was beautiful, you see; if I wanted to be beautiful, it had to be an act of nature, not an act of me. My upper lip was basically the same color as the rest of my face and my lower lip was not? I had no right to wear lip gloss to make my lips darker or even out the tone; only those with good genes were allowed to look like that. My eyelashes and eyebrows were much paler than my hair? The only course left to me was to lament that I had not been born differently. Ah, I hated my body so much because it was an enemy, a traitor, a hostile vessel that I had to learn to resign myself with rather than a glorious instrument to live in and live as.

    The ultimate issue wasn’t whether or not I was physically attractive. In fact, I believe that my level of physical attractiveness had nothing to do with it. Instead, the ultimate issue was the demand that I be a passive occupant of my own body, not an active participant in it. I used to look into the mirror and feel anger, guilt, shame, and grief that I had not lucked out in the genetic lottery, but now I look into the mirror and see my choices, my will, my desires, my actions.

    It’s funny, actually. I look at my body now and feel empowered even when I’m not altering my appearance. The current make-up wearing me is happier with how I look without makeup than the past me who didn’t wear makeup, and it all comes from standing in a place of self-power rather than a place of inert submission. When I’m not wearing makeup, it’s because it’s what I chose, not because it was a decision someone else made and demanded I conform to. I’m not trapped any longer. I decided, not you, not the random genetic shuffle, not some random group of men on a street corner. Me. I cannot begin to express how giddy it makes me to be able to say, “You don’t get to tell me what to do with my body.” Ah, the power of it! To turn my back on judgment, to shake off peer pressure and societal control, to be the author and director of my own being.

    In the end, it horrifies me that that my choice to not wear makeup wasn’t compromised by people who demanded that I wear makeup. Instead, it was taken away from me by people who demanded that I not wear it. I cannot remember even a single time that I was scorned or made to feel ashamed by people who felt I should wear makeup. Instead, that came from those who felt that no one should wear makeup. It’s not possible to demand that I not wear makeup and also have me be empowered because demanding that I not wear makeup is, by its very nature, a demand that I subjugate myself to someone else’s will.

    And that’s where the problem lies: not with makeup, not with heels, not with hair dye, but with the belief that women must not be allowed to make their own decisions about any of the above. To decide for a woman that she must not wear makeup is no less robbing her of her autonomy than deciding that she must. That lack of autonomy is what tormented me, and I believe that it is this same lack of autonomy that causes problems when people decide that women must wear makeup.

    I’m sorry that I’ve gone off rambling, but this is actually a pretty emotional topic for me. My childhood and adolescence was defined by not being able to make my own decisions about my body (and no, I’m not talking about makeup now). The ownership of my body isn’t something I’m willing to lose again.

  39. 39
    erinmcc

    Erista (aka Eris) @#35
    “I mustn’t be allowed to trick people into thinking I was beautiful, you see; if I wanted to be beautiful, it had to be an act of nature, not an act of me.”

    i guess thats the difference, because i believe you already were beautiful.

    to me, beauty is in being natural. its being who we are, natural physical animals in this natural world. beauty is not face paint, push up bras, shaved legs, and high heels. thats artificial, fake, like a plastic flower.

    i was lucky to grow up very freely and independently. i had a mother who was much as i am now, at least she was by the time i was growing up. i never felt restricted in what i was allowed to wear, clothes or makeup, or believe. she is the reason i am an atheist, altho she was not. i grew up to be my own person of my own making, without undue influence about religion or social expectations.

    she is probably also the reason that i get the same empowerment you do when i choose *not* to wear makeup. for me, its the refusal to partake in the expectations, nay requirements, that society and the media have for me. i will not contort myself into something i am not simply to make society consider me more acceptable. i am beautiful as i am.

    it sounds as though i am being construed repeatedly as telling women they cant wear heels or makeup, however that is absolutely not the case. we are all free to do whatever we like. but i disagree that just because some women choose to, and feel empowered by that choice, that it means that heels and makeup cant be sexist when worn by those women.

  40. 40
    SnowyBiscuit

    Greta, you hit the nail on the head with this one!

    Being told you cannot wear high heels to meet the standards of some idealized version of “woman” is just as demeaning and restrictive as being told you must wear high heels to meet the standards of some idealized version of “woman”.

    Also, to echo what Giliell said in the very first comment, women should be educated on what high heels can do to one’s feet, just as they are about smoking. (Interestingly, my company’s employee wellness program isn’t interested in high heels *or* smoking, but that’s tangental.)

    I’ve mostly stopped wearing high heels. My feet, after thirty-plus years of various kinds of damage from exercise and bad 1980s shoe choices, have both had surgery, one knee has had surgery and has no cartiledge, and things just hurt. I also don’t wear skirts much, and have decided that if a company doesn’t want to hire me when I’m wearing a stylish and lovely pantsuit and low-heeled shoes, I’m not going to be a good fit there. Ditto with dating.

  41. 41
    Jadehawk

    i guess thats the difference, because i believe you already were beautiful.

    heh. erinmcc is channeling Sad Boy In Outer Space

  42. 42
    Jadehawk

    HTML fail. Sad Boy In Outer Space, take two

  43. 43
    Greta Christina

    erinmcc: First a quick FYI: I suspect we’re going around in circles here, and my time and energy are limited. So I’ll tell you now that I only have one or two rounds of this left in me.

    karate, tae kwon do, and other athletics offer benefits such as health, confidence, and discipline that can outweigh the risk of damage to feet. furthermore, your instructors teaching you to ignore pain and injure yourself are poor instructors. its unfortunate that that teaching is so pervasive in some athletics, but you can participate in such things in a safer way. more importantly, they dont give these benefits in a sexist way. heels dont offer such benefits, and what women do get from it comes from a sexist basis.

    In other words: The benefits that women get from martial arts are benefits that you value, and think are worth the costs. The benefits that women get from high heels are not benefits that you value, and do not think are worth the costs. And you think all other women should share your values and priorities.

    but you asked a question, “Is liking high heels consistent with being a feminist?” and my answer to that was no. if it promotes sexism, even if your personal action “reduces and limits how much we perpetuate it and attempts to counter-balance it”, then it is still sexist and isnt strictly consistent with being a feminist.

    So if we participate in any troublingly sexist institution in any way, it’s sexist and not consistent with being a feminist? If we do weight management… pressure to be thin and the diet industry are sexist, so that’s sexist and not consistent with being a feminist? If we pose naked for photographs, even ones that aren’t meant to be pornographic… the porn industry is sexist, and anyway people will always look at naked women in an objectifying way, so so that’s sexist and not consistent with being a feminist? If we have masochistic kinky sex, especially with men… it’s a reflection of sexist dominance relationships, so that’s sexist and not consistent with being a feminist? If we color our hair… beauty standards are sexist, so that’s sexist and not consistent with being a feminist?

    I ask again: Who gets to decide which of these activities is too sexist to be redeemed?

    its ok for any woman to choose to do something that is historically sexist, but it shouldnt be done under the guise that its totally empowering and not at all sexist, or that it doesnt hurt feminism because a woman is choosing to do it.

    Please stop putting words into my mouth, and please stop arguing with a straw-woman version of what I’m saying. I have not said either of those things, I have made it clear that I am not saying either of those things, and if you’re going to keep arguing with points I’m not making and that I actually oppose, then this conversation is a waste of time.

    i am not trying to tell you that you are doing feminism wrong.

    How else am I to interpret it when you say that my wearing high heels is not in solidarity and is bad for feminism?

    i also wont try to make judgements on how high a heel has to be to be sexist,

    So how am I to know whether the shoes I wear meet your standards? If you’re going to tell other women what they should and should not be doing with their own bodies in order to be in solidarity and not hurt feminism, the least you can do is give us clear guidelines.

    I realize that came out snarky. That’s not my intention (although I’m willing to let the snark be). My intention is to show how ridiculous it gets when we tell each other what we should and should not do with our bodies. Don’t you see how absurd this exercise becomes? High heels are sexist, low heels aren’t sexist, we have no guidelines on how high the heel has to be to start being sexist… it’s absurd.

    ….all those things you list, porn, dildos, sex with men (is that really a sexist claim??), weight management, makeup…. i would contend that most of them are often subjective, and therefore we each make our own decisions.

    Fine. You would contend that. Plenty of other feminists would not. I have heard/ read an earful from body-monitoring feminists on every one of these issues. (Yes, including having sex with men — have you never heard of separatist feminism?) Every one of these experiences can be characterized as part of sexist culture. and every one of them has some body-monitoring feminist telling other women not to participate in them. Why do you get to decide that these are subjective, and so it’s okay for us to make our own decisions about them… but high heels are not? Why should I listen to you, and not to them? Why should I not instead, when it comes to the question of what I do with my own body, listen to myself?

    to me, beauty is in being natural. its being who we are, natural physical animals in this natural world.

    “To you” being the key words. Many of us see beauty differently. Many of us see beauty as a conscious form of self-expression, a conscious form of artistry, in which we use the symbolic language of fashion and style and grooming, as well as many other things such as personal carriage and body language, to express the things we like and love about ourselves. To be very clear, I have no problems with your definition of beauty. I simply have a problem with you insisting that every other woman should share it — and insisting that value we get from our experience of beauty is trivial and can be dismissed.

    it sounds as though i am being construed repeatedly as telling women they cant wear heels or makeup,

    You aren’t. At least, not by me. You are being construed as telling women that we shouldn’t wear high heels or makeup. Please stop it.

  44. 44
    Greta Christina

    So that’s the piece-by-piece critique. Now here’s the bigger picture.

    I do not want a world where women are pressured into wearing high heels and makeup in order to be gender-normative. I also do not want a world where women are pressured into not wearing high heels and makeup in order to be good feminists.

    I do not want a world where women are pressured into losing weight and trying to be slender in order to be gender-normative. I also do not want a world where women are pressured into not doing weight management for their health in order to be good feminists.

    I do not want a world where women are pressured into being sexually submissive in order to be gender-normative. I also do not want a world where women are pressured into not being sexually submissive, even if that’s what they find most sexually satisfying, in order to be good feminists.

    I do not want a world where women are told to not have sex with other women in order to be gender-normative. I also do not want a world where women are told to not have sex with men in order to be good feminists.

    I do not want a world where women are told to present our bodies in a conventionally feminine way in order to be gender-normative. I also do not want a world where women are told not to present our bodies in a conventionally feminine way in order to be good feminists.

    I did not become a feminist to trade one list of Do’s and Don’ts about my own body for another. I did not stop listening to one group of people tell me what I should and should not do with my own body, in order to start listening to another group instead. I did not become a feminist to add one more set of voices to the cacophonous chorus around me telling me that, whatever it is that I’m doing with my own body, it’s wrong.

    I became a feminist for a lot of reasons, but one of the primary ones is the fundamental principle: Our bodies. Our right to decide. I became a feminist, among many other reasons, to support other women in making their own choices about their own bodies, and to be supported by them in making my own choices about mine. And I do not want a feminism that consists of women sitting around in a circle telling each other that what they’re doing with their own bodies is bad and wrong and doesn’t live up to some perfect ideological standard. I do not owe feminism my body, any more than I owe the patriarchy my body. And I do not want a feminism that thinks I owe that debt.

  45. 45
    tengalaxies

    Thank you for this post! I’ve been enjoying your writing on clothing and fashion, because it’s not something that’s often looked at from a feminist perspective. Or not as something potentially positive, at least.

    First, I’m not convinced that feminine business/formal clothing is that much less practical than masculine. I’m a woman who wears 4.5″ heels for fun and the first time I tried to dress formally masculine I felt incredibly restricted. I couldn’t lift my arms over my head, and had to worry about my shirt staying tucked, which isn’t an issue at all in a dress. And men’s dress shoes may not be heels but they still have no tread so it’s easy to slip on certain surfaces. Masculine formal fashion also is much more restrictive about what it’s appropriate to wear.

    I work in a male-dominated field where dressing informally is almost a mark of pride for some people. For me, if I wear a skirt and heels to work, I may feel “pretty” but I’m definitely not fitting in. I do sometimes wear skirts, not heels so much since right now I walk two miles over a big hill to and from work. But I would *never* wear a skirt to an interview. But it’s all just another kind of oppression — I can’t appear too feminine or I won’t be taken seriously, since math and engineering is coded so masculine. On the upside, non-”fashionable” clothing like jeans and t-shirts are less gender differentiated. If I wear jeans, a casual button-up shirt, and tennis shoes or flat ankle boots, I match most of my coworkers. Women whose jobs expect “office” attire don’t always get that luxury if they’re expected to choose skirts and heels.

    In contrast to some other commenters who’ve said that they think being tall is normative for women, and is one of the reasons that high heels are valued: that’s not my experience. I’m already on the tall side and I had to get over my fear of the social inappropriateness of being tall to embrace wearing heels when I want. Tall is seen as powerful, but too tall is unfeminine. Being taller than your male partner is a little bit radical. Being taller than men can challenge their sense of living up to masculine ideals, too.

  46. 46
    Karen Locke

    The first two decades of my career were spent in engineering in Silicon Valley; here, if you don’t wear jeans to work, your colleagues ask you where you’re interviewing for a new job. My second “career” was parental caretaker. My engineering wardrobe suited the bill entirely. After that I went back to school and got an MS in geology; I added good hiking boots and a multilayer jacket to my professional wardrobe. My health has deteriorated in recent years, so although I was able to complete my MS thesis and graduate, I’m not able to work full-time. I’m trying to sell artisan jewelry (my hobby) over the ‘net, and volunteering for a group that supports grade 4-12 earth science teachers. The old wardrobe still works, though lately I’ve been buying some more feminine-looking tops.

    My feet are flat and triangle-shaped, and I have arthritis in my knees. I almost exclusively wear Merrell clogs (they take my orthotics). For working out, I wear Merrell “light hikers” that provide lots of ankle support.

    Sexy? In my life, sexy is typically spouse or me showing up in a birthday suit and giving the appropriate greeting. I suppose we’re just boring. But it works for us.

  47. 47
    Eristae

    @erinmcc

    I feel that you missed my point, so let’s try again.

    Whether or not I was (or am) beautiful is not the issue. It isn’t relevant. It isn’t important. Why? Because I am not my physical appearance. I am a human being with my own thoughts, dreams, desires, interests, and more. If someone threw acid on me tomorrow and melted my skin, I would be no more and no less me. Certainly such an event would impact my happiness (there’s a reason that people who have had their skin melted are bothered by the alteration to their physical appearance, any anyone who would insist that they are wrong to feel bad, that having corrective would make them less beautiful, would be cruel), but it wouldn’t change my fundamental being.

    While I understand that some people have the urge to go on about how “everyone is beautiful” (and you don’t, which I will address further down in this post), the fact is that it’s a load of crap and everyone knows it. When you tell a child that her hair is beautiful, when you lament the loss of your own hair color, you just reinforce that yes, there are things that are more aesthetically pleasing to you than others. You can’t tell someone that one trait is more beautiful without telling them that another trait is less beautiful; it doesn’t make sense to say that one hair color is prettier than others. Anyone who is subject to such logic knows that it’s a lie, and it’s both hurtful and insulting to demand that they play dumb so that we can hold on to our philosophical position.

    But, even if we disregard this impossible logic, the fact remains that we shouldn’t define people by their physical appearance. To use another example from my own life, there was a boy in my school who was ugly. He’d had cancer as a child, you see, and both the cancer and the treatment for it had robbed him of an eye, twisted his bones, and infantilized his body. Saying that it was as beautiful for him to have a body ravaged by cancer as it would have been to have a body that had not been harmed by cancer would be an offensive, condescending lie, and he wouldn’t have been fooled (this is not hypothetical: I know that he wouldn’t have been fooled because he wasn’t fooled). But I was attracted to him to a ridiculous degree. I was enticed by him, turned on by him, lusted after him, and generally just wanted to have sex with him. Why? Not because I was holding some kind of philosophical ideal that said his physical characteristics didn’t dictate his physical appearance (?!), but because of his mind, his personality, and basically the whole of who he was. The fact that he was physically ugly wasn’t what defined him. His beauty or lack thereof wasn’t what really mattered about him. It was Beauty and the Beast or the Ugly Duckling without requiring that the Beast morph into a handsome prince and that the Ugly Duckling turn into a swan. I didn’t need for him to be a swan in order for him to be desirable to me. It shouldn’t be the case that the Ugly Duckling is redeemed by becoming beautiful; the Ugly Duckling should be able to walk out of that story with a happy ending that doesn’t depend on whether or not people like how the Ugly Duckling looks.

    Lastly, this whole “to me, beauty is in being natural. its being who we are, natural physical animals in this natural world. beauty is not face paint, push up bras, shaved legs, and high heels. thats artificial, fake, like a plastic flower” is horrifying to me. Do you really mean to say I was physically beautiful to you when I didn’t wear makeup, but I became ugly when I started wearing it? And that somehow your view of my physical characteristics is or should be the defining characteristic in this conversation? Because as far as I’m concerned, this conversation is not and should not be about your reactions to my physical characteristics. It isn’t better to insist that women can only be beautiful when they don’t wear makeup than it is to insist that they can only be beautiful when they do wear makeup. After all, both involve telling women that they are ugly and that it is wrong to be ugly, that being ugly is some kind of failing that must be corrected. It’s like watching one of those teen movies where take some “ugly” girl who is wearing glasses, has a frizzy/lank/whatever hairstyle, is wearing ill-fitting clothes, and doesn’t wear makeup is transformed by the correction of these characteristic (Buy contacts! Style your hair! Buy form fitting clothes! Put on some makeup!). These movies never end with the assertion that she should be allowed to dress as she pleases, that it is her own opinion that matters, or that she is not obligated to base her own appearance on what other people want. Instead, it ends with the apparently obvious conclusion that she is beholden to be beautiful because she can be. It’s the same thing here: the fact that you think I can be beautiful without makeup somehow translates into the assertion that it’s wrong for me to not be beautiful to you. The fact that you consider me (and plastic flowers*) to be ugly isn’t something I think any of us should encourage me to care about.

    *I don’t know why you think plastic flowers are universally ugly. I have some silk flowers that I bought some time ago, and I think they’re gorgeous. Are they also mandatorily ugly (despite their actual physical characteristics) because they are “artificial” and “fake”? Or is silk allowed to be pretty when plastic is not? And if someone has plastic flowers in their house, do you think that it’s important or meaningful to encourage them to get rid of the plastic flowers because you don’t think they’re beautiful?

  48. 48
    jose

    “I have an objection to women being pressured into wearing high heels. I have an objection to the idea that you have to wear high heels to be beautiful or sexy or feminine”

    Which is why high heels exist in the first place. You can’t remove something from its origins because you like it. Next you’ll be arguing supporting how feminist niqabs are because they can be pretty.

  49. 49
    maddog1129

    For myself, I’m certainly glad I’m living as an adult now, and not 50 years ago. I pretty much can wear what I want, whereas we had to abide by sexist “dress codes” when I was in school. It has been such a relief for me to choose what I like. I want everyone to be able to choose what they like.

  50. 50
    erinmcc

    Erista (aka Eris) @#44
    “Do you really mean to say I was physically beautiful to you when I didn’t wear makeup, but I became ugly when I started wearing it? And that somehow your view of my physical characteristics is or should be the defining characteristic in this conversation? Because as far as I’m concerned, this conversation is not and should not be about your reactions to my physical characteristics. It isn’t better to insist that women can only be beautiful when they don’t wear makeup than it is to insist that they can only be beautiful when they do wear makeup.”
    “I don’t know why you think plastic flowers are universally ugly. I have some silk flowers that I bought some time ago, and I think they’re gorgeous. Are they also mandatorily ugly (despite their actual physical characteristics) because they are “artificial” and “fake”? Or is silk allowed to be pretty when plastic is not? And if someone has plastic flowers in their house, do you think that it’s important or meaningful to encourage them to get rid of the plastic flowers because you don’t think they’re beautiful?”

    these paragraphs exemplify the issue. *I* never said you without makeup or plastic flowers were ugly. that is YOUR interpretation. i said they were artificial and fake, which they ARE. if you assume artificial and fake are synonymous with ugly, then thats coming from you, not me.

    i also never said beauty is about physical appearance. thats the whole point. women should not need to feel empowered by changing their physical appearance. the outward appearance is very very little of who we are, yet it is the one most focused on. and by focusing on it, we teach the next generation of both girls and boys that it has more importance than it does.

  51. 51
    erinmcc

    Greta Christina @#40
    “Please stop it.”

    i apologize. when i read your blog post and you asked questions, i erroneously thought you wanted people to engage in discourse and share their answers. instead it sounds like you only wanted agreements.

    my idea of feminism and what constitutes sexism and yours are not the exact same. they likely never will be as we come from very different places and experiences. that doesnt make you automatically right and me automatically wrong, or vice versa. it just makes our ideas different. different is good, dissent is good. homogeneity is boring.

    we do not live in a perfect world. all those worlds you want, they dont exist at this time. i wish they did. given the world that we DO have, you cannot operate in it as if sexism doesnt exist and by merely choosing to do something it makes it non-sexist. you can wear high heels all you want for whatever reason you want and point to whatever parts of history you want, it does not change why high heels are made in this day and age. just stand up and say “I LIKE WEARING HIGH HEELS”. but to try to make them out to be non-sexist is disingenuous.

    i would also posit that the choices we make are not completely free, no matter how freely we think we are making them. we are a product of our upbringing and society, influenced by those around us and the media. does a young woman choose to wear high heels because she really does like them, or because for 20 years shes been told she is suppose to like and wear them to make herself sexy? does she wear makeup because she likes the look, or because 20 years of maybelline commercials have told her that beauty is from them and not her? (like the “maybe shes born with it, maybe its maybelline” commercials). the same goes for me, i cannot subtract the history of sexism from my choice to wear heels or makeup. my choices are no more completely free than anyone elses.

    in the end, i am not sure how telling me to stop saying women shouldnt wear heels is much different than me saying it, though. they are both telling someone else what they should do to support feminism. but i would not try to silence you because i disagree with your viewpoint.

    however, i will do as you ask, and stop talking about my view of feminism. i wont waste both our time and bother to comment on your blog if dissenting views are not wanted.

  52. 52
    Eristae

    @ erinmcc
    *sigh*

    to me, beauty is in being natural. its being who we are, natural physical animals in this natural world. beauty is not face paint, push up bras, shaved legs, and high heels. thats artificial, fake, like a plastic flower.

    You see what I bolded? That is where you talked about what is and what is not beautiful. You were quite clear: artificial and fake is not beautiful. You and and out said it. I’m using your words here: Beauty is being natural. Beauty is not wearing face paint. You aren’t talking about some non-physical concept of beauty; that’s why we’re talking about how you think that wearing makeup and pushup bras is not beautiful while going without is. Unless you are trying to say that telling someone they aren’t beautiful is different than telling someone they’re ugly, which would not be a distinction that I’m willing to put much stock in.

    Nowhere in that discussion are we talking about personal traits that make a person beautiful; as far as I can tell, nowhere do you (or I) bring up personality traits that are beautiful. We could have that conversation, but such a conversation wouldn’t involve shaved legs because shaved legs aren’t someone’s personality. If this was about personality, there would be no place to say that shaved legs are not beautiful. Which is in fact my point. Makeup, high heels, pushup bras, none of them have anything to do with the beauty of someone’s personality, and talking about how unnatural things like shaved legs are not beautiful in a discussion about what makes a personality beautiful makes no sense. Well, unless one thinks that physical appearance is some kind of measure of a person’s worth.

    You aren’t just saying that women should not need to feel empowered by changing their physical appearance. You’re saying that changing your physical appearance is not acceptable because it is condoning the use of changing one’s physical appearance as a weapon; once again, I’m using your words here. You are not just saying that women shouldn’t have to, you’re condemning women for doing so. It is one thing to tell someone that they’re physical appearance isn’t their defining characteristic, and it’s quite another to tell someone that they are beautiful if they are “natural” but not such if they are “artificial” and “fake.” I fail to see how the second can be empowering to anyone.

  53. 53
    bubba707

    It really comes down to personal choices IMO. At no time would I tell someone else what to wear unless the activity we’re going to engage in calls for something specific, like going kayaking or metal detecting, and then only if I suspect they might be unaware of the conditions involved. While clothing styles are pretty unimportant to my wife and I the same is not true for everyone. If you like it, wear it and enjoy it.

  54. 54
    Greta Christina

    i apologize. when i read your blog post and you asked questions, i erroneously thought you wanted people to engage in discourse and share their answers. instead it sounds like you only wanted agreements.

    erinmcc @ #48: That’s not what I meant by “Please stop.” If I gave that impression, then I spoke poorly, and I apologize. I didn’t mean, “Don’t express opinions I don’t agree with in my blog.” I meant, “Please stop, because what you’re doing is causing me pain, and is causing other women pain.” I didn’t mean, “Don’t express dissenting opinions.” I meant, “Your opinions are causing harm, and I am asking you change your mind.”

    I agree with you that our choices are never entirely free, in that they are shaped by the culture we live in and have internalized. That’s true of how we dress and groom ourselves, as well as pretty much everything else we do. My point is that when feminists add our voice to the chorus of cultural voices expressing opinions about what women should do with our own bodies, I don’t think that voice should be yet another list of Do’s and Don’ts. I think that voice should be saying, “Your body. Your right to decide.” I do think it’s fine — more than fine — to share information and ideas about those choices (such as the information that wearing high heels frequently can do serious long-term physical damage, or the idea that high heels limit mobility and it’s troubling that this should be equated with female beauty). But I think that should be conveyed as, “Here is some information and ideas you may not have known or considered, which may help you make your own decisions” — rather than, “Here is the decision I think you should make.”

    My point is that you do not have the single right answer to the question of how women can express ourselves physically in a sexist culture, in a way that maximizes our power and minimizes our contribution to sexism. My point is that some women have different values and priorities than you do: some of us see value in making conscious choices about how we dress and groom ourselves to express what we love about ourselves, and the right choice for us about how to dress, or how to think about getting dressed, isn’t going to be the same as yours. My point is that it’s extremely disingenuous for you to say that other women’s choices about their bodies are artificial and fake, hurting feminism and not in solidarity… and then try to claim that you’re not making insulting judgments or telling women that they’re doing feminism wrong. My point is that the very idea that women’s decisions about our own bodies should be based on the judgements of other people who we don’t even know… that idea it is, itself, disempowering, and a part of sexist culture.

    And my point is that, when I get dressed in the morning and pick out my clothes and shoes, I already have a chorus of judgmental voices in my head from sexist culture saying, “Slut! Prude! Ugly! Old! Fat! Bimbo! Bulldyke!” And it makes me unutterably sad that so many feminists have chosen to add a voice saying, “Artificial! Fake! Hurting feminism! Not in solidarity!”… instead of choosing to have their voice in my ear be the one saying, “Wear whatever gives you joy. Your body. Your right to decide.” I think that adding one more critical, judgmental voice to that chorus does harm, and when feminists do it, I am going to speak out against it.

  55. 55
    anjulis.w

    Long time reader, first time commenter.

    I *love* high heels. I adore them. They make my outfits *pop* and they put me on eye level, I’m 5’5.5, with nearly all males. They’re freakin’ amazing. That said, they make my feet hurt and have a very limited range of places they can be worn thus limiting what I can do in them. My other go to shoe, the boot, can be worn everywhere, limits nothing and looks equally amazing. Making eye contact with men is one thing. Showing up in a short skirt with combat boots and an “I can kick your ass but I choose not to because that would ruin my manicure.” swagger is something else entirely.

    That said, I wear heels maybe three times a month. They make my feet hurt and can only be worn on smooth surfaces thus meaning I can’t a) chase my niece around the park b) pick up my nephew c) step in mud puddles that jump between me and the car d) challenge my husband to a grocery carrying competition that I know I’ll win because I’m the only one with the hips to carry paper bags up two flights of stairs.

    The point is, I chose how I dress. Everything in my closet can be dressed up with heels or dressed down with combat boots. I recently started buying fashion boots but they’re not as hardy as military boots and cost the same. I can spend all day painting my nails, putting on a little black dress, carefully matching jewelry so it seems effortless, half an hour applying a coat of makeup so I look like I did and then glide out the house looking like I just stepped out of a chanel ad. Or I can spend half an hour taking a shower, grabbing a dress (because skirt sets require matching and take more time), throw on some tights, a pair of boots, some lipgloss, a handful of jewelry, and get out of the house looking like a combination of the girl-next-door and the goth chick you don’t want to make eye contact with. It’s all my choice and regardless of what I choose I look amazing when I leave the house.

    More importantly, even if I left the house looking like absolute shite no one who matters, to me, will say a *danged* thing.

    That said, and I’ve learned this the hard way, while you can’t run from a would be assailant in heels, stilettos make a darn good weapon.

  56. 56
    cowalker

    Isn’t there some kind of common wisdom about smoking that goes “The first time I ever tried to smoke a cigarette my body sent all the signals it could to stop me. My throat hurt, I coughed, my lungs burned, my eyes watered, my stomach felt queasy. Why didn’t I take the hint?”

    I couldn’t wait to wear high heels at my eighth grade graduation. They had pointy toes, and sharp little heels about two inches high. About half an hour into the ceremony I realized–my feet hurt! This couldn’t be right. Why would such cute shoes hurt? I saw other women wearing shoes like this all the time. Surely they wouldn’t be wearing shoes that hurt all the time! I was baffled when I realized that they were, and appalled when I saw the squished up toes of some middle-aged women.

    That was my first and last pair of tiny heels. I had a few pairs of shoes over the next ten years with cuban heels and round or square toes. Then I went to nothing but flats or shoes with raised heels. I knew that I could never tolerate the discomfort if high heels were required for a job, so it was no use to wear them to an interview.

    I’ve always been glad I took the hint. (Which I also did with smoking.)

    Of course other women can do what they like, and I will make no assumptions about their stance on feminism. But I sure did my best to encourage my daughter to follow her instincts when it came to clothing. Not because I wanted her to be a feminist (although I did) but for her physical well-being. She likes flats and boots. And feminism.

  57. 57
    craigmcgillivary

    I fully agree with your right to wear terribly uncomfortable clothing because you think they are hot. That said I also agree with you that women shouldn’t be forced or pressured into wearing them. The fact is however women are pressured in exactly this manner. I know women who hate heals with the heat of seven suns, but also are compelled to wear them at certain formal work related events.
    I think that as much as you enjoy your high heals you should probably not wear them in events where doing so might reinforce the idea that making women wear heels is no big deal. One question you might ask when going to an event is whether there are women at that event being pressured to wear high heels. You might for instance specifically not wear high heels in formal events.

  58. 58
    Greta Christina

    I think that as much as you enjoy your high heals you should probably not wear them in events where doing so might reinforce the idea that making women wear heels is no big deal. One question you might ask when going to an event is whether there are women at that event being pressured to wear high heels. You might for instance specifically not wear high heels in formal events.

    craigmcgillivary @ #54: I see. And if I’m going to an event where women might feel pressured to wear makeup even though they hate it, should I also not wear makeup? If other women feel pressured to wear jewelry even though they hate it, should I not wear jewelry? If other women feel pressured to wear dressy dresses even they hate them, should I not wear a dressy dress?

    Is there anything else you would like to tell me about what I should and should not wear, and under what circumstances?

    Or instead, should we perhaps move away from the entire idea that women owe their bodies to society: that we have an obligation to appear a certain way, and that it’s entirely reasonable for total strangers to tell us what exactly they think that obligation is and how exactly we’re falling short?

  59. 59
    Kristopher Spencer

    I don’t think women should wear highheels, because they’re not sexy and they’re bad for them; but they can do what they want. I’m a much bigger fan of open sandals.

  60. 60
    Greta Christina

    I don’t think women should wear highheels, because they’re not sexy and they’re bad for them; but they can do what they want. I’m a much bigger fan of open sandals.

    Kristopher Spencer @ #56: Translation: “Of course women can do what they want — but I’m still going to give them my unsolicited opinion about what’s sexy, what kind of clothing I prefer them to wear, what’s bad for them, and what they should do with their own bodies.”

  61. 61
    Kristopher Spencer

    @57:
    Yeah, pretty much, except for the “unsolicited opinion part”, because i’m not going to walk up to random people and say “I don’t like highheels — you should put on different shoes”.

    I also think that men shouldn’t smoke because it’s bad for them, and i prefer them to have clipped fingernails (actually, both those things apply to women as well). Are you saying i shouldn’t have any opinions about women?

  62. 62
    Greta Christina

    Yeah, pretty much, except for the “unsolicited opinion part”…

    Kristopher Spencer @ #58: You are offering your unsolicited opinion in this blog. The topic of this post was not, “Are high heels sexy? What do you think? Yes or no?” This blog post (and the subsequent comment thread) is specifically focused on how sexist and screwed-up it is — both in mainstream culture and among some feminists — to tell women what we should and should not do with our own bodies, and to treat women as if they owe society a particular presentation of our bodies… as opposed to respecting and supporting our right to do with our bodies whatever we see fit. And you decided to offer your opinion, not about these social dynamics, but about what you think women should and should not wear in order to please you. In a discussion about how women have a cacophonous chorus of voices in our ears telling us what we should and should not do with our own bodies, and about what is and is not an appropriate feminist response to this, you chose to add another voice to that chorus.

    Of course you are entitled to your opinions about your personal likes and dislikes. That’s not the point. The point is that you seem to think you have the right to tell women you’ve never met, without having been asked, what those likes and dislikes are, and what they should and should not to with their own bodies: based not on what pleases them, but on what pleases you. If you wouldn’t walk up to random women on the street and tell them what to wear, please don’t walk up to random women on the Internet and tell then what to wear. Thanks.

  63. 63
    Dunc

    I eagerly await the first ever blog argument about the political implications of English, Roman or Neapolitan shoulders (either con rollino or spalla camicia) in men’s suit jackets. Then we’ll know we’ve finally reached equality…

  64. 64
    sueinnm

    Karen Locke said:

    “The old wardrobe still works, though lately I’ve been buying some more feminine-looking tops.”

    And this is why i hate the world “feminine.” It’s buying straight into gender stereotype, that there is some kind of definition for the word “feminine” and it is obviously something intended to fit into some cultural norm. Frilly, lacy low-cut, pastel color, more fitted, whatever … it’s clearly defined in our culture as being a certain “thing,” and I wince whenever I hear it used in this way. (This is why while I use masculine and feminine as words, I usually put them in quotes.)

    And I admit I’m one of those who has a hard time linking “feminism” with high heels because of the reasons Greta expressed in the middle section: because it is part of that idiotic expectation that women must wear heels for all the reasons she mentioned. Of course women can and do and should wear whatever they want. I wear makeup, because I think aesthetically I look much better with it, not because it’s demanded of me. (I actually prefer it to look as natural as possible.) But I personally have a really hard time separating high heels (like spike heels) worn for pleasure and because our society demands it. It’s really hard for me to wrap my head around, especially since I can never know what’s going on in a person’s head, whether or not they’re feeling pressured into wearing them.

    I also despise the idea that women fighters in comic books, movies, video games etc. wear high heels for combat, running, what have you … which is much the norm that I’m always amazed and thrilled when they show such a woman character in shoes that might actually allow her to survive.

    I guess as long as the culture supports terms such as “masculine” and “feminine” as definitions for what is considered correct genderwear, I’ll have a knee-jerk reaction to these kinds of issues. But was interested to hear the words of someone who comes at it from a slightly different angle.

    As a writer, I have the total freedom to wear what I like. And I like jeans and casual tops and boots and shoes with low to moderate heels, whether I’m at home or somewhere else. I’m lucky. I just wish all women had that same option.

  65. 65
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    I am trans. I have gorgeous legs (long, slender, with great thighs.) I would love to show off those legs but have the issue of also being a male-bodied individual and thus those gorgeous legs are covered with masculine hair. I am repulsed by my own body hair, to where it makes me sick inside seeing and feeling it.

    Should I not get my legs waxed because it reinforces a sexist ideology, despite the fact that the mere existence of my leg and body hair makes me physically ill?

  66. 66
    burgundy

    I’m delurking to follow up on Katherine Lorraine’s comment. I’m a cis woman, but I have more (and darker, and coarser) body hair than many of the cis men that I know. It’s been a major source of shame and disgust for nearly 20 years now; for a long time I avoided physical intimacy out of fear of other people seeing it. (I’m willing to entertain the possibility of some amount of body dysmorphia here, but that’s a subject for another time.) My point is, there are different levels of repercussions for bucking gender expectations, and people who are “naturally” closer to gender norms have a certain amount of privilege in that area.

    I don’t think that shaving/plucking/bleaching/whatever is a feminist action. I know that by continuing to do so I am contributing, to some extent, to the continuing expectation that women should be less hairy than men. And I am happy and impressed when I see a woman who has chosen to go against all that. But I do feel like there would be a non-negligible social cost, in addition to the pretty substantial personal cost, if I dropped these behaviors entirely. I can think of exactly two people that I’ve ever seen who looked anything like I would look if i stopped doing this – one was a cashier at a grocery store, and one was the bearded lady at the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow (ok, she looked more extreme than I would, but the point still stands.) Oh, and some fetish sites. Not exactly comforting or confidence-inspiring.

    Yes, I know that feminism, and social change in general, requires sacrifices, and someone has to be the trailblazer. But some people’s sacrifices are greater than others, and I just want an acknowledgment that it’s a lot more complicated than telling people that they’re beautiful just the way they are.

    (Oh, and after several years recovering from a back injury, I am now able to wear 2-inch heels. I love it. In the last few years I’ve really learned how to dress my body, and have fun with color and silhouette and style, and I feel sexy and attractive and confident in a way I never did before. I’m learning that I am not a brain carried around in a meat suit, I am my body too, and I want to enjoy my physical side the way I’ve always enjoyed my mental side. And sometimes that means go-go boots or pink and orange wedge sandals or knee-high burgundy suede boots. It’s impossible to separate physical displays from societal beauty standards, but I’m not at all sure that the solution is to reject any sense of esthetics whatsoever.)

  67. 67
    Kristopher Spencer

    @59:
    You make good points. I’ll try to leave better comments in the future.

  68. 68
    Pieter B, FCD

    @Kristopher

    And that’s how it’s done. Well played, sir.

  69. 69
    Cara

    @ Greta

    Do we really want a feminism where we’re constantly parsing these questions for each other, and scolding each other for doing it wrong — i.e., differently from how we would do it? Do we really want a feminism where, instead of wearing high heels because that’s what sexist culture tells us to do, we wear flat shoes because that’s what feminist culture tells us to do… without regard for what we, ourselves, want to do? Do we really want a feminism where you don’t get to be in the club if you don’t do everything right? And who gets to decide what’s right?

    I don’t want that kind of feminism. The endless criticism of other women for the compromises that we all have to make to live in a sexist culture reminds me of call-out culture in social justice movements, where people spend energy criticizing each other for not being good enough social justice advocates. It’s equally unproductive in feminism. I’m glad you wrote this post.

    I think many women use heels to feel taller. I personally feel tall enough, sometimes too tall, which means one reason that some women wear them doesn’t apply to me, but that doesn’t make that desire or choice invalid.

    @25, Karla Porter:

    I’ve heard career counseling offices give that same advice: skirts, heels, and hose, for interviews. I don’t think this issue of “professional attire” is dead at all, especially in some professions. My personal compromise is that I hate heels, mostly because I have bad feet and low pain tolerance, and refuse to wear them; and I don’t wear skirts, heels, or hose for work. I do like wearing dresses and skirts sometimes outside professional situations, and I’m always frustrated that it’s hard to find good-looking flats, and impossible to find flats that say “sexy.”

    @35, Erista:

    One of the most empowering experiences in my life has been taking control of my body and my presentation. If I choose to wear light makeup, that’s my choice. If I choose to shave my legs and armpits, that’s my choice. If I choose not to wear heels, that’s also my choice.

  70. 70
    Greta Christina

    Kristopher Spencer @ #64: Thanks. I really appreciate that.

    burgundy, cara, and Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort: Hell to the yes.

  71. 71
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    Just wanted to clarify something:

    When I said my legs were gorgeous because they were “long, slender, and with great thighs” I did not mean imply that women (or men) without long and slender legs were not gorgeous. My legs are gorgeous because they’re long and slender. Other women and men have gorgeous legs that are not long and slender. Hope that clarified that.

    @Burgundy:

    Yay for sexy confidence! *hug* I’ve only twice gone out dressed fem – both times surrounded by the crowd from Pharyngula. Besides the terrifying nature of being dressed up as a woman – thinking everyone was looking and staring at me – I felt super sexy and awesome while doing so. I wish I could do that at work.

  72. 72
    ragdish

    A feminist wearing high heels is IMO identical to an atheist who sings Christmas carols over the holiday season. I like everyone else here despise the oppressive totalitarian influence of religion. Yet I sing carols and enjoy theistic stories like Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter. Am I submitting to Christianity by enjoying these pleasures? As an atheist was my narrative negatively programmed by oppressive theism from birth to thus enjoy these things? Will these pleasures linger in a post-religous society or will they be replaced by something else? In the meantime by enjoying these theistic inspired pasttimes am I contributing to and perpetuating oppressive Christianity? Ultimately it’s up to me to navigate this field of roses covered in thorns. No one can dictate to me what I should or should not enjoy as long as I’m not violating the rights of others. My mind and therefore my choice. These theistic things give me pleasure and I will continue to enjoy them. At the same time I oppose the oppressive nature of Christianity that underpins those pleasures.

    I think this is the same for feminists and sexualized attire. And in place of Christianity, replace it with patriarchy. And even in a post-patriarchal society (whatever that may eventually look like), will individuals choose attire to sexually arouse another at the expense of one’s health? Will we take great pains to make others get horny? Given how flawed each of us are with little chance that our brains evolve to that of Lt. Commander Data, I think everyone knows the answer to these questions.

    BTW, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is my equivalent of high heels.

  73. 73
    Phillip Helbig

    Being completely unattracted to high heels, I wonder if, along with many other trends coming from the fashion industry, most heterosexual men don’t care about high heels, or anything else that women wear. (Girls, just ask your husband if he even remembers what you wore yesterday.) The fashion industry seems to be run mainly be women and gay men, thus relating fashion trends to what most heterosexual men like is a big leap of faith. (Sure, there are men who have a high-heels fetish, but there are men who have a fetish for anything. I’m talking about the majority here.) One often hears that women wear, or are encouraged to wear, high heels because this makes them appear attractive to men. (Cue reference to Chinese foot-binding.) But is that really the case? I think most women who wear high heels do so for reasons other than trying to appear attractive to men.

  74. 74
    ragdish

    Response to 70.

    Phillip,

    What I have learned is that much of the beauty standards at the level of society is based on ingrained patriarchal influences that have been around for centuries. And those patriarchal trends are not governed by a cabal of horny heterosexual men. But women and gay men are not the ones to blame. Everybody is a part of it and certain sectors of society (eg. the fashion industry) feed into it and perpetuate it. A learned friend explained to me that patriarchy is a form of oppressive cultural inertia identical to religion that is embedded deeply into the fabric of society. Even if you try to buck the trends, you are still influenced by it at a covert subconscious level. Thus, the manifestations of beauty and fasion that is part of the status quo.

  75. 75
    Phillip Helbig

    @71: Maybe, to some extent, though not in this case. As has been pointed out above, high heels for women is a relatively recent phenomenon. Also, just because subconscious subservience to the patriarchy can explain some things, that doesn’t mean that all things are explained by it. I also fail to see any hint of the patriarchy on the typical catwalk.

  76. 76
    andrewviceroy

    If “feminism” truly means ‘gender equality’ then it is still one step away from semantic accuracy. I encourage everyone to contact A++ and demand that they remove ‘feminism’/women’s rights’ and put ‘gender equality’ in the charter. I can’t BELIEVE I’m fighting for gender equality in a humanism movement.

  77. 77
    SallyStrange

    Troll cleanup in aisle 76.

    I was going to talk my opinions and experiences but I think I’ll wait til the cleaning crew comes through.

  78. 78
  1. 79
    There’s nothing feminist about… « Begins With Lemon and Ends With Pie

    [...] then I’m going to point you to Greta Christina’s Fashion Friday post (http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2013/02/01/fashion-friday-high-heels-and-feminism/) for an [...]

  2. 80
    Heels « TO FIGHT FOR

    [...] As said so perfectly here by Greta Christina, [...]

  3. 81
    Occasional Link Roundup » Brute Reason

    [...] 11. Greta discuses high heels and feminism: [...]

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