Runway Recap: Pretty Dresses for Heidi, and the Cash Machine

“Make a pretty dress for Heidi that she’ll use to plug her latest project.”

The main reason I didn’t do this Runway Recap until now is that I’ve been on a fairly intense and exhausting speaking tour, and just got back last night. But the other reason I didn’t do this Runway Recap until now is that this last episode (a) was so fucking boring I wanted to pull my hair out, one hair at a time, just to keep myself awake, and (b) was a perfect example of what’s gone wrong with the show.

It’s not like the first few seasons of Project Runway were a shining example of incorruptible artistic integrity. Of course it was a commercial enterprise. It was a reality competition program on cable TV: like, duh. Being disappointed and disillusioned that the producers were in it to make money would have been like being disappointed and disillusioned that Goldman Sachs were in it to make money.

But since the show jumped from Bravo to Lifetime, the balance between “commercial enterprise” and “smart and imaginative exploration of the world of fashion design, from people who genuinely care about it” has tilted way, way over. The rapid-fire rate at which the show gets cranked out, so designers never have time to fix problems or try new ideas or put genuine craft into their work. The heavy-handed product placement (there’s always been product placement on the show, but it’s gone from background noise to a relentless shriek in your ear). The transparent shilling for whatever money-making enterprise Heidi is involved with this month (in this case, a perfume line). This show has essentially become a cash machine for Heidi Klum, and for everyone else along for the ride.

I haz a sad.

Project Runway, to a great extent, was my gateway drug into fashion and style. I’ve always been interested in clothes; I’ve always paid attention to what I was wearing and how it made me feel; I’ve never been someone who just threw on jeans and a T-shirt and called it a day. But Project Runway, to a great extent, was what got me thinking about fashion and style more consciously. It got me thinking a lot more carefully about fashion and style as a metaphorical language; about the history of fashion and the context it provides for the current fashion world; about how I wanted to use clothing to express myself and my relationship to the world. It opened the door into a world that I’m having a blast with. And I haz a sad that, for people who are just now tuning into the show, that door is closing. Or rather, that door is opening into the side of the fashion world that’s a crass, fawning cash machine for self-appointed celebrity royalty.

“Make a pretty dress for Heidi that she’ll use to plug her latest project. Because we haven’t already done that challenge eleventy billion times, and Heidi Klum isn’t rich enough.”

Oh, well. There’s always What Not to Wear.

So here are this week’s winners and losers. (More pics of more looks at Tom and Lorenzo.)

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 3 Layana and Katelyn

A pretty gown for Heidi!

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 3 Daniel

Another pretty gown for Heidi!

It’s kind of entertaining how they shifted the goalposts on this one. The teams were supposed to come up with one fantasy gown-y thing for Heidi’s perfume ads, and one marginally more practical look for publicity appearances. But nobody on the winning team came up with a presentable “publicity appearance” look… so they said, “Sure, what the hell, this looks like every other pretty gown in every other perfume commercial ever made, let’s call this a ‘press tour’ dress and move the hell on.”

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 3 Patricia

Somewhat baffled at why the judges were pissing themselves all over this. Am I the only one who saw this outfit and thought, “Crafts project”? No, that’s not fair. Patricia has chops. There was a good idea in here somewhere. She just didn’t have time in YET ANOTHER FUCKING ONE-DAY CHALLENGE to execute it. As a result, it looks like a flimsy dress with bits of fabric cut out and sewn onto it. Because that’s what it is.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 3 Benjamin

An ugly gown for Heidi. An ugly, shabby, half-assed gown that looks like he wrapped a shower curtain around his model and then bound it her into it with some sort of construction material.

A case could be made that Benjamin should have gone home on this one. But at least he had a glimmer of an idea here somewhere. If he’d been able to execute the “drapey flowy gown with gold ribbon trailing around it like it landed there in a breeze” look he was going for — which he might have been able to do if this hadn’t been YET ANOTHER FUCKING ONE-DAY CHALLENGE — it might have really worked. And I’ll never fault the judges for rewarding “interesting and risk-taking but poorly executed” over “competent but boring and safe.”

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 3 Cindy

Not that this was competent or safe. Bad idea, poorly executed. Trashy and tawdry, without even the charm of being sensual and shamelessly fun. Cindy was in way over her head. I can’t really argue with this Auf.

2013 Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers, Feb. 24: “Come Out and Join In”

This is a guest post from the Day of Solidarity National Committee; Kimberly Veal, Chairperson.

Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers logoThe percentage of black non-believers in the U.S. is small but increasing. Most have difficulty meeting other black non-believers or finding many who are involved in secular organizations. The internet has made many connections possible; however, the common feelings expressed by black non-believers are those of isolation, loneliness, and alienation. Often the remedy for these feelings is activism. This activism includes diligently searching for and befriending other non-believers, working with as many other non-believers as possible to address social ills, continuing to be educated about the factual world, providing positive expressions for secular ideas through writing and public speaking, and strengthening the secular community by supporting existing organizations as well as creating dynamic new ones. Unfettered activism is captured in the purpose of the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers.

The Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers (DoS), held annually on the fourth Sunday in February, must be embraced beyond the events that take place in cities across the nation on that day. It must be used to build genuine communal relationships. It must be used to launch a wave of activism among blacks in America and other people of color as we strive to openly embrace our non-theist status in an ethical and dignified manner. Those that accept this call to activism must garner enough interest to create and support opportunities that will motivate those who have so far remained dormant except for an occasional message via email, Twitter, blogging, or postings on Facebook. This Day of Solidarity event is an effort to bring them out from behind those high tech media devices and other locations that keep them inconspicuous.

Anyone who supports this initiative can contact other non-theist individuals, groups, and organizations to plan a gathering, such as brunch, lunch, book or film discussion, museum trip, speaker presentation, etc. Decide on a time and place. Publicize the event as widely as possible. Use Facebook, Twitter, MeetUp.com, and other websites. Also consider newspaper and web-based community calendars, issuing local press releases, radio station announcements, and making personal invitations. When your planning is complete, post the details of your event on the DoS Facebook page for the benefit of others that may be looking for an event in your area.

We want to know about every event that takes place on Sunday, February 24, 2013; large or small, private or public! Please be sure to post your videos, pictures, links, podcasts, or comments on the DoS Facebook page. If you have any questions or need further information, be sure to contact us on our Facebook page or e-mail us at [email protected] Black non-believers you are not alone. “Come Out and Join In.”

Frequently Asked Questions:

1) What is the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers (DoS)?
The DoS is a nationwide event during Black History Month to promote community and solidarity among blacks in America who identify as non-believers: atheists, agnostics, skeptics, free-thinkers, etc. DoS has been organized as a way to counter the religious voice that all too often serves as the lone voice of black consciousness and experience. These gatherings will promote fellowship and the pursuit of humanist strategies to solve the problems facing humanity – especially those affecting the black community.
2) Where will the DoS events take place?
Day of Solidarity events will take place in cities and towns across the U.S. We plan to keep an updated list as events are reported. Send us an email, [email protected], to request event locations.
3) When will the DoS take place?
The Day of Solidarity will take place on Sunday, February 24th, 2013. Thereafter, the Day of Solidarity will take place annually on the last Sunday in February.
4) What can I anticipate happening at a DoS event?
The events will be unique, customized by each of the organizers and attendees. Most likely DOS meetings will take place in coffeehouses, restaurants or other casual settings. Larger groups may convene in libraries or other public venues. Although there is no formal itinerary for the DOS events, organizers are encouraged to include a segment on historical black non-theists, share life experiences, plan for the next DOS, and there should be ample time to socialize – get acquainted!
5) Is there a cost for attendance?
Ideally, there will not be a cost to participate outside of whatever food items or group merchandise participants choose to purchase. The goal is to gather. DoS organizers are encouraged to keep all costs to a minimum to encourage the most participation. A small admission fee may be requested to defray any rental costs associated with the venue. Local organizers will inform attendees ahead of time if a cost is associated with attendance.
6) Do I have to be Black or African American to attend?
No! The events are open to everyone. We welcome the support and participation of our allies in the Secular Movement, regardless of race. While we do not wish to discourage other individuals from attending, the primary focus will be on answering the religiosity in the black community and providing a forum for black non-theists to share experiences.
7) I don’t see a Day of Solidarity event planned in my area but am interested in participating. How can I learn more about organizing a DoS event?
Please send an email to [email protected] and we will send you suggested guidelines for organizing an event. Also, review the info section on the Facebook page. We can also assist in identifying local secular groups that may have an event planned or contact information for others interested in participating.
8) I live in a remote area and cannot attend the DoS closest to me. Any hope for me participating in a DOS event?
We will aim to use as many forms of communication as possible if there is interest. Skype and/or conference calls may be options for those of us in rural locations or who have accessibility issues.
9) I’m pretty sure I’m the only black non-theist in my area! I’d still like to participate somehow. Any suggestions?
Well you never know. There are more of us than you think – but whether two, twenty, or two hundred are gathered, solidarity can be achieved. We can help with suggestions for finding other non-theists in your area so just send us an email. The Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers is in the process of building, and our numbers will grow as more people are comfortable with identifying as non-believers. We have to start somewhere. So even if your event only has two people in attendance, that is a positive move in the right direction. We hope to see you or hear about your event on February 24th!

2013 Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers
“Come Out and Join In”
National Co-Sponsors: African Americans for Humanism, Black Atheists of America, Black Non-Believers, Inc., Black FreeThinkers, and Black Skeptics Los Angeles.

Greta Speaking in Texas, Indiana, and Chicago, Feb. 7 – 12 – UPDATED INFO!

UPDATED INFO! All the TBAs have now been filled in for these events! The location and time have been comfimred for the Ball State University event in Muncie, Indiana on Feb. 11: it’s at the Student Center, Room 303, starting at 6:00 pm. And the topic has been announced for the UNT event on Feb. 7: it’s “What Can the Atheist Movement Learn From the LGBT Movement?” If you’re in or near Denton, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Muncie, Indiana; or Chicago, IL — please come by, hear me talk, and say Howdy!

I have some speaking gigs coming up soon, in Texas, Indiana, and Chicago! I’m speaking in Denton, Texas at the University of North Texas; in Dallas at the North Texas Secular Convention; in Muncie, Indiana at Ball State University; and in Chicago, IL at the University of Chicago’s Sex Week. Here are the details. If you’re nearby, I hope to see you there!

CITY: Denton, Texas (University of North Texas)
DATE: Thursday Feb. 7
TIME: 6:00 pm
LOCATION: Wooten Hall #118, University of North Texas, Denton, TX
EVENT/ HOSTS: Secular Student Alliance at UNT, and Atheists, Agnostics, and Others at UNT
TOPIC: What Can the Atheist Movement Learn From the LGBT Movement?
SUMMARY: The atheist movement is already modeling itself on the LGBT movement in many ways — most obviously with its focus on coming out of the closet. What else can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement… both from its successes and its failures?
COST: Free and open to the public. RSVP at the event page on Facebook.

CITY: Dallas, TX (University of Texas at Dallas)
EVENT: North Texas Secular Convention
DATE: Feb. 8-10 (I’m speaking on Saturday Feb. 9)
TIME: My talk is at 3:00 pm
LOCATION: Davidson Auditorium, University of Texas at Dallas
EVENT/ HOSTS: Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists at UTD. Co-sponsored by American Atheists, Dallas- Forth Worth Coalition of Reason, Secular Student Alliance, and United Coalition of Reason
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
SUMMARY: The sexual morality of traditional religion tends to be based, not on solid ethical principles, but on a set of taboos about what kinds of sex God does and doesn’t want people to have. And while the sex-positive community offers a more thoughtful view of sexual morality, it still often frames sexuality as positive by seeing it as a spiritual experience. What are some atheist alternatives to these views? How can atheists view sexual ethics without a belief in God? And how can atheists view sexual transcendence without a belief in the supernatural?
COST: Conference admission is free – $35.00. Students free with Secular Student Alliance membership.

CITY: Muncie, IN (Ball State University)
DATE: Monday, Feb. 11
TIME: 6:00 pm
LOCATION: Student Center, Room 303, Ball State University
EVENT/ HOSTS: Atheists for Science and Reason
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
SUMMARY: See above
COST: TBA; open to the public
SPECIAL INFO: Free condoms will be given away at this event!

CITY: Chicago, IL (University of Chicago)
DATE: Tuesday Feb. 12
TIME: 4:00 pm
LOCATION: Ida Noyes Cloister Club, 1212 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL
EVENT/ HOSTS: Sex Week, running Feb. 11-17
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
SUMMARY: See above
COST: Free and open to the public. 18+ only.

Gay Bishop Comes Up With the Worst Argument to Support Same-Sex Marriage

An atheist says Bishop Gene Robinson’s new book, “God Believes in Love,” has some major flaws.

How do we convince religious believers to accept same-sex marriage?

The opposition to LGBT rights in general, and to same-sex marriage in particular, overwhelmingly comes from conservative religion, founded in the religious belief that gay sex makes baby Jesus cry. So if same-sex marriage proponents want to persuade religious believers to support same-sex marriage… how can we do that? Should we keep our argument entirely secular, and stay away from the whole question of religious belief? Or should we try to persuade them that God is on our side?

God Believes In Love book coverLots of people make the second argument. Bishop Gene Robinson is one of them. And Bishop Robinson is a man to be taken seriously. The first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Robinson has been active in progressive political activism for many years: he is a fellow at the Center for American Progress, is co-author of three AIDS education curricula for youth and adults, has done AIDS work in the United States and in Africa, and famously delivered the invocation at President Obama’s opening inaugural ceremonies in 2009. He’s recently written a book, published by Knopf and widely reviewed and well-received: God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage. Aimed at religious believers who oppose same-sex marriage or are on the fence about it, the book makes a Christian case for same-sex marriage: “a commonsense, reasoned, religious argument made by someone who holds the religious text of the Bible to be holy and sacred and the ensuing two millennia of church history to be relevant to the discussion.”

And I think this is a terrible, terrible idea.

I am an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage. What with being married to a woman and all. I agree fervently that same-sex marriage deserves fully equal legal and social recognition with opposite-sex marriage, and I am very glad to see Bishop Robinson, and anyone else, advocating for it in the public arena.

But the argument he makes in his new book, God Believes in Love, disturbs me greatly. I am deeply disturbed by the idea that God, or any sort of religious or spiritual belief, should have anything to do with the question of same-sex marriage. I am deeply disturbed by the idea that any decision about politics, law, public policy, or morality should ever be based on what’s supposedly going on in God’s head. I agree completely with Bishop Robinson’s conclusion about same-sex marriage — but I am passionately opposed to the method by which he’s reached it, and the arguments he’s making to advance it.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Gay Bishop Comes Up With the Worst Argument to Support Same-Sex Marriage. To find out why I think God should have nothing to do with the debate over same-sex marriage — including for same-sex marriage proponents, whether they’re religious believers or not — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Runway Recap: The Great Kilt Freakout, Or, Gender Normativity is Boring and Stupid (UPDATED)

So… kilts? Really, Project Runway judges? You’re going to twist your knickers and wring your hands and fall about like fainting goats… over kilts?

Okay. First things first. Basic assessment of this episode: Not bad. This episode focused a lot more on the actual design process than the show has for many a season, and it was the better for it. And so far, the “team” concept seems to be working: there was a lot of collaboration in the workroom this week, and both the designs and the entertainment value were better for it. I basically agree with Tom and Lorenzo: the show this week was a little dull in spots, but that wasn’t because of the team structure. It was mostly because the challenge itself was a little dull. “Make waitstaff uniforms for a ping-pong nightclub, in a standard, sporty, casual-wear style.” Yawn. True, in the real world, this is what design is often like — you often have to execute for a particular client within fairly narrow restrictions, and sometimes those restrictions are very narrow indeed and you can’t get very creative. But I hope the designers get some more interesting challenges soon. There really wasn’t much they could do with this one. (Pics of all the looks at Tom and Lorenzo.)

So. Okay. Now to what I really want to get into today:

What the fuck was up with the judges getting nearly hysterical over the concept of men in kilts?

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 2 Kilt 1

First of all: This is not a new thing. Kilts for men date back many centuries. Modern Utilikilts for men date back over a decade. They are not, in fact, skirts, despite what the judges kept saying through their giggles and gasps. They are an old form of menswear, and in the modern international-city fashion landscape, they’re just not that freaky. Unusual, sure, but hardly unheard of.*

But second, and more to the point: So what? Yes, in our rigidly gendered culture, kilts will be read by some uninformed people as skirts, and will therefore be somewhat surprising when men wear them. So fucking what?

Tilda-Swinton-W-Magazine-August-2011Fashion designers for women have been playing with androgyny for decades. Centuries, actually. In the world of high fashion, androgyny is a very common way for a woman to cut out a space for herself: whether it’s wearing suits on the red carpet, or cropping her hair short (remember the buzz it generated when Emma Watson cut her hair?). And in the non-high-fashion world of ordinary women’s wear, adapting masculine elements is pervasive: from the recent trendiness of the military look, to the ubiquity of blue jeans and the women’s suit. In the fashion world, androgyny for women is so commonplace, it’s not even particularly shocking any more.

So why is it that creating a more androgynous look for men — a look that’s basically male and masculine, but with feminine elements or elements that will be read by many as feminine — is enough to get seasoned fashion professionals fanning themselves like they’d just seen the 2 a.m. stage show at a Berlin sex club? (Including Susan “Rocky Horror Picture Show” Sarandon, who should know better?)

Yes, I know why. It’s because maleness is considered more valuable than femaleness. It’s considered natural — if somewhat outré and daring — for women to want to look more like men. Of course women would want to aspire to look more like men! Who wouldn’t want to be more masculine, more like a man? Men are awesome! Men are how people should be! [/sarcasm] But when men aspire to look more like women, it undercuts gender normativity far more than women looking more like men. Androgyny for men breaks out of standard gender roles, in basically the same way that androgyny for women does… but it also shatters the notion that maleness is always more desirable than femaleness.

Well, good. The notion that maleness is always more desirable than femaleness is fucked up for everybody. And gender normativity is boring and stupid. Dressing in a way that goes along with the standard expectations for your gender is entirely your business, just as dressing in a way that doesn’t go along with the standard expectations for your gender is entirely your business. But gender normativity, the idea that all men should look and act a certain way and all women should look and act a certain way, and the idea that it’s reasonable and even good to put pressure on people of all genders to conform to these roles… it’s boring, and it’s stupid.

If the judges thought the male waitstaff at the nightclub would rebel… fine. Give them the option of kilts or pants, like they might give the female waitstaff a choice between skirts or pants. But insisting that male waitstaff could never be asked to wear uniforms so “outrageous”? Hating on the kilt so hard, they put it in the bottom?

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 2 Kilt 2

I liked the kilt. It was well-constructed, and fit the model beautifully. Making it out of denim was clever: by referencing jeans, it made the kilt both more modern and more familiar. And the moderately androgynous aspect was hot. Since the rest of the look was pretty classically masculine, it actually read as, “I’m confident enough in my masculinity to not feel like it’s threatened by wearing something that some people will read as a skirt. Besides, my legs are muscular and awesome.” I did think putting the “Balls Are Our Business” logo right in the center of the waistband — i.e., right over the model’s anatomical balls — was a bit crass. But that’s an easy fix.

And more to the point: I thought the kilt was, by far, the most interesting, inventive look on the runway this week. Every single other designer took the challenge of “Make waitstaff uniforms for a ping-pong nightclub, in a standard, sporty, casual-wear style,” and made… well, standard sporty casual wear, either more successfully or less so, none of it particularly interesting. Matthew’s kilt was the one piece on the runway that took the concept of “standard sporty casual-wear,” and brought something unexpected to the table. I could see not giving it the win — if the client doesn’t think it’s right, then the client doesn’t think it’s right, and you haven’t won. But sticking it in the bottom — with an extensive session of adolescent giggles and gasps about how it was so “provocative” — was ridiculous. It showed a rigidity about gender that I find disappointing in anyone, and that seasoned fashion professionals should be way, way past.

*****

*UPDATE: In a comment, Giliell, professional cynic says this:

OK, I love kilts.
Kilts are freaking awesome.
Kilts are sexy.
They are, in fact, skirts.
Please give me one argument why a kilt is fundamentally different from a skirt that does not go back to “but skirts are for women and men don’t wear skirts”.
I think the firm denial that a kilt or indeed any kind of male garment that is constructed much like a typical female garment is indeed like said female garment is a sign of gendernormatism where women may aspire to wear male stuff (like trousers, oh the abomination), but men are never ever lowered to wear femal stuff (like skirts. It’s a kilt!)

I think this is a really good point. Most of what I’ve read/ heard from kilt-wearers (who’ve said anything about it at all) is that kilts aren’t skirts, so I was passing that along. But now that Giliell mentions it, I can’t offhand think of a good answer. (A couple of people here have suggested that the difference between a kilt and a skirt is the sporran, but I don’t think so: Utilikilts don’t have sporrans [although they do have a stylized closure in front outlined in snaps to represent it], and they’re still clearly identified as kilts.) Thoughts, anyone?

Greta Speaking in Texas, Indiana, and Chicago, Feb. 7 – 12

UPDATED: Topic has been announced for the UNT event! It’s “What Can the Atheist Movement Learn From the LGBT Movement?”

I have some speaking gigs coming up soon, in Texas, Indiana, and Chicago! I’m speaking in Denton, Texas at the University of North Texas; in Dallas at the North Texas Secular Convention; in Muncie, Indiana at Ball State University; and in Chicago, IL at the University of Chicago’s Sex Week. Here are the details. If you’re nearby, I hope to see you there!

CITY: Denton, Texas (University of North Texas)
DATE: Thursday Feb. 7
TIME: 6:00 pm
LOCATION: Wooten Hall #118, University of North Texas, Denton, TX
EVENT/ HOSTS: Secular Student Alliance at UNT, and Atheists, Agnostics, and Others at UNT
TOPIC: What Can the Atheist Movement Learn From the LGBT Movement?
SUMMARY: The atheist movement is already modeling itself on the LGBT movement in many ways — most obviously with its focus on coming out of the closet. What else can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement… both from its successes and its failures?
COST: Free and open to the public. RSVP at the event page on Facebook.

CITY: Dallas, TX (University of Texas at Dallas)
EVENT: North Texas Secular Convention
DATE: Feb. 8-10 (I’m speaking on Saturday Feb. 9)
TIME: My talk is at 3:00 pm
LOCATION: Davidson Auditorium, University of Texas at Dallas
EVENT/ HOSTS: Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists at UTD. Co-sponsored by American Atheists, Dallas- Forth Worth Coalition of Reason, Secular Student Alliance, and United Coalition of Reason
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
SUMMARY: The sexual morality of traditional religion tends to be based, not on solid ethical principles, but on a set of taboos about what kinds of sex God does and doesn’t want people to have. And while the sex-positive community offers a more thoughtful view of sexual morality, it still often frames sexuality as positive by seeing it as a spiritual experience. What are some atheist alternatives to these views? How can atheists view sexual ethics without a belief in God? And how can atheists view sexual transcendence without a belief in the supernatural?
COST: Conference admission is free – $35.00. Students free with Secular Student Alliance membership.

CITY: Muncie, IN (Ball State University)
DATE: Monday, Feb. 11
TIME: 6:00 pm
LOCATION: Student Center, Room 303, Ball State University
EVENT/ HOSTS: Atheists for Science and Reason
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
SUMMARY: See above
COST: TBA; open to the public
SPECIAL INFO: Free condoms will be given away at this event!

CITY: Chicago, IL (University of Chicago)
DATE: Tuesday Feb. 12
TIME: 4:00 pm
LOCATION: Ida Noyes Cloister Club, 1212 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL
EVENT/ HOSTS: Sex Week, running Feb. 11-17
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
SUMMARY: See above
COST: Free and open to the public. 18+ only.

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.)