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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Are High Heels a Detriment or a Benefit?

We had a young journalism student named Sarah contact the Feminist eZine today asking about whether we thought high heels was a detriment or a benefit. Here is some of the excerpts from our conversation, reorganized a bit:

Are High Heels a Detriment or a Benefit?

It really depends. Are you asking with respect to careers or relationships or something else?

ie. A single mother wearing stilettos? Trying to care for a baby and maintain your balance? Think again.

We took a moment to dispel that fashion myth about high heels being invented by men and checked who really made them. Reputedly it was invented by a rather short French duchess, Catherine de' Medici of Orleans, in an effort to look taller. The shoes in question apparently looked like platform shoes. The shoes caught on, styles changed rapidly and we can all blame the French.

As a modern phenomenon we don't think high heels are a "sartorial extension of patriarchy"... and here's our justification:

#1. If men were trying to force women to wear high heels they'd be wanting to go into shoe shopping with women and help them pick out a pair. If anything its the opposite. Men avoid women's shoe stores like the plague and find them very boring. (In contrast you could argue lingerie is a "sartorial extension of patriarchy" because men do actually go to lingerie stores, will even buy lingerie as gifts and depending on the type of lingerie is certainly catering more to men than to women.)

#2. When was the last time a man bought a woman a pair of high heels as a gift? Men, clueless in many ways, have long ago figured out that shoe shopping is a rather personal choice for women, that its more about comfort and looks, and that as men they really don't have a clue how our feet feel, realize that, and therefore don't consider high heels to be an ideal gift.

#3. As you've pointed out, its women who make the active choice to purchase high heels and also choose the length of the heel. Price is certainly a factor as well because a nice pair can be really expensive. We also think personal height might be a factor and it would be interesting to see a chart of how tall average high heel buyers are.

#4. Does Hillary Clinton have to wear high heels all the time? We personally have never seen her feet without her ever-present-high-heels. So evidently she wants to make herself look taller and professional. The same can be said for men wearing ties. There's no rule saying businessmen have to wear ties, but many do in an effort to look professional. Its a societal expectation that politicians and business people try to look professional.

High heels are essentially about trying to look taller, professional and deserving of respect. Why do prostitutes wear high heels? Because they want more respect and to be treated as a higher class.

Do you remember the Glamour magazine editor who said that Afro hair was unprofessional and a bad look? White society expects black women to straighten their hair in order to look professional, but frankly we disagree with the notion that its unprofessional in the first place. We think afro hair looks just beautiful the way it is and black women should be encouraged to stand up for their natural hair. Whats wrong with society is the shock value of afro hair. People in corporate life aren't used to seeing it regularly but that belief will change over time as more black women go natural.

Are men forcing black women to straighten their hair? There could be an argument for that too. A lot of rap videos do show women with straightened hair, suggesting thats what men seem to want. Frankly we think its all about people bending to society's expectations.

The same goes with high heels. People expect career minded women to wear high heels. Are they a detriment or a benefit? Only if people notice them. If someone's on a first date and wears high heels its because she wants to make a good first impression.

So are high heels a detriment or a benefit? At this point we're going to say neither.

We definitely think Crocs would be a detriment, regardless of how comfortable they are.

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