August 2, 2008

"My Five Inch Spike Heel"

I've just discovered an Australian blog written by some guy named Sam de Brito, and while he hardly qualifies as a feminist (indeed, if any man can be such a thing), he does seem to be an entertaining and occasionally insightful writer.

Take, for instance, this post.

High Heels: What Are They Good For?

So why the hell do women wear them? Feminist scholars such Jeffreys contend that, like many other harmful beauty practices, it is because "high heel wearing fulfills the dictates of male dominant culture and gives satisfaction to men".

"Woman are immediately recognizable as they walk with difficulty on their toes in public places. Thus high heels enable women to complement the male sex role of masculinity, in which men look sturdy and have both feet on the ground, with clear evidence of female fragility," she says.

Women, as they teeter around on their stilts look vulnerable, they can't run from danger, and, also, they're sending an unambiguous signal to men that they care enough about male sexual satisfaction to wear them.

I used to wear high heels when I was younger, although I never went in for spikes (or pumps--I could never see the sense of putting on a triangular shoe that bears no resemblance to the shape of an actual foot, unless you're a participant in the Chinese foot-binding fetish). Now I wouldn't be caught dead in anything but flats, because it gradually dawned on me that bearing my entire hundred-plus pounds on the balls of my feet couldn't be healthy for them, or my legs and back, for that matter.

Yet many women still wear the stupid things, and sometimes pay outrageous prices for them. Why? I can't see any possible use for a spike heel, other than (if you're lucky) to put an assailant's eye out. Yeah, just call 'em Manolo Blinders, instead of Manolo Blah-whatevers.

I asked the question of a successful female investment banker last month and, showing an incredible gift for analysis, she replied "It's just what we do" before admitting she wouldn't be seen dead in her office without heels.

Yet, Jeffreys says, "eight out of 10 women who replied to a global shoe survey carried out by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons said their feet hurt mainly because of high heels", while a BBC study in 2001 "found that over 80 per cent of women would not change the type of shoes they wore solely to alleviate a foot problem", estimating that "three out of four women may have a serious foot problem by the time they reach their 60s."

Laying all snark aside, it seems to me that this is a very subtle form of brainwashing, and most of it can be laid squarely at the feet (pardon the pun) of the fashion and entertainment industry. Supermodels and nearly all of the female characters on TV and in the moves are shown tottering around in those male-gaze fantasies (since, after all, most television and movie producers, as well as fashion photographers, are male, and thus insist on dressing their female stars to their manly expectations). As do so many things with the patriarchy, this creates a vicious circle: since women are constantly being bombarded with such sexist images, they think it is the Thing To Do, even if it negatively affects their health.

This isn't to say that anyone wearing heels is stupid, only that if you never see anything else, you don't think anything of it; you just go along with the crowd. And I'm sure there are a lot of people who actually like wearing the things. Nevertheless, I think it behooves us to question ourselves and our reasons for doing so, on this as well as many other topics which mainly affect women (for instance, dyeing hair and wearing makeup).

It doesn't take long to ask ourselves: Why? Why am I doing this? Do I actually like my heels, and feel empowered when I put them on? Or am I merely kowtowing to societal expectations, and perhaps to a partner who thinks heels are sexy? If it is the latter, who are they sexy for? My significant other or me? If they're only sexy in the eyes of my significant other--and again, why does s/he think they're sexy? For the frankly bullshit reasons mentioned above?--maybe I should rethink wearing them.

This little bit of self-examination doesn't take long, and might just improve your life.

(Addendum: This is a lovely poem written by Scriber's Web, on the possible other use of a spike heel.

and my five inch spike heel
into his groin
at first I saw a flash of surprise
then pain
and more pain as he doubled over
i smiled and said
life is short
get over it
and walked out
slamming the door behind me.

Heh heh.)


Crescendo said...

I wear heels because I have very high arches and they are actually comfortable to me-- just as comfortable if not more so than flats. If I have no arch support or my heel is at the same level as the ball of my foot, that, to me, is painful.

I also just like how they look.

I don't have a significant other. I remember when I had a boyfriend who ridiculed me for wearing my 4 inch stillettos as we were walking back from a movie. He said I could never run in them. I said I could probably outrun him (he was in sneakers).

He was not the kind of guy to lose, even to his girlfriend, so he ran hard. But I ran faster. Heels, and I still beat him. His friends never let him live it down.

Scriber's Web said...

Hey! Thanks for including my poem in the blog. I am so flattered! Speechless in fact. Really glad that you liked it. It sure is one way to use the spike heel!

Unknown said...

Can you not see that no matter how much different people push different products, that fundementally its woman who wear them?

Woman make up over 50% of the population and if they wear them, its because they want to wear them because it makes them more attractive, or simply so they can see over someones head.

Also, without being picky or anything, would you not say you trying to dissuade people wearing high heels when you did when you were young, is a tad hypocritical?

We live and learn.

God bless.