The great stiletto conspiracy theory


Posted on: 17 May 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring

Olderiswiser columnist Diane Priestley has given up killer heels for comfy flats and has challenged women to step down. Well I say the feminist movement was about choice – so step up!

Diane is a friend of mine and columnist on our sister site olderiswiser, where she has argued that stilettos are a misogynistic joke, made to make women look sexy by jutting out their bums and teetering daintily while swinging their hips in a short skirt or skin tight jeans. She also argues that they send a message that looking sexy is such a priority that you are willing to endure agony with every step. I couldn’t disagree more.

Firstly, and so often believed in this argument between fashion and sex, women don’t wear shoes of any description for anyone other than themselves. I have carved a rather large hole in my credit card, which has created a wall of heels in my bedroom. From kitten to killer and rainbow to black they adorn my bedroom like a wall of art, and I love them. I enjoy looking at them, buying them and I particularly love wearing them - and contrary to popular belief if you learn to walk in said heels, invest in a pair of jelly feet and look out for hidden platforms they are actually very comfortable.

The reason I own them is because I love fashion, I love reading about fashion looking at new styles and I love investing in shoes because I believe (as my mother taught me) that the outfit is in the shoes. I don’t wear them for men, I wear them because they make me feel great and I’ve never had a builder comment on my shoes, he’s normally looking elsewhere when he has a witty and original comment to make. 

But why do I love them? Well, I’m vain and from a figurative point of view they make me taller, elongate my legs and therefore make me feel slimmer. They also make me conscious of the way I walk –I feel elegant in heels, chic and sophisticated and a well-chosen pair can tip your outfit from acceptable to perfect in a foot step. 

I don’t wear heels every day, mostly because I’m walking around a lot and they’re just not practical, but for the Alexandra Shulmans and Lorraine Candys of this world I’m sure a heel is just part of their daily routine. I don’t agree with young children wearing heels, I think its ridiculous not only because it is suggesting they grow up quickly but also because they can’t be good for growing feet, but for an adult woman, however, I see no problem.

The major issue I have with people discussing high heels as sexually provocative footwear is that it assumes the wearer is fashioning them for that purpose. Women (most women) don’t dress to impress men, they dress to feel good, and wearing heels, however high and ridiculous is all part of their personal style. If a woman feels more powerful, more elegant, more fashionable or even sexier in a pair of great shoes, why should they be thrown to the slutty scrap heap?

We have found ourselves yet again at a milestone in women’s liberty. A police officer recently remarked that women should avoid dressing like sluts to avoid being raped. I don’t need to expand on just how utterly offensive and ignorant this comment is, but I don’t think its far from saying that women wear heels to impress men, attract men or give them the ‘come on’. 

We’re still asking the same questions - why should we change our clothing for men? And why are women listening to what men have to say about our dress? Diane uses the columnist William Leigh to back up her argument, where’s the woman’s voice? Whether we’re dressing up or down, it has nothing to do with the other sex, or at least is shouldn’t.  If I went out in the street wearing nothing more than my stilettos, who’s business would it really be?

Some women may believe that we wear high heels for men, and the same women may also believe that a niqab is a degrading item of clothing made to make Muslim women aware of their repression. The general problem is that time after time, these issues are debated by men and the laws are passed by men, even when women openly say that they wear heels for their own enjoyment or wear a veil to protect their dignity. They may sound like two items of clothing that couldn’t be further apart, but the issue is the same – choice.

If you want to wear heels, wear them, if they make you feel uncomfortable then don’t, but don’t try to pretend you wear comfy shoes to stop the sexualisation of women, if that was the case then surely push up bras, skinny jeans, waist belts and skirts would have to be burnt too, in fact throw out the hair-dye because blonde hair sends out suggestive connotations, and ditch the make-up too. The fact is that every single thing we do with our bodies can be viewed as an attempt to attract attention from the opposite sex, or that’s what men would like to believe, it’s just not the case.

If anything comes out of my generation for women’s right of choice it should be the widespread recognition that whatever choices we make are our own – and with that, the ability to say noWomen who get raped are not asking for it - and high heels are not a sexual come on worn for the benefit of men.

Read Diane’s article against high heels here.

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Diane Priestley posted 18 May 2011

I am surprised how well-thought out and deliberate is Rhian's choice to wear high heels! I am impressed. Wow! The feminist argument from the new generation! Are high heels about sexualising a woman or just her own personal taste and right to free choice? She argues, If the shoes are about being a sex object then what about other clothes and grooming that are designed to look attractive? How far do you take the argument?. Ban low cut tops that reveal boobs, short skirts that show off legs, sexy make-up and oh no...blonde hair! Heaven forbid! 

I agree with Rhian that most of our clothes choices are about looking good and feeling good for our own self-esteem rather than being attractive for men. But for me, and most women on the other side of 50, priorities flip from concern for appearance (and willingness to suffer for fashion) to concern (if not obsession) with comfort! 
We worry if we are too hot or too cold, having a hot flush, which fogs up our glasses and makes us sweat (not a good look)  and are our clothes too tight or too baggy and whether shoes are hurting our tootsies! It becomes all about comfort as the number one priority and the fact I can also look passably "attractive"...well a little bit...that's a bonus!  
Thanks Rhian for your perspective and your strong views. I am impressed you have thought it through and not just blindly followed fashion!      

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