Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The politics of shoes

Naomi Wolf 's thesis in The Beauty Myth (1991) was that the 'beauty industry' keeps women down by demanding the attention to our appearances that it does. It siphons off physical and mental energy from other pursuits. It drains our purses. Sometimes, as in the case of cosmetic surgery, it kills us. Her book asks questions like:
  • What could we accomplish with the 45 minutes we spend every morning doing our hair and putting on makeup if we put that same time and energy into our careers? Or politics?
  • How many battered women's shelters could we fund with the money we spend on face cream?
Right after Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for Vice President, a shoe company ran an ad in a women's fashion magazine with the tag line, "Every woman needs a platform to speak from," over a picture of an admittedly hot shoe with a three-inch platform. I knew right then that Ferraro was going to lose. A 3-inch heel, be it platform or spike, is, it goes without saying, most emphatically not the sort of platform we needed. The advertiser viciously trivialized the platform Ferraro was running on. The ad's creators overtly sought to channel all our political ambitions into a "suitable" direction for women and girls, and away from real power--as Wolf points out, much in our consumer society does. It's almost as if the shoe guys were saying,
"It's ok girls. You aren't ready for the White House, but here's this cool consolation prize--a pair of shoes you could break your ankle falling off of. Be careful when you walk, but hey. At least you'll look sexy! which is all you girls really want out of life anyway, right? Not to mention that we guys are much more comfortable if you stay in that space, ok?"
Now Dr. Isis has some truly hot shoes in a recent post. I bet she looks spectacular in them. And I am not, repeat not, criticizing her for wearing them. I like them. And given her station in life, they are obviously not the consolation prize. But Dr. Isis and I grew up in very different times. I was just coming of age when the second wave of feminism hit young women of my generation like a tsunami, and that, believe it or not, has a lot to do with how I feel about shoes.

Rape crisis centers and battered women's shelters sprang up everywhere in the '70s, as did self-defense classes for women. And one of the things I learned early on was that high heels are literally crippling. For one thing, they actually damage your feet, legs, and back. No biggie--lots of things we consider fun or fashionable are not good for us. Take chocolate, for example.

But feminists back then equated spike heels in particular with the ancient Chinese practice of foot-binding. If it was hard for a woman to walk, and her activities were thereby severely restricted, it was obviously going to be easier to keep her in her place--to wit, submissive and dependent. And as the women who ran the self-defense classes pointed out, it is damn difficult to run, kick, or fight wearing spikes. (Although removed from the foot, they do make pretty good weapons.)

So to me shoes are important to mobility. If I'm not mobile in them, I won't buy them. These are my office and classroom shoes. They are simply the most stable, comfortable shoes I have ever owned. They are Brooks and you can buy them here (although I got mine cheaper on e-bay). I have two pair (the other pair is tan) and if they ever start making them in purple, Dr. Isis, I shall have a pair of them, too!


Isis the Scientist said...

Virginia, thank you for this perspective. You keep rocking your Brooks. I am finding my race stripe shoes to be completely comfortable, but your Brooks are looking pretty comfortable too.

Liberality said...

I wear low healed boots during the winter. I don't wear heals and I don't like them. Very nice blog you have here. Came via Twisty's place.