May 08, 2007

This is a big part of why I hate high heels

Link, via

I don't know the exact dates, but my grandmother spent at least several years working as a cocktail waitress when my mom was a little girl. She was required to wear heels, and, of course, spent pretty much her entire shift every night on her feet.

Within the past fifteen years, my grandmother has had something like seven foot surgeries and three knee surgeries to repair the damage done by those heels.

The article accompanying the illustration quotes a curator at a shoe museum calling heels ```one of the primary ways to express what [people] don't have to do,'' such as walk long distances and do strenuous work.' It's an entertaining thought -- high heels being just another bizarre way for the wealthy to display their wealth -- but belied by my grandmother and other women in the service industry in the '50s and '60s (and probably well before and well after). These women, as a symbol of their economic and social inferiority to the men who patronised their bars, restaurants, airplanes, and hotels, were required to walk long distances and do strenuous work in painful, harmful footwear.

High heels aren't conspicuous consumption or politically-neutral fashion. They're as abominable as foot-binding.

4 comments:

Kryssa said...

while I can appreciate the sentiment, I adore heels. I like the way they look and I like that it puts me slightly closer to eye level with most males.

MosBen said...

Kryssa's comment segues nicely into my question. Are heels bad only in situations where women are required to wear them, or are they irredeemable even in situations where women expess a desire to wear them? I understand the idea that the fashion/attractiveness of heels is drilled into women's minds by popular culture, but is there any way they can be salvaged from a tool of a male dominated society to a value neutral choice?

Noumena said...

Here's the simple answer: Apologies for high heels (Kryssa's being the two I have seen most often) are just ad hoc attempts to rationalise and present coerced behavior as a choice. They're an example of what Marx calls false consciousness and what Martha Nussbaum (borrowing, I think, from some economists) calls adaptive preferences. In a just world, no-one would wear high heels except as part of a particularly outlandish costume.

But this last sentence is very hard to defend, if not impossible. We don't know what women, or really anyone at all, would do in a just world, because we are radically incapable of imagining a just world. So maybe, in the distance utopian future, people would freely choose to wear high heels in everyday life. It's at least logically possible, though I find it personally completely implausible.

So, more complex answer: It doesn't matter what would happen in a just world. In our actual world, as evidenced by the way women prioritise conforming to a standard of physical attractiveness over their health, our conceptual framework is so profoundly fucked up that the very idea that we can make rational choices (ie, choose what is truly in our best interest) becomes suspect; compared to that problem, the question of whether or not people would rationally choose to wear high heels is trivial.

Of course, the problem here is that it rapidly turns into a circular argument. This is why false consciousness arguments are so hard -- if not impossible -- to defend.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kryssa, but there is a huge difference between good shoes and payless shoes. You can buy an amazing pair of heels that don't hurt your feet. I don't know if you have ever worn them, but they aren't that bad. I don't wear them often and I like the way they look. It sucks that your Grandma has feet problems but the fabulous heels that are made today aren't anything like those made in the 50s and 60s when she was forced to where them.

Here is a little history on the high heel. It is kind of funny that the first people to wear the high heel were men. I apologize b/c I have no clue how to post an embedded link:

http://www.nu-highheels.com/history.html

----Jenna