Is Wearing Heels Anti-Feminist?

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Sarah G. Schmidt's home

Like any other fashion fanatic, these past couple weeks viewing the Spring/Summer presentations are an insatiable treat. First New York, now London, and soon enough it will be time for Paris. Le sigh. As the collections strut their way down the runway, my eyes been drawn to the floor. I’m checking out the models feet. Well, not their feet, their shoes.

Since the 2014 collections, we have seen more flats on the runways in a very long time. Like any trend, it goes this way for a while, and then it shifts a different way. I’m certainly seeing that. Again, like any curious fashion fanatic, I asked myself, “What else does the rise of flat heeled shoes stir up other than sartorial feelings?”

Magazines and blogs have documented the trend, too. I noticed the word “liberate” getting thrown around a lot. As in your feet and body are prisoners. Further, the idea that feet are held captive against their will in heels. I really got stewing. I asked myself, “Do feet need saving? Are they princesses in castles stuck in their situation until somebody comes to their rescue? Aren’t they just feet?” and, "What happens if I like heels?" I was insulted that someone thought that THEY needed to save any part of ME. I want to scream out, "Don’t wait around, save yourself, ladies!" Then, wham, a new realization came to me: Is this the argument used when some claim that heels are sexist and thus, anti-feminist? Is wearing heels considered anti-feminist?

I needed more information. A quick blush at the history of shoes quickly addressed that the history is a bit foggy. Some claim that the first pairs of heels were used by prostitutes to stand out in a crowd for the ease of a potential client’s gaze. The saying, "Stand out from the crowd," comes to mind. Simple enough. There’s plenty of commentary linking prostitution and gender stereotypes and shaming. Not going there today, folks, as it's not simple enough. The same post I looked at commented that royals and other aristocrats – men and women alike - wore them. Eventually heels clickty-clacked their way to more humble people like you and me. Prostitutes (maybe) and rich people wore heels first, got it. What am I to take away from that history in the context of feminism? I didn’t know. I needed to keep looking.

I came back to find out what’s buzzing in 2016 for some answers. While searching I came across commentary on "slut shaming" based upon dress. But before I go there, let me establish a few things. I have been a huge advocate that dressing can help you communicate how you feel about yourself. It can empower and it can detract. You get to decide what you wear and how you feel about it. That said I am revolted when I hear stories that people who are victims of crimes such as harassment, assault and rape, were ever “asking” for it. As in a person wearing a certain cut of dress or a certain shoe condones violence. How does that make sense?

Back to that search I learned about Amber Rose, a former exotic dancer and pop culture celebrity, who has been actively trying to reverse false perceptions on shaming women with sex. She hosted a SlutWalk where victims and supporters alike challenge labels by using them on themselves. They use words like “slut”, “whore”, and “bitch” as self-applied labels of pride, rather than as negative judgments thrust upon them from others. The thinking is that by using the harsh words over and over for oneself, it removes potential power from others using them towards you.

She also is speaking on camera on the terrifying reality of rape culture. She clarifies what consent is and what it is not. During the show she was asked if there was some validity to, “dressing the way you want to be addressed,” say in a nightclub setting. She retorted,

“Oh, boo! That’s not realistic. Stop it.” Adding, “If I want to wear a short skirt or a tank top, and I’m at the club and I’m having fun with my friends and I feel sexy, I’m not DTF. I didn’t come here to have sex. I didn’t come here to hook up with nobody. I came out here with my girls and I just feel pretty. I’m not ‘asking for’ nothing.”

Shout out to her for furthering the dialogue on the importance of consent and the awareness of the unjust, shaming treatment of many victims. Also a shout out to Tyrese for hosting the conversation and learning more about how his words - and influence - can improve. 

After hearing her speak, and thinking about shoes and their potential role in feminism, a few statements shook out in mind…

  • Fairy tales resonate with many people as there are real monsters out there. But they are harder to see in real life as they can look just like you and me. You can't tell from the clothing. Or shoes.
  • What you wear never means you are providing implied sexual consent.
  • Some women feel great in heels. “Wear those heels,” I say.
  • Others feel great in flats. “Wear those flats,” I say, too.
  • As crazy as it may sound, some feel great in both.
  • Finally, there are folks out there that have the crazy idea that you must choose between shoes.

I think that’s what’s really core to all of this. It’s not so much about this shoe trend or that shoe trend being or not being feminist. To me, it’s about a women's right to her own choices. That’s what feminism really is. Feminists advocate for the choice for women in all of their own life situations. This is where we are stuck. Because the only way to really have choice is to have the equal right to that choice in the first place.