More on shoes

Jess’ post yesterday got me thinking, or rather, inspired me to actually blog about something to which I’ve always given a lot of thought.

A couple of years ago I was on a quick lunchtime shoe shopping binge with a colleague. She picked up a pair of high heels, turned them round, and put them back on the shelf with a distasteful, “Eurgh, they’ve got lesbian heels.” Since the heels in question were of a clumpy nature I guess she was buying into the idea that gay women wear ugly shoes and thus are ugly women. Since when did women’s shoes become so ridiculously fetishised? How did it come to pass that there is a style of shoe associated with being an unattractive individual? In a way, it’s kind of liberating – you can control how attractive people think of you as being by changing your shoes. But it’s also just plain weird. And it royally sucks that in order to be considered “attractive” you have to be uncomfortable.

Why must our sexual attractiveness be tied up in being uncomfortable? Why is a woman teetering in stilettos more attractive than a woman walking confidently in trainers? Why is “sexy” underwear made of scratchy lace, “chicken fillets” and what a male friend of mine charmingly refers to as “arse floss”? Why is it so difficult to find nice, pretty underwear that doesn’t involve “arse floss”?

In so many cultures throughout history, a woman’s attractiveness has been directly related to how uncomfortable, and in extreme cases how disabled, she is. There was foot binding, which rendered the victim unable to hobble more than a few metres, and corsets which rearranged the internal organs. There are some cultures today that feed their girls until they are morbidly obese in order to make them more attractive marriage prospects, some that butcher girls’ genitals for similar reasons. These are things that parents (usually mothers) do to girls though, in order to increase their prospects in highly patriarchal societies in which the best a girl can hope for out of life is to be well married. High heels and arse floss are things that women do to themselves in a society in which they have the same legal rights as men. They choose to do it to themselves. But then again, and depending of course on what your profession is, being attractive can massively increase one’s success at work. Has anybody ever seen that back page of Glamour magazine, where they take photos of random people on the street and critique their outfits? There was a horrid one a while back, in which they’d photographed a woman wearing a suit with trainers and said that this was a massive no-no. It made me spit with rage – this woman probably had to wear horribly uncomfortable shoes at work, and why the hell shouldn’t she wear comfy shoes for the journey and change when she got to the office? Are we to look perfectly sexy 24 hours a day? I wonder if Glamour thinks that it’s acceptable for us to take our heels off at night?

There is nothing inherently vile about high heels. I like high heels as much as the next twentysomething woman. In my wardrobe you will find several stratospheric, spangly, studded creations that would make Carrie Bradshaw weep with envy (although thankfully for my bank balance, none of them are Manolos). However, on an everyday basis you’re much more likely to find me in old martial arts trainers. I have worn out several pairs of jodhpur boots in my time, but I have yet to wear out a stiletto heel. Does this mean I’m a minger? Well if it does, at least I’m comfortable. And at least I have a filter for any men who are so ridiculously shallow that their opinion of a woman is coloured by her shoes not being sufficiently sexy.

I get considerably more male attention when I wear high heels than when I wear flat shoes, to quite an amazing extent. I can simply change my shoes and nothing else, and watch the number of neanderthals who try to grope me in the street skyrocket. I can’t believe that they actually make me that much more attractive. I just can’t believe that being a few inches taller is going to make a significant difference to my attractiveness – I honestly don’t think many men are that bothered about the difference between 5ft2 and 5ft6, surely? Likewise, I don’t think looking slightly thinner is going to make much of a difference either. There’s also the theory that wearing high heels forces the wearer to arch their back and stick out their tits and arse, but I don’t buy that either – I happen to have a lot of tits and arse and a very hollow back even without high heels, and the heels still massively affect the amount of male attention I get. I’m sure it’s about more than just how you look in the shoes. Because high heels are stereotyped as “sexy”, wearing them gives out a “message” that you are hot and ready and up for it. (I may well be hot and ready and up for it, but not with some creep who yells at me to get my tits out just because I am wearing “heterosexual shoes”).

Most of the time this attention is just annoying, but it can be terrifying. It takes me ten minutes to walk from the tube station to my house, and last Saturday night, whilst wearing a pair of high-heeled cowboy boots with skinny jeans, I had two rape threats during that ten minutes. One of them was particularly unpleasant, involving two guys in a car cruising past me for a couple of minutes wolf whistling and shouting about how they were going to take me up the arse, and then speeding up and turning into a side street which of course made me think they were lying in wait. Of course they weren’t waiting for me in that side street – they had sped away by the time I walked past. They’d just been threatening me for fun.

Because you’re more likely to get harrassed when you look “sexy” and because you’re more likely to look “sexy” when you’re wearing something that in some way restricts your movement, the very time at which you’re most likely to be threatened is the time at which you’re least likely to be able to physically defend yourself. The main reason I was scared by those naughty men on Saturday night was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to run as fast as them, and that a black belt in taekwondo is no good when you’re wearing skinny jeans. I wonder if vulnerability = sexiness. Would I have been even more “sexy” if I’d been wearing shoes so uncomfortable I’d been struggling to walk? Is a woman who can’t fight back the best kind?

I know that the official feminist party line on this is “it doesn’t make a difference what you wear, women get harrassed regardless” but let’s face it, women do get harrassed much more when they are dressed in a manner which the patriarchy defines as “sexy”. I know damn well that if I had worn that skinny jeans and bomber jacket combo with flat boots, I would not have received anything like the same amount of harrassment, and the harrassment I had received would not have been so unpleasant. I know this because that is exactly the sort of outfit I wear on an everyday basis with little or no trouble – it’s only the addition of a pair of high heels that makes men think it’s okay to harrass me in such an aggressive manner. This is one of the most annoying things – you know that if you hadn’t worn the heels you wouldn’t be being harrassed so much, and so you feel some sense of responsibility for it. Or, if you’re me, you don’t feel that the disgusting behaviour of such lowlifes should affect your wardrobe choices and so you wear the heels regardless and get very angry at the patriarchy.

I was out from 6pm – midnight on Saturday night, and during that time I probably walked past hundreds of men. Only three harrassed me, so it’s not as if men in general are a problem here. But those three were enough to make me feel petrified, furious, embarrassed and, as ever, astounded at the effect a pair of heels seems to have on what “sort of girl” people think I am. It’s frankly weird that the shoes a woman wears are considered to be so heavily indicative of attractiveness, sexual orientation, sexual availability, so many attributes that really have sod all to do with shoes. How did all this happen? Why are we judged as ugly or “easy”, gay or straight, depending on whether or not we happen to have chosen spangly stilettos or DM boots to go with our outfits on any given day? And how the hell can we stop it?