The question ‘Can feminists wear high heels’ is asked inexplicably often. It’s hard to see why, because there’s little evidence of me or anyone else using somebody’s shoe choice on the deciding factor of their personality, moral worth or intelligence. Nobody doubted Steve Jobs because he turned up at his product launches in grey New Balance sneakers. Nobody doubted Nelson Mandela because of his preferred type of loafer. Why do some women regularly fixate on whether or not a high heel is compatible with subscribing to feminism?
Charlotte Ravens, on this website, likens the wearing of high heels by a feminist to Richard Dawkins wearing rosary beads and a crucifix. It’s a nice line, but it doesn’t really mean anything beyond that.
Atheism is the rejection of religion in any form, so wearing a crucifix would be, indeed, a strange choice by the anger-toting honey-fondler. But would his choice of accessories remove the substance of his argument? Only if you wanted to glibly miss the point. As far as I am aware, feminism lies fundamentally committed to the autonomy of women, and for the end of patriarchy. I argue with my words, not my feet.
She continues her argument by saying that feminists look silly in high heels. This doesn’t make sense. I’m a feminist and believe that I look fantastic in high heels, and that my feminist friends do too, if they wish to wear them. I’m sure some people look silly in high heels, feminist or otherwise, but I haven’t seen any correlation between their fashion choices and the intellectual rigour they apply to their lives.
I’ve worn heels when giving a speech in Parliament, discussing the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have worn heels whilst attending Reclaim the Night. I even wore heeled boots for the 100th celebration of International Women’s Day, marching from Borough Market to South. I celebrated and promoted the interests of feminism, while using free choice to wear heels at the same time. The view that women can be dismissed as silly for having an interest in fashion seems like it should be followed by an instruction for us to know our limits.
Raven then says that feminism isn’t about making women feel comfortable about bad or harmful decisions or choices. The key word here is choice. There is no reason to conclude that feminists in heels are making bad choices or bad decisions. There’s just as much evidence to suggest that my activism is caused by wearing heels. That is, none. It’s like saying you cannot be a feminist if you wear a dress, a short skirt or a push up bra.
There’s also a comparison between those who choose to wear heels and those who stay in relationships with domestic violence. “We can condemn the choice without judging.” Why condemn at all? There are plenty of reasons why people, especially women, end up in abusive relationships, and plenty more why they stay in them. At a time when women’s refuges are closing, and cuts are hitting women hardest, it’s not hard to explain why some women may make that choice, a choice that is rarely a free one. Condemnation of the choice while not acknowledging the reasons why there may be little other choice is damagingly reductive and wilfully ignorant.
You may think “You’re not a bad person but the decision you’ve made is stupid” sounds logical, but more often, telling a victim of domestic violence that their decision to remain is terrible ends up doing more harm than good. Women are at their most vulnerable leaving and just after leaving abusive relationships, and there aren’t enough resources or the universally sound opinions in society to protect them at that stage. That’s not a particularly feminist approach to a seriously feminist issue.
Calling heels “stripper heels” – denigrating sex workers by extension, comparing it to self harm – making light of mental health – is damaging and offensive comparisons.
“We need to understand, but not consent their behaviour. I understand and empathise, because I could have ended up in casualty myself last NYE”. The problem you seem to have with high heels is that because you have trouble with them, they are not feminist.
There is an argument to be made about whether the wearing of high heels is encouraged by patriarchal standards of beauty, there is a proper critique of whether the fashion industry works against women, and there is absolutely an argument to be made about whether women who wear high heels are making an informed choice, with all the knowledge of the health issues that can arise from wearing them. But this is not what we have been presented with. Patriarchy’s effects are felt through fashion, as they are through almost everything. It seems bizarre to me to fixate on heels.
No, it would only not be feminist if despite your trouble with them, you didn’t have the choice to stop wearing them. You have the choice not to wear heels, I have the choice to wear them. Some women have the choice to leave abusive relationships, many don’t. No one choice is the same, and no women has as many choices as men. That’s what feminism is for.