Tag Archives: Feminism

Can a feminist wear high heels? Is the Pope a Catholic?

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.



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Where’s Your Compassion, Suzanne Moore?

Suzanne Moore’s latest piece, a review of that shining great white hope of female journalism Liz Jones’s book “Girl Least Likely To: 30 Years of Fashion, Fasting and Fleet Street”, managed to both make me angry and deeply hurt all in one go. That’s some feat. Rarely will someone be able to elicit sympathy for Liz Jones, but Suzanne Moore managed it. 

 Jones has a column which requires some level of self-hatred required to read on a regular basis, in which she espouses on whatever topic has aggrieved Liz Jones. Having written astoundingly awful articles on depression, or stealing your husband’s sperm or [insert badly informed and often absurd topic here], the consensus seems to be that she has to either be a parody of sorts or a deeply troubled woman, probably equal parts of both. 

 Every so often, Jones will write an article so infuriating and damaging that we can’t help but share it. The Daily Mail get the page hits and Jones gets the infamy. The internet has a term for this. It’s called “feeding the troll”. Whether she believes what she is writing or not is largely immaterial. Her column serves to get The Daily Mail page hits, and for Jones, it seems there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Were they a responsible publication, this would be the first sign that The Daily Mail should take some control, rather than exploit her obvious craving of attention.

 Make no mistake about it, the things she writes range from the simply absurd and almost comical, to the deeply disturbing and problematic. It seems she has imbued the very worst of patriarchy and deems to vomit it back in our faces like an infant.

Obviously, there is a critique of her poisonous form of journalism to be done. This isn’t it. 

 In reading Moore’s critique of Jones’s book, the only thing that leapt out was an asinine and personal contempt for Jones. Suzanne Moore is a feminist, that is, when she isn’t writing transphobic articles and displaying breathtaking levels of ignorance and privilege when told she has been offensive. Who can forget the “chopping off their dicks” comment which spawned so much controversy it caused her to temporarily depart from Twitter as yet another way of getting attention – much like her target Liz Jones employs in her articles – only to return having learned (it seems) very little. 

 There is nothing feminist about Moore’s piece on Jones, however. Were it feminist, it would’ve have shown a sliver of compassion to the fact that Jones has openly spoken about her eating disorder. Whether she calls it fasting or anorexia, is neither here nor there. The media’s constant thrusting of unattainable bodies which are deemed as “normal”, only leads to internalised self-hatred of the natural body form. Moore knows this, and yet completely ignores it in this piece, choosing to go on the attack.

 Liz Jones, however nasty and absurd her opinions may be, is still a woman after all. She is a woman very likely to be suffering from a mental illness. Those who suffer from eating disorders are well versed in its effect on the psyche. How it can change not only what you see in the mirror, but in others, how you treat others and even your beliefs. It permeates every aspect of yourself. For Moore to acknowledge this and then decide to continue with an attack-ridden article is nothing short of bullying. This piece is published in The Guardian, so it’s hardly contrarian. It reads as the equivalent of shouting at an alcoholic to stop drinking. Giving a woman with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia and other problems what is tantamount to a load of abuse, is not going to get her to seek the help she quite clearly needs. It will only make her more unhappy or go on the defensive. 

 Perhaps The Guardian should consider for a moment here that this is the second time this year that Suzanne Moore has used her platform at the paper to bully the vulnerable, and review her articles they sanction for publication.

 The piece also fails to separate Jones’s views, which rightly should be challenged and forcibly so, from her human self. It is almost entirely ad-hominem. Moore makes no acknowledgement of the effect a misogynistic society and internalised misogyny, combined with a mental illness, can have on people. She makes no reference to the fact that the kindest and most moral thing we could do for Jones is to not indulge her views, rather than giving her something to kick against. 

 Instead, Moore chooses to describe Jones’s miserable life as “almost entirely self-inflicted”. We all know that eating disorders are a form of mental illness, one that lends itself readily to women (and men) in a patriarchal society obsessed with dictating (especially to women) what we should look like and how much we should weigh. Moore knows this, as this is a common issue feminists have with the media. Nobody chooses to have a mental illness, to suggest otherwise shows a lack of understanding on how eating disorders manifest, and an incredible lack of compassion.

 As for the “tainted love of narcissism”, Moore omits the fact that any and all form of social commentary, and indeed her very article, requires a degree of narcissism. Why else would you assume anybody gave a fig about what you had to say? To paraphrase The Bible: Let the writer who is without narcissistic traits cast the first stone.

 As feminists, we regularly get angry at the victim blaming culture that surrounds rape and violence against women. It would serve Suzanne Moore well to consider how similar she is to those she claims to despise when she next chooses to write a hatchet job on someone she disagrees with. 


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Iraqi Women are worse off than 40 years ago

Four Iraqi women got together to make a documentary film to draw attention the challenges women face in Iraq one year after the war officially ended.

One year after newly re-elected President Obama announced the official end of the war in Iraq, the country is in a state of turmoil. Operation Iraqi Freedom may officially be over but violence has escalated and women are particularly affected. 

40 years ago Iraqi women and men were equal under the law and women enjoyed many rights similar to those of women in the UK today. However, since the early 1990s women have seen their rights curtailed and their participation in all areas of society dramatically inhibited. There has been a sharp decline in female literacy and one year after the Iraq War women are even worse off. Today, the lack of security and policing has led to women being attacked in the streets by people with different political agendas who want to impose veiling, gender segregation and discrimination. Women are finding it more and more difficult to go out alone and, in addition to that, many women suffer violence at the hands of their fathers, brothers and other relatives; particularly those who try to choose how to lead their lives.

Four women who are graduates of Women for Women International’s year-long holistic training programme of life, business and vocational skills recently made a short documentary film to show us in the UK what life is like for Iraqi women one year after the withdrawal of the troops. 

“We wanted to make this film because we want our voices to be heard. Iraqi women are strong and they need to know that they have rights and that they can use them to make their lives and those of their families better,” says Nihayet, a graduate of the Women for Women International programme and assistant camera operator.

The film titled Hands of Hope explores how women can overcome economic hardship and lead change in their families and communities through access to knowledge and resources.  

“Our economic difficulties were the greatest challenge we faced,” says Zainab. “But I was able to overcome them because of what I learned during the Women for Women International programme.”

Zainab, an Iraqi mother of three was facing major economic hardship as her husband’s low wages were barely enough to cover their basic needs. Zainab never had a paid job. The vocational training of the programme allowed Zainab to realize her potential in tailoring and helped build her self worth. Now Zainab has started her own sewing business and is even able to save!  

The plight of Iraqi women is serious and ever mounting. Women for Women International is launching an urgent appeal for donations to help these women and their sisters in the seven other countries where we work. Between 25 November and 10 December all donations made to Women for Women International will be matched pound for pound by a generous group of supporters. This means that your gift will benefit twice as many women who are rebuilding their lives after conflict and war. Go to www.womenforwomen.org.uk   

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