Sunday, May 24, 2015

On Memorial Day weekend, a female veteran reflects on high heels

Women's footwear designed by a misogynist. .
How can I blend the topic of high heels for women with an appropriate tribute to Memorial Day? As a member of the Women in the Air Force (WAF) back in 1958, my Class A uniform included black leather high heels – fortunately WAF were not expected to march in them. We had granny shoes for that purpose, a style of footwear that lent itself to everyday activities. Our fatigue uniforms came with lace up ankle high shoes. WAF uniforms with appropriate shoes were a testament to the reality that high heels were not intended for practical purposes.

When I returned to civilian life, I experimented from time to time with the pointy-toed shoes with narrow high heels that were the fashion back then. I and otherwise intelligent women actually wore them to work. Needless to say, they hurt my feet. And I wondered about the obvious misogyny behind such torturous footwear for women. Luckily, I didn't have to wait until I was an old lady before I favored tennis shoes for trips to the supermarket. More often than not, I chose to wear flats to the office.

Obviously, this female military veteran had given some thought to high heels before coming across an opinion piece on that topic in the NY Times on Memorial Day weekend 2015: Shoes that put women in their place:

TORONTO — YOU can’t even really see the shoes.

In many of the photos of women on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, the elegant gowns fall all the way to the ground, obscuring a view of their special-occasion footwear.

So why on earth would it matter if women entering the prestigious celebration of cinema chose not to confine themselves in difficult-to-walk-in heels, opting for something more manageable — or even fashion-forward, in a flat?

It did seem to matter to someone, though. It was reported last week that some women were turned away from the festival for the sartorial sin of wearing flats. High heels, it turns out, appeared to be part of the unwritten red-carpet dress code. Wearing heels changes how you stand, how you walk and how you are perceived. Even if they are visible only in small flashes, when a hem moves to one side, they are, in essence, a foundation garment: shoes that keep women in their place.

The heel has come to be the icon of feminine allure and even female power. But what, exactly, is this power and why do only women have the privilege of using heels to convey it?

Heeled footwear that gave the wearer a bit of a lift, or an advantage while on horseback, were not the original domain of women. They were first introduced into Western fashion around the turn of the 17th century from Western Asia. Privileged men, followed by women, eagerly wore them for more than 130 years as expressions of power and prestige.

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