Search results for high heels

Cross-posted at AlterNetJezebel, and VitaminW.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I go shopping for shoes, I’m always stunned by the incredible disproportion of high heels.  I’m just gonna guestimate here, but I’ll bet 85% of the shoes at the average store are high heels so impractical that most women only wear them on special occasions that involve a lot of sitting down.  These shoes, moreover, seem to be pushed to the front of the display.  Women’s shoe stores beckon shoppers by putting their most outrageous shoes out front.  You have to go digging for a practical pump. A quick Google image search for “women’s shoes” reveals the same bias in favor of the four-inch or higher, spindly heeled shoe:

How is it that a shoe that gets 1% of feet time takes up 85% of retail space?  I’m gonna take a shot at offering an answer.

In a previous post I reviewed the history of the high heel.  Originally a shoe for high-status men, it was adopted by the lower classes.  Elites responded by heightening the heel.  The higher the heel, the more impractical the shoe.  Eventually the working classes couldn’t keep up with the escalation because they had to, you know, work.  Sociologically, this is an example of what Pierre Bourdieu famously called “distinction.”  The rich work to preserve certain cultural arenas and products for themselves.  This allows them to signify their status; you know, keep them from getting confused with the masses.

I think something similar is going on today among women. Certain class advantages make it easier for upper middle class and wealthy women to don high heels.  High heels can really only be worn routinely by women who don’t work on their feet all day (I’ll grant there are dedicated exceptions).  Valet parking makes it a whole lot easier to wear shoes that hurt to walk in, so does not having to take the bus.* Having money, in itself, means that nothing stands between you and buying things that are impractical. So, high heels function to differentiate women who can afford to be impractical with their footwear — both monetarily and in practice — from women who can’t. This, I think, is why the highest, spikiest heels are are the front of the shoe store.  In a certain way, they signify status.  Wearing those shoes promises to differentiate you from other “lesser” women, women who can’t invest in their appearance and get lots of practice looking elegant on their tip toes.

Women of all classes desire such shoes because of the signals they send and they often buy them aspirationally, hoping to be the type of woman who wears them.  It’s primarily women at the top of the class hierarchy that will be able wear them routinely, though, feeding the supply of barely worn spike heels that populate every thrift store in America. So, that’s my theory.

But let’s complicate it just a bit more.  Since working class people do, ultimately, have access to high-heeled shoes, the upper classes have to go to extra lengths to effectively use high heels as a marker of distinction.  This can be accomplished by sub-dividing high heels into “classy” and “trashy”: I got the ones on the left by Googling “stripper shoes” and the ones on the right are courtesy of Louis Vuitton, $890 and $1,450 respectively. Now I know that you can get “classy” heels for much cheaper, but the point is to identify this as an arms race.  The rich have the power to control the discourse and can always access the high-status objects.  The poor can copy, but they are often playing catch up because the rich are always changing the rules.  So, as soon as the poor are doing it right, the rules change, otherwise the activity doesn’t function to distinguish the rich from the poor.  And so on.

* Men, if you’re reading, high heels really do hurt to walk in.  Yes, pretty much all the time.  Most women are used to it and mild pain may not even register consciously.  Sometimes the pain is quite significant, but women wear them anyway.  You’ve probably seen women in your life kicking off their high heels as soon as they walk in the door, or rubbing their feet and wincing; there’s a reason for that.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Teresa C. sent in a link to a benefit in Raleigh, NC, for a women’s center. The benefit was called Walk for Women and included a mile-long walk in high heels (though apparently the high heels are optional):

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I get what they’re trying to do. Really, I do: an attention-getting way of raising money for what I’m sure is a worthy cause. And having worked or volunteered in many social-service jobs, I know fundraising can be hard (especially in an economic downturn) and you can end up doing some sort of weird stuff if you think it will bring in donations. (I once helped out at a dog blessing at an animal shelter. People brought in their dogs and had them blessed by an Episcopalian preacher [priest? I’m not sure of the terminology] and received a little medal with the image of some saint who apparently is the patron saint of animals, and who I am too lazy to look up right now, to hang on the dog’s collar. Also, there was wine, which in small-town Kansas was the source of some controversy.)

[NOTE: When I originally wrote this post, I had no idea that blessing animals is something some Episcopalians and Catholics do fairly often. I thought it was just something a sweet but kind of flaky volunteer thought up. I apologize if the comments about the animal blessing ceremony seemed disrespectful–I truly didn’t know that it’s a common religious ceremony. I decided to leave that section in but cross through it rather than delete it entirely, as it seemed dishonest to just erase it and pretend it hadn’t happened. I messed up, and I know it.]

So I know where people are coming from when they organize such things. But it still kind of bugs me that organizing walks in high heels has become a common fundraising technique for organizations that serve (primarily) women–women’s centers, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and so on. And I can’t help but think that walking around in heels is, ultimately, an odd way to help women. At least in this case, participants are apparently raising money. But several times I’ve seen high-heeled walks that are simply to “raise awareness,” with no particular emphasis on donations. The ones I saw all had men wearing high heels. And the thing is, I can’t figure out what on earth the point is. What type of awareness is it raising? Is walking around in high heels supposed to increase a person’s understanding of some of the problems women face? What are bystanders supposed to get out of it?

The Raleigh Walk for Women organizers also had a Beauty Blitz at a local salon, where people could drop in, register for the walk, and get discounts on salon services from a person who was a contestant on “Biggest Loser.” And also have a cocktail. So the event is this strange mixture of helping women by using the trappings of femininity (high heels, beauty care). And I just find it kind of odd.

Cross-posted at BlogHer, VitaminW, and The Huffington Post.

At about 1:00 Monday, a quorum of the Occidental Faculty overwhelmingly voted No Confidence in the campus attorney, Carl Botterud, and the Dean of Students, Barbara Avery. I was among the faculty in attendance.

The votes are in response to a belief that these high-level Occidental employees have mishandled sexual assault education, reporting, and adjudication in ways that have harmed individual students and campus culture.

While the motions are symbolic, such measures are quite rare. It is a very powerful statement coming from a faculty united in defense of survivors of sexual assault and their allies. We now wait to see how the College President, Jonathan Veitch, moves forward. The two are currently still active employees at Occidental (that is, not on administrative leave) and Avery continues to chaperone students through the reporting and adjudication process. We are told there is or will be an internal investigation into their conduct.

The vote of no confidence comes on the heels of two federal complaints filed by a coalition of students and faculty and a set of lawsuits filed by Gloria Allred. It is the next step in our personal fight for a better campus, but part of a nationwide movement involving dozens of campuses across the country.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

Why do women wear high heels?  Because men did.

Men were the first sex to don the shoe. They were adopted by the European aristocracy of the 1600s as a signal of status.  The logic was: only someone who didn’t have to work could possibly go around in such impractical footwear.  (Interestingly, this was the same logic that encouraged footbinding in China.)

Women started wearing heels as a way of trying to appropriate masculine power.  In the BBC article on the topic, Elizabeth Semmelhack, who curates a shoe museum, explains:

In the 1630s you had women cutting their hair, adding epaulettes to their outfits…

They would smoke pipes, they would wear hats that were very masculine. And this is why women adopted the heel — it was in an effort to masculinise their outfits.

The lower classes also began to wear high heels, as fashions typically filter down from elite.

How did the elite respond to imitation from “lesser” people: women and workers?  First, the heels worn by the elite became increasingly high in order to maintain upper class distinction.  And, second, heels were differentiated into two types: fat and skinny. Fat heels were for men, skinny for women.

This is a beautiful illustration of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of class distinction.  Bourdieu argued that aesthetic choices function as markers of class difference.  Accordingly, the elite will take action to present themselves differently than non-elites, choosing different clothing, food, decor, etc.  Expensive prices help keep certain things the province of elites, allowing them to signify their power; but imitation is inevitable.  Once something no longer effectively differentiates the rich from the rest, the rich will drop it.  This, I argue elsewhere, is why some people care about counterfeit purses (because it’s not about the quality, it’s about the distinction).

Eventually men quit wearing heels because their association with women tainted their power as a status symbol for men.  (This, by the way, is exactly what happened with cheerleading, originally exclusively for men).  With the Enlightenment, which emphasized rationality (i.e., practical footwear), everyone quit wearing high heels.

What brought heels back for women? Pornography.  Mid-nineteenth century pornographers began posing female nudes in high heels, and the rest is history.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

I am so grateful to reader Emma Farais for recommending that I look into the history of the leotard. It was invented by — well, who else — Jules Léotard.

Born in 1842, Jules grew up to be an acrobat. He is credited with inventing trapeze and performed with French circuses. He invented and then began performing in leotards and he was a big hit. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum:

The original leotard was an all-in-one knitted suit. It allowed freedom of movement, was relatively aerodynamic and there was no danger of a flapping garment becoming entangled with the ropes. Even more importantly, it showed off his physique to its best advantage.

He was a huge hit with the ladies. Alas, he died at age 28. Or 32, depending on the source.

But the leotard lived on. Leotards were adapted for women, but the form and function were similar. Think vintage muscle men and women.

Jules Léotard, circa 1850 (left); Circus Strong Man and Women, circa 1890 (right):4

Male dancers, athletes, and thespians wore leotards well into the ’70s. Eventually, though, disco happened. Disco fashion emphasized leotard fashion for women, as this roller disco shot from the Empire Rollerdome reveals:

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(Oh, to be a roller disco queen in ’70s Brooklyn. Sigh.)

Men eventually abandoned leotards as they became increasingly popular with women. We saw the same pattern, of course, with high heels and cheerleading: male flight from feminizing fashions and activities. The more women wore leotards, the less men wore them. Eventually, companies stopped making leotards for men altogether.

To the disappointment of all the (het) ladies, I’m sure.

Today, a Google Image search for leotard returns all ladies. Mostly girls, in fact. Not a guy in the bunch:

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I can only think of two arenas in which leotards for men still hold sway: wrestling and professional weight lifting. And, now I guess we know why.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Flashback Friday.

Heather L. sent us a link to a business called The Occasional Wife. It’s slogan: “The Modern Solution To Your Busy Life.” The store sells products that help you organize your home and office, and provides all kinds of helpful services to support your personal goals.

capturea1captured

There are two things worth noting here:

First, the business relies on and reproduces the very idea of “wife.”  As the website makes clear, wives are people who (a) make your life more pleasurable by taking care of details and daily life-maintenance (such as running errands), (b) organize special events in your life (such as holidays), and (c) deal with work-intensive home-related burdens (such as moving), all while perfectly coiffed and in high heels.

But, the business only makes sense in a world where “real” wives are obsolete.  Prior to industrialization, most men and women worked together on home farms.  With industrialization, all but the wealthiest of families relied on (at least) two breadwinners. In the 1950s, the era to which this business implicitly harkens, Americans were bombarded with ideological propaganda praising stay-at-home wives and mothers (in part to pressure women out of jobs that “belonged” to men after the war).  Since then, women have increasingly participated in wage labor.  Today, the two parent, single-earner family is only a minority of families.

So, in our “modern” world, even when there is a wife in the picture, there’s rarely a “wife.”  But, as the founder explains, it’d sure be nice to have one:captureb

See, she was his wife, but not a wife.

Of course, this is nothing new.  Tasks performed by wives have been increasingly commodified (that is, turned into services for which people pay): for example, house cleaning, cooking, and child care.  This business just makes the transition in reality explicit by referencing the ideology.  The fact that the use of the term “wife” works in this way (i.e., brings to mind the 1950s stereotype) in the face of a reality that looks very different, just goes to show how powerful ideology can be.

Originally posted in 2009; the business has grown from one location to four.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Like a lot of moms, I faced the Barbie dilemma when my daughter was younger. Ultimately I  figured a little bit of Barbie would sate her appetite (and stop the nagging) without doing too much harm. Like a vaccination, or homeopathic inoculation against the Big Bad. I told myself my daughter didn’t use her dolls for fashion play anyway: her Barbie “funeral,” for instance, was a tour de force of childhood imagination. I told myself I only got her “good” Barbies: ethnic Barbies, Wonder Woman Barbie, Cleopatra Barbie. Now that she’s 10 and long ago gave the dolls away (or “mummified” them and buried them in the back yard in a “time capsule”), I can’t say whether they’ll have any latent impact on her body image or self-perception. It would seem ludicrous, at any rate, to try to pinpoint the impact of one toy.

But now, according to a study published this week,  it turns out that playing with Barbie, even career Barbie, may indeed limit girls’ perception of their own future choices. Psychologists randomly assigned girls ages 4-7 to play with one of three dolls. Two were Barbies: a fashion Barbie (in a dress and high heels); and a “career” Barbie with a doctor’s coat and stethoscope. (NOTE: I just pulled these images from the web: I don’t know which actual Barbies they used.)

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The third, “control” doll was a Mrs. Potato Head, who,  although she comes with fashion accessories such as a purse and shoes, doesn’t have Barbie’s sexualized (and totally unrealistic) curves.

So, after just a few minutes of play, the girls were asked if they could do any of 10 occupations when they grew up. They were also asked if boys could do those jobs. Half of the careers, according to the authors, were male-dominated and half were female dominated. The results:

Girls who played with Barbie thought they could do fewer jobs than boys could do. But girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly the same number of possible careers for themselves and for boys.

More to the point:

There was no difference in results between girls who played with a Barbie wearing a dress and the career-focused, doctor version of the doll.

Obviously, the study is not definitive. Obviously, one doll isn’t going to make the critical difference in a young woman’s life blah blah blah. Still, it’s interesting that it doesn’t matter whether the girls played with fashion Barbie or doctor Barbie, the doll had the same effect and in only a few minutes.

That reminded me of a study in which college women enrolled in an advanced calculus class were asked to watch a series of four, 30-second TV commercials. The first group watched four netural ads. The second group watched two neutral ads and two depicting stereotypes about women  (a girl enraptured by acne medicine; a woman drooling over a brownie mix). Afterward they completed a survey and—bing!—the group who’d seen the stereo- typed ads expressed less interest in math- and science-related careers than classmates who had watched only the neutral ones. Let me repeat: the effect was demonstrable after watching two ads.

And guess who performed better on a math test, coeds who took it after being asked to try on a bathing suit or those who had been asked to try on a sweater? (Hint: the latter group; interestingly, male students showed no such disparity.)

Now think about the culture girls are exposed to over and over and over and over and over, whether in toys or movies or tv or music videos, in which regardless of what else you are—smart, athletic, kind, even feminist, even old—you must be “hot.” Perhaps, then, the issue is not “well, one doll can’t have that much of an impact,” so much as “if playing with one doll for a few minutes has that much impact what is the effect of the tsunami of sexualization that girls confront every day, year after year?”

Peggy Orenstein is the author of four books, including The New York Times best-seller Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.  You can follow her at her blog, where this post originally appeared, on facebook, and on twitter.

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

@bfwriter tweeted us a link to a college design student’s photograph that has gone viral.  Rosea Lake posted the image to her tumblr and it struck a chord.

What I like about the image is the way it very clearly illustrates two things.  First, it reveals that doing femininity doesn’t mean obeying a single, simple rule. Instead, it’s about occupying and traveling within a certain space.  In this case, usually between “proper” and “flirty.”  Women have to constantly figure out where in that space they’re supposed to be.  Too flirty at work mean’s you won’t be taken seriously; too proper at the bar and you’re invisible.  Under the right circumstances (e.g., Halloween, a funeral), you can do “cheeky” or “old fashioned.”

The second thing I like about this image is the way it shows that there is a significant price to pay for getting it wrong.  It’s not just a faux pas.  Once you’re “‘asking for it,” you could be a target. And, once you’re reached “prudish,” you’ve become socially irrelevant.  Both violence and social marginalization are serious consequences.

And, of course, all women are going to get it wrong sometimes because the boundaries are moving targets and in the eye of the beholder. What’s cheeky in one setting or to one person is flirty in or to another.  So women constantly risk getting it wrong, or getting it wrong to someone.  So the consequences are always floating out there, worrying us, and sending us to the mall.

Indeed, this is why women have so many clothes!  We need an all-purpose black skirt that does old fashioned, another one to do proper, and a third to do flirty… at the very least… and all in casual, business, and formal.   And we need heels to go with each (stilettos = provocative, high heels = flirty, low heels  = proper, etc, plus we need flats for the picnics and beach weddings etc).  And we need pants that are hemmed to the right length for each of these pairs of shoes.  You can’t wear black shoes with navy pants, so you’ll need to double up on all these things if you want any variety in your wardrobe. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Women’s closets are often mocked as a form of self-indulgence, shop-a-holicism, or narcissism.  But this isn’t fair.  Instead, if a woman is class-privileged enough, they reflect an (often unarticulated) understanding of just how complicated the rules are.  If they’re not class-privileged enough, they can’t follow the rules and are punished for being, for example, “trashy” or “unprofessional.”  It’s a difficult job that we impose on women and we’re all too often damned-if-we-do and damned-if-we-don’t.

Cross-posted at Business Insider and The Huffington Post; view the original.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.