Tuesday 29 September 2009

High heels and low lives...

Hurrah, I'm 23 now, and I'm batting back and forth between the Labour Party Conference, my mum's house and my dad's house, all of which have so far involved getting free stuff on my birthday but only one of which has offered me the opportunity to get ratarsed on socialist champagne in a corner of the Thistle with other massively depressed bloggers and stumble into Peter Hitchens on the way out. Atmosphere swinging between crashingly pessimistic and somatically, blissfully naive about the outlook for the Left post-recession and post-2010. Much talk of equality and the fairness agenda, but no women's empowerment angle anywhere, by contrast with the Lib Dems last week. More, hopefully much more, on this later.

Meanwhile, here's my second column for Morning Star, out today, on the TUC's motion to ban compulsory stiletto-wearing in the workplace. Enjoy!


This fairly straightforward motion has caused uproar in the press, with right-wing politicians and brand-endorsed celebrities stumbling in to defend the high heel as essential to female "empowerment."
As it stands, many female workers, including airline staff and shop workers, are required to wear stilettos as part of a mandatory dress code, a standard which does not apply to men - even though, as Lorraine Jones of the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatristspointed out, "Two million working days are lost every year through lower limb and foot-related problems. High heels... are not good for the workplace."
But noted Tory moralist Nadine Dorries argued that the extra height can help women in the workplace. "I'm 5ft 3in and need every inch of my Christian Louboutin heels to look my male colleagues in the eye. If high heels were banned in Westminster, no-one would be able to find me," she wrote.
As a feminist, a fashion-lover and a fellow short-arse, I find that sentiment wobblier than a pair of thousand-dollar Manolos.
I don't need high heels to look a man in the eye. It's not that I disapprove of high heels, more that I've mentally filed them into the box of things that other people inexplicably seem to get very excited about, along with indoor rockclimbing, curry-flavoured potnoodles and David Cameron.
For me, heels are a baffling transaction where a lot of pain, money, effort and inconvenience is traded for the dubious but somehow vital asset of longer, tauter legs and breasts and buttocks thrown out at teetering right angles to your centre of mass. They may make you look taller, but they also make you appear vulnerable, unstable, even submissive - and that's not my idea of sexy, powerful femininity. Fashion they may be, but stilettoes have nothing to do with style.
Be that as it may, stilettos are the misogynist, multibillion-pound beauty industry's wet dream. Their very painful ridiculousness makes them easy to glamorise and the image of a pair of disembodied legs in sky-high heels, from chick-lit covers to chocolate wrappers, has come to symbolise the ad-men's fantasy of modern femininity - impersonal, unthreatening and product-driven.
Speaking of product-driven, not only do the bastard things wear out after about five minutes, meaning that no matter how much you've paid for them you'll be forking out again in a few weeks, you actually need to buy extra stuff to cope with wearing high heels - sparkly heel-pads, those cute little girly first-aid kits specially for stiletto-wearers, and, of course, an extra pair of flats in your handbag for when you break a heel or start hobbling with the pain.
High heels are ruthlessly marketed as part of a certain cash-flashing fantasy feminine lifestyle, so much so that that certain brand names have become synonymous with flimsy, mindblowingly expensive little squished-up foot-harnesses.
When we hear Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik, we think of Carrie Bradshaw toppling from a swish nightclub into a New York taxi on the arm of Mr Big - and we're probably not admiring her fantastic spinal alignment.
To find out how the fantasy holds up to reality, I asked real New York princess Suzanne Reisman, feminist blogger and author of Off the (Beaten) Subway Track, for her view.
"Trust me, any New Yorker who regularly rides the subway or walks anywhere does not wear stilettos on a daily basis," she replied. "Even the most talented stilt walker would break an ankle.
"I think high heels are the exact opposite of empowering. With enough wear, they are permanently physically damaging, resulting in back pain, knee damage and deformed feet and calf muscles. If a shoe causes harm to the wearer, I do not see how it can be described as empowering. Employers should absolutely not mandate that women wear heels to work. When is this woman-hating trend ever going to go away?"

Now far be it from me to disapprove of people's favourite little tortures [read the rest at Morning Star Online...]


  1. I find this absolutely ridiculus. It seems as though people have got confused and think that high heels are being banned COMPLETELY, whereas it's just compulsory heel-wearing that's being banned, no?? The concept of compulsory heel-wearing to me is on a par with trousers being banned, if not worse because of the pain and injury involved.
    As someone who's 6ft tall (and can also not walk in heels, partly because at such an absurd height it's hard enough to stay balanced!!!!) i would reject a job where i was forced to wear heels. Being forced to wear heels would just be hideous.

  2. I agree with Josie, above, that being forced to wear heels is ridiculous and also wrong.

    I agree with you, Penny Red, that "As a feminist, a fashion-lover and a fellow short-arse, I find that sentiment wobblier than a pair of thousand-dollar Manolos.
    I don't need high heels to look a man in the eye. It's not that I disapprove of high heels, more that I've mentally filed them into the box of things that other people inexplicably seem to get very excited about, along with indoor rockclimbing, curry-flavoured potnoodles and David Cameron.

    But I would add that I always wore heels at work (and don't miss that - I'm exactly the same height as Peter Hitchens so if you imagine him head to toe in LK Bennet you get the picture) because the other ladies did and you are always, quietly, competing. Your overall presentation and image matters (and according to the film 'Kinky Boots' high heels raise the buttocks ready for mating) So whilst I disagree that high heels are compulsory in the work place, they kindof still are. Only rules enforcing 'sensible' shoes would get rid of that.

  3. I thought that having different dress codes for men and women was illegal under gender discrimination laws.

    Citing this is how I got our dress code changed (we used to have different lists of acceptable clothing for men and women).
    Surely any dress code that says that high heels are compusery for women and not men can be changed on this basis (?)

    As for situations where heels present a H&S issue gender doesn't enter into the arguement - if they're nto safe they shouldn't be worn.

  4. I think your paragraph on corsets is bang on. Stiletto heels should be a niche fetish item, not a compulsory part of a professional wardrobe. My favourite place to wear them is in bed, where I don't have to walk on them.

    Nadine Dorries seems to be getting herself into a flap as if she'd never be permitted to wear them again. Mind you, they aren't officially mandatory for MPs - but the City has its own culture, and I know when I've worked as a high-powered PA or legal secretary in London, high heels are seen as being as much a part of the dress code as a buttoned shirt or blouse.

    Banning any compulsory dress code that enforces high heel wear - especially in jobs where the wearer are on their feet for long hours - seems like common sense. But it won't solve the cultural problem, which is that women would, I think, in many circumstances still be expected to voluntarily wear heels or risk the consequences of non-conforming.

    Of course this is massively discriminatory. But so is the culture I'm talking about. Last year, as you know, I worked for a short while as a PA in a City recruitment firm. Not wearing high heels to interview was on a par with having a regional accent or not being perfectly coiffed and made up - it's about being "polished". Any woman (and it was always woman) who didn't live up to the recruiters idea of "polished" - which included old, non-white or fat - wouldn't be considered for a role.

    The problem here isn't high heels per se, it's an office culture that caters to the fantasies of powerful old men who want the women in their workplace to fit their idea of attractiveness. I'm not sure systemic change is achievable while this generation still make up the majority of bosses in that sector. But I'm also concerned that the women and men replacing them don't feel the need to buck the trend.

  5. There is another point to be made here. If a job has some requirement you don't like don't take the job.

    Also in most jobs men are not allowed to wear shorts in the summer. Even though women can wear skirts. And women are not forced to wear ties in the summer or even generally. Both of which can make working very unconfortable.

  6. Does Ms Dorries realise that nobody is trying to PREVENT her wearing her heels? If heels are so great (and they are, although the one time I have seen my burlesque teacher in "everyday" clothing she was wearing Crocs!), then surely it is absolutely right that women should be wearing them out of CHOICE.

  7. It's true - most of the people objecting appear to be fighting against a strawman.

  8. Oh, and on the subject of heels-as-fashion (rather than compulsory workwear) - I was thrilled to see this article on men picking up on the high heel trend. While I ten not to hold with the "objectify everyone equally!" version of gender equality, I cannot help feeling this is a good thing. Men look just as good in heels as women. As long as they aren't obliged to wear them to work. ;)

  9. Ditto to Josie - it totally confuzzles me how people think defending the VOLUNTARY wearing of high-heels has anything to do with the banning of COMPULSORY wearing of high-heels...

    This is one of those things that kinda make me want to go get a job in a place where it is compulsory for women to wear heels just so I can wear my flats in defiance. (Much like a desire last year to get a job in the law firm banning women from wearing fishnet tights, just so I could turn up in not only fishnet tights but fishnet sleeves, perhaps a fishnet hat, and maybe even with a fishnet handbag.)

  10. How dare they restrict our freedom to be ordered to wear certain things!

  11. OMG, I didn't realise that high heels were still ompulsory at some workplaces...

  12. @ RobW: So women shouldn't take jobs at city firms, where, as Helen pointed out, it is de rigeur for them to wear heels? Don't you think there is enough of a problem with sexism in the city already, without endorsing a culture in which women have to wear harmful things? Yes, ties and trousers are uncomfortable in the heat, but as far as I'm aware they don't damage your spine or your feet. There's a huge difference between comfort and health.

  13. RobW wrote, "If a job has some requirement you don't like don't take the job."

    WTF should employers impose requirements that are irrelevant to the job?"

  14. Had a chance to read other posts/comments. Impressed with your blog; you're on my link list. Will follow your work with interest and hawk it out when poss.

  15. I'm a (straight) male, and I'm continually baffled by this obsession with heels. I actually find sensible shoes far more attractive, in fact I actively *dislike* the way heels change the shape of the leg/bum/etc. Not to mention the fact that any fashion item that is restrictive, unhealthy or otherwise impractical is a bit of a turnoff for me.

    But all that aside, I'm also baffled by this strawman of "they want to ban heels" when that's clearly not what's being discussed. Oh and Dorries can fuck right off, the moralistic right-wing arsehole.

  16. Hi Laurie, I just wanted to drop you a message as I was at the Progress event last night as well - I was the girl Iain Dale kept denying the microphone to! Tosser...
    I wanted to meet you because I am a big fan of your blog, and having read you for a few weeks, I was inspired to set up my own blog (girlinapresshat.blogspot.com). Unfortunately I had tp run off to get to another event but, er, hi! Hope you've enjoyed the conference, I feel I've been stalked by John Denham as we both seem to keep appearing at the same events!

  17. Have vision in head of man, possibly RobW, saying, "Why do I have to wear Y-fronts two sizes too small? What does that have to do with my actual ability to be an actuary?" What does it mean??????

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