Social Justice Warriors Want Women to Ditch Their High Heels

First they came for the stilettos….

Just before Christmas the media were agog with an allegedly brand-new trend: women throwing away their high heels in the wake of the flurry of revelations of entertainment-industry sexual harassment. The idea wasn’t simply that women can run faster to escape from Hollywood predators if they’re wearing Allbirds Wool Runner sneakers instead of four-inch Jimmy Choos. It was that flat-heeled shoes enable women to “reclaim control,” presumably from men in general. “[D]itching heels can be a way to show that they value their own well-being over men’s desires,” Business Insider’s Kate Taylor wrote.

Taylor’s article, like many a piece of reporting produced in this pre-Yule anti-high-heel frenzy, featured photos aimed at proving that flat shoes can be glamorous, too: Gal Gadot in an evening gown and gold thong sandals (as if Gadot wouldn’t look good with her feet wrapped in cleaning rags) and some exceptionally ugly furry and wooden-soled Puma slides said to be favored by Rihanna (same problem). There was also the obligatory much-mocked photo of that princess of political incorrectness, Melania Trump, her feet clad in black patent-leather five-inch pumps as she boarded Air Force One with her presidential husband this past summer to visit Hurricane Harvey-ravaged Texas (never mind that Melania switched into more practical sneakers before she got off the plane).

In a similar vein, New York Times fashion reporter Bonnie Wertheim published a December 16 article, “Are High Heels Headed for a Tumble?,” that included photos of still more politically correct (and certifiably hideous) “comfort shoes” that are supposed to replace the high heel in this sexism-alert age: Crocs (yes, they’re still around), Dansko clogs (for just $135 you, too, can look like a medieval peasant), and Birkenstocks (you have to be Heidi Klum to get away with cork-rimmed hippie sandals that make your Size 10 feet look like Size 15’s). Wertheim quoted Northwestern University psychology professor Renée Engeln: “Why do the things we do for ourselves have to hurt? Why do the shoes we choose for ourselves make us less able to run away if we need to run away?…Why do the things that we do supposedly for ourselves cause us long-term physiological damage?”

And as if that campaign against actual stilettos weren’t enough, Florie Hutchinson, a self-described arts publicist in Palo Alto, California, has a campaign against stiletto emojis. Incensed not just at the teetering heel height on the virtual shoe that pops up on smartphones but at its “vixen-ish” bright red color, Hutchinson has asked the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit that approves standardized emojis across platforms, to substitute a ballet flat instead. “The high-heeled stiletto is highly suggestive,” she wrote. “[Stilettos are] most often associated with fetishism and seduction and made popular in the 50s during the era of ‘Mad Men,’ and most recently by ‘Sex in the City.’” Hutchinson complained to the media that the stiletto emoji promotes a “sexualized” image of women that could negatively influence her three young daughters. (The Unicode Consortium will release its decision on Hutchinson’s and others’ proposed emoji changes in January.)

If the point of all of this were solicitude for women’s comfort, it might make sense. There’s no doubt that wearing ultra-high heels day in and day out for extended periods of time can damage not just your feet but your kneecaps and the muscles in your calves as well. A 2012 article in the Journal of Applied Physiology reported that the long-term wearing of even two-inch heels (“kitten”-height) for forty hours a week could lead to muscle fatigue and greater risk of strain injuries. And that’s not to mention the pain of standing in four-inch heels for a couple of hours at that wedding reception. If you’re a chef or a surgeon or a scrub nurse who’s required to spend extended time on your feet, a pair of Danskos is obviously preferable to a pair of Christian Louboutins. Still, most office jobs for women—the kinds of jobs where a pair of modestly high-heeled pumps might be de rigueur for a professional appearance—don’t require a huge amount of standing, and there are entire brands of shoes—Aerosoles, Naturalizer—that specialize in dress pumps designed for maximum workday comfort. Contrary to what the photos in the recent anti-high heels media flurry suggest, women don’t really have to choose between spikes and Crocs when it comes to buying footwear.

The real goal of the war against high heels seems to be to make wearing them—or being required to wear them at workplaces—socially unacceptable. Hence the periodic declarations in the media that high heels have gone out of style (women are “ditching” them!) and Birkenstocks are in. Or the fanciful pronunciamentos from social scientists that wearing running shoes instead of Manolos could help you flee the Harvey Weinsteins in your life. There has also been a flurry of anti-high heel legislative bills that would ban employers from mandating dress codes for their female employees that include even two-inch heels. British Columbia now has such a law, and Ontario is considering one—although the British Parliament recently rejected such an effort.

The most serious obstacle to the anti-high heel campaign—and the reason that high heels keep returning to the fashion and office scene, as they did even during the early 2000s, when it was said that women wearing flats descended the burning towers of 9/11 faster than their sisters in heels—isn’t a male patriarchy leering at the hobbled gait of stilettoed females. It’s women themselves. Studies in journals of evolutionary psychology indicate that members of both sexes simply find women wearing high heels more attractive than women in flats. The heel height not only creates an illusion of longer, slimmer legs but changes her walking style and the tilt of her hips. As a 2015 article in Psychology Today explained, “What these shoes do is make women walk even more like women.” And the women who wear high heels regularly know that, and they’re obviously willing to put up with a certain amount of discomfort to get that effect. It’s going to take more than a ballet flat emoji or a breathless article in the New York Times to persuade women to stop wanting to look and feel like women.

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  • SamHamilton

    [D]itching heels can be a way to show that they value their own well-being over men’s desires…

    This writer writes as if it’s men who are demanding women wear high-heels. Where are these men? What men are telling women they must wear high heels? Women wear high-heels by choice.

    I think very few women look good in high-heels. Most of the time when I’ve seen women wearing them they end up walking around like they have something stuck up their rear-end, which is not attractive at all. I’m with the “feminists,” though for different reasons – ditch the high-heels because 95% of women walk funny in them and they’re uncomfortable (so I’m told).

    • I would much rather go rock climbing or kayaking or just for a walk with a girl in sneakers than sit and stare at a girl in sky-high heels feebly shuffling back and forth.

      But that’s just me … I must be a sexist or something.

  • Hermann Fegelein

    “The real goal of the war against high heels seems to be to make wearing them—or being required to wear them at workplaces—socially unacceptable.”

    Like smoking.

    • Colorado Wellington

      True, but that’s only a tactical goal. The strategic end goal is a complete control of society.

    • NZHunter

      Ah! … but so many women do look “smoking” in high heels!
      Noticed that most of the young women graduates at a recent University capping event were tettering across the stage in at least 4″ heels … ain’t gonna go away soon … then!

  • Danny

    How is that okay while asking women to dress modestly to avoid rape is wrong?

    Women should just cover up and avoid being seen in public.

    • Flight Er Doc

      Head to toe coverings, only go out with a male family member protector…..

      Where have I heard that before?

  • Flight Er Doc

    As I told my wife: Women’s beauty should hurt, otherwise they would value it too little.

  • Art Salmons

    Over in the Middle East, Muslim men told their wives that the best way to avoid being sexually harrassed was to wear a giant potato sack 24/7. And it actually worked.

    Over here, you’re literally Hitler if you aren’t paying for somebody else’s birth control pills.

    • MamaCat

      They completely covered up their second cousins and then started dreaming about little boys and goats.

    • MPH

      If you think it worked, you’re completely confused. A friend of mine worked in Saudi Arabia for 8 years. Prepubescent girls didn’t have to wear a burka. He actually witnessed 3 young females walk down the street in shorts and t-shirts, totally ignored by all the men hanging about. They went in to a store, and when they came out, one of them was in a burka. Once they start menstruating, they have to start wearing it in public. The burka-wearing girl was now the subject of cat-calls, wolf-whistles, etc.

  • Fen

    Why are they pretending that women could not run away from Harvey Weinstein? From all of the testimony, his victims were too intimidated and afraid to speak out. Running away wasn’t the issue, courage was.

  • Wild Bill Kinda

    Tell them to wear a burka why don’t you?

  • 2+2=4andalwayswill

    You really might as well wear what you want in any situation where you don’t HAVE to run, and in any situation where you DO have to run, you’re a fool to wear anything but dedicated running shoes.

    Not that this is really about literal running, I think. The point is as usual to stop sexy women from exploiting their sexiness.

  • catorenasci

    But…. with five inch stilettos you have an excellent weapon against predators!

  • InklingBooks

    Heels have another benefit for some women.

    When I worked at a major art museum, I noticed something interesting. When I’d hear approaching footsteps on our hardwood floors, the loud “clomp-clomp” was likely to be a young woman who couldn’t weight more that 110 pounds. Moving almost silently alongside her in sneakers would be a husband or boyfriend who weighed perhaps 200 pounds. And yes, there is a reason why they’re call sneakers.

    Heels not only make women taller, they invariably draw attention to them. That many women like.

  • seedtickinohio

    Exactly, one of the weirdest things about getting older is that ideas are just recycled and tried on a new group of adult life newbies who believe in unicorns and fairies and fairness instead of hard work and meritocracy. About the time you start trying to have an adult life and realize that he government and it’s allies want to take from you to make themselves rich by lying that they are helping the less unfortunate there is another generation of adult life newbies to preach this crap to. In the 70’s it was you can have it all, ditch the makeup, high heels and skirts. Dress like men. It was ludicrous. Yet I saw my generation of professional women try it. I on the other hand embraced being a woman in a profession dominated by men and succeeded, without ever being sexually harassed or personally compromised…..what a concept. And so raised a daughter to do the same.