Feminist Dilemma: High Heels

I can think of quite a few reasons I was totally unimpressed with the latest issue of Marie Claire. But the worst offender this issue was a certain well-dressed Frenchman.

More alchemist than cobbler, Christian Louboutin transforms women with the flirtatious peep of a toe and click of a sculpted heel…what they walk away with isn’t just a pair of shoes, it’s a priceless feeling of feminine power.

–Marie Claire, March 2012 issue (emphasis mine)

Apparently Christian Louboutin, the famed French shoemaker is celebrating 20 years in the business. In honor of his work, Marie Claire interviewed him. Now, the interview started off okay (besides that bit that made me twitch in the introduction, quoted above), with questions about Louboutin’s career and inspirations. Suddenly, though, on the second page of the interview, things got much worse.

“A man is a fetishist: He polishes his shoes, appreciates the finish, wants to preserve them fora long time. A woman doesn’t care about this. She isn’t proud of having a shoe for 10 years. It’s a natural feminine instinct to accessorize. A naked woman in heels is a beautiful thing. A naked man in shoes looks like a fool.”

–Christian Louboutin, Marie Claire, March 2012 (emphasis mine)

Furthermore,

“[Heels are sexy] because one moves more slowly in heels. Walking fast is neither sexy nor engaging. Nobody notices the people who race around. If you’re walking in heels, you’ve got time. It’s much more attractive.”

–Christian Louboutin, Marie Claire, March 2012 (emphasis mine)

Christian Louboutin

I, of course, was totally appalled by these statements, but I wasn’t really sure what to do with my disgust.

I’m a woman who loves business dress–i’m in my element in a pencil skirt and heels. I’ve always known that heels were a little pointless, but I love the way they make my legs look, I love their clicking sound on hardwood floors, I love the added height, and I love the confidence boost they afford me. I also recognize that heels can have the connotation of the “office whore” or whatever–but that’s not who I am, and I have the right to wear them if I want to, right? If they make me feel good, then does it matter?

$625 Louboutin Pumps

Well, it DOES matter.  …I think.

Actually, I’m really not sure. I’m torn between my love of heels and my feminist disgust for the words of Mr. Louboutin.

I like wearing heels because I like the way they make me look and feel–so my first instinct is to stop the argument right there and just wear the heels.

But we need to take a closer look at what heels represent. If they represent the epitome of the “sexy” woman, or work to make women fit more easily into the stereotypical masculine fantasy, then maybe it’s time to put those heels back on the shelf. When I put on the pink peeptoe pumps I splurged on this summer, am I feeling good and confident because I am being true to who I am, or am I feeling good and confident because I’m fitting a stereotype and a fantasy?

I think this warrants some discussion. So what do YOU think?

Peace,
Annie

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11 thoughts on “Feminist Dilemma: High Heels

  1. I suppose if you hate men and hate the idea of men being attracted to you then you shouldn’t wear them.

    I personally don’t see anything wrong with fulfilling a male fantasy, anymore than there’s anything wrong with giving a lady a backrub. If you do like wearing the shoes because lots of men like them, there’s nothing wrong with that.

    • Hey,

      Thanks for your comment, first of all.

      Second, I don’t hate men or the idea of men being attracted to me. As a heterosexual woman and a sexual being, I am attracted to men, I don’t fear relationships, and I have many male friends. Feminists don’t hate men. They disagree with sexist/misogynistic men AND women. Just so you know. Anyone who identifies as feminist and “hates men” is a hypocritical feminist indeed.

      I’m not really sure I understand the connection between fulfilling a male fantasy and backrubs. And I agree that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to go out and be looked at by the gender of your choice. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look sexy.

      I guess I could have been more clear about my intentions with the article. Of course, it’s not difficult to sense the sexism in Louboutin’s comments–it is not a “natural feminine instinct to accessorize,” and the idea that women who are moving slowly with the intention of being looked at are the only ones who are sexy is a very disturbing concept, I think. What I was trying to bring attention to was the fact that I feel confident and attractive when wearing heels, but I never associated that confidence with the idea that I was fulfilling the male fantasy, that I wear them to “please” men.

      So the question I was and am trying to bring up was, do I feel attractive wearing heels because I am fulfilling the “masculine” man’s desire for a “feminine” woman? If I am, am I okay with that? If I’m wearing heels, am I perpetuating gender stereotypes? And why haven’t I thought about this before?

      Thanks again for your comment…I’d be really, really interested to hear more of what you have to say–both about this and other posts!

      Peace,
      Annie

      • You’re welcome.

        Back rubs are a stereotypical female fantasy. After a long day at work many desire some way to wind down. A woman wanting a back rub fulfils the traditional female stereotype that women desire romance above sex.

        I don’t see why that’s a reason not to give a back rub though any more than male desire for slow walking women whose bums are pushed up means you shouldn’t wear high heels. If you like doing it you should do it, even if it perpetuates stereotypes. Lots of things are stereotypes. If you stopped doing anything stereotypical you’d never get anything done.

        I’ve noticed I dress better when I want to impress someone I’m attracted to. Do you wear heels more, or wear better heels when you want to impress someone you’re attracted to?

        He is wrong about the accessories. Men spend a higher proportion of their clothes cash on accessories than women. If he forgets them he’s missing a lot of sales.

        http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/Statcan/11-621-M/11-621-MIE2003006.pdf

        Peace.

      • I don’t think back rubs are a stereotypical female fantasy, nor do I think that all women desire romance above sex (that’s another hurtful stereotype…women have active, healthy sexualities too…but I’d argue that sometimes society doesn’t allow for women to express them), or that all men somehow desire sex above romance.

        I agree with you that lots of things are stereotypes, and if you never did anything stereotypical, you’d never get anything done. I also think that feeding into stereotypes is a part of life, to an extent. Businessware, for example, is very generalized and there are definitely certain expectations. The amount of true free expression of dress in the workplace can be troubling, but is it very productive to go against it? Not really. Sometimes you do have to play the game.

        In my experience with guys and boyfriends, I’ve noticed that they complement me when I get dressed up for an event–“you look so nice/pretty/etc.”–but other than that, they don’t really treat me any differently than when I’m dressed normally.

        So if I’m not really impressing other people much more by wearing heels, why do I feel within myself more impressive? If I like wearing heels, yes, I should wear them. But I don’t know why I like them so much. Perhaps I’m not quite being clear about this. There were a few other women who commented on this post and discussed that question about why we like heels. Maybe reading their posts would be interesting for you to read too.

        Also, I’d say that Louboutin wasn’t wrong about accessories because men actually accessorize more. He’s wrong because it’s not a natural feminine instinct to accessorize–nobody who’s female or feminine immediately loves to accessorize; that’s not a scientific “natural” fact.

        Thanks for your interest.

        Peace,
        Annie

  2. Awesome article. I feel your pain–loving feminine attributes but hating the box it puts us in. However, I wonder if putting away the heels in order to not fulfill the “stereotypical masculine fantasy” isn’t just another way that patriarchal norms are constructing the way we think about and act toward gender performativity. The issue rests in the associations of others (“it’s a natural feminine instinct to accessorize”? says who?), not in our personal, aesthetic choices.

    • Hey, Anna,

      First of all thanks for your comment. I think you raise a really interesting point that ditching the heels is another way patriarchal norms are affecting the way that we behave.

      I guess maybe it’s more important, then, to take a really hard look at why I wear heels and why I feel good when I do wear them. I guess I just get a little disturbed with how confident I do feel in heels when I can’t really identify a reason why.

      What do you think?

  3. Hello!
    I found this article to be very interesting because although I am 17, I have worried about this topic since middle school; is it okay for me to want to wear skirts, dresses, and heels, even though I want to have economic, political, and social freedoms from sexism and stereotypes? Can I somehow find a happy medium to satisfy the “fashionista” in me AND the feminist in me?
    I think I enjoy wearing heels because they make me appear taller and more dominant or in control of my life (not necessarily dominant everyone else’s, though). They also make my legs feel toned, and ever since I was a little girl, the click-clack of heels on pavement was associated with being a grown-up woman.
    I do disagree with the accessorizing theory, though. Not all women have the natural tendency to accessorize. Yet, I think he was trying to state that women tend to care about fashion to a certain extent–he just stated it inappropriately. But, to some extent, I agree with Louboutin’s statement about walking slower.
    In my opinion, Louboutin was stating that women who “stop to smell the roses” appear more attractive than those who speed through life and don’t take the time to slowly enjoy every moment of it. In order to be a confident woman, each woman needs to ensure that she is doing everything to her utmost ability to learn who she is as an individual (in my opinion this goes the same for men too, but since we are discussing the visual conception of women and feminists, I thought using a woman model would be appropriate). By discovering her talents, interests, or becoming inspired because simply looking at and watching other people do their daily activities, she discovers what her soul already knew.

    Thanks for inspiring this thought in my head! I’ll have to discuss this with my mom and sister and see what they also think.

    • p.s… this reminds me of the movie “She’s the Man” when Amanda Bynes stated that heels were a “male invention created for women’s butts to look good in and so that it’s harder to run away” 🙂 ha. It’s a great movie! Very funny!

  4. Lizzie,

    Thanks for the comment. I really like the thought that Louboutin might have had good intentions, but just did a poor job articulating them. Louboutin also talked about how he preferred excessive things to natural things–heels to flats, gardens to wild and natural spaces–so he might just be a little extreme, and it’s impossible to say if he represents any significant percentage of how people actually think. Furthermore, his first language is French, and I don’t know what his English is like, which means that he might have struggled with the English or it may all be translated from French. Who knows.

    Anyway, thanks so much for your thoughts. I’m so glad that the article got you thinking.

    And I totally remember that moment from “She’s the Man”! I love that movie.

    Peace,
    Annie

  5. Who cares what men, society, or anyone thinks of you for wearing heels? Wear them if you like them! I love wearing heels (aside from runners, it’s all I own) and I wear them even around the house where no one will see me. All that really matters is how you feel in them. Personally, I’ve had more problems with comments from other women than anything else. Usually it is a woman who makes some comment about how she thinks she is so much better because she doesn’t “need” to wear heels, implying that women who do must only do so because they are insecure. But it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, so long as you feel good about yourself when you look in the mirror, regardless of what kind of footwear you choose.

  6. Thank you for your blog post. I really needed it, and the comments after this weekend. I was in Vegas for a bachelorette with a group of girls I don’t normally hang-out with, and they were on the hunt for LBs. “OK. Fine,” I thought, “To each their own.” I didn’t want to succumb to the judging that so frequently occurs within genders, based on a value system that (I think) furthers divide us as women. Moreover, they openly acknowledged and admitted the shoes were straight-up painful.
    Wait?.
    “What?!”
    I politely said my “over” reaction was because I assumed that the price of luxury included comfort along with aesthetics.
    “Nooooo!” they all responded. And explained that they were expensive (and painful) because they are pretty. Their logic: because LBs are pretty, the financial cost and physical pain not only justified, but necessary.
    I might have believed that perhaps CL had good intentions, or has been misinterpreted, but then there’s also his recent Grazia interview. At least he’s consistent and honest.
    I’m more confused, concerned, and conflicted now about how women consciously (do they?) choose LouBoutin shoes. For me, it’s not only about one factor (e.g. cost), it’s that as women, we’re eating up CL sadomasochist and capitalistic marketing campaign. It’s not unlike high-end designers who perpetuate the idea that “you can never be too rich or too skinny” and purposefully make their inch-measured sizes smaller than real inch measures. Conversely, the cheaper the clothing, the bigger the size 6. And frankly, I wish they’d all pick and stick to a measure! It’s annoying to find extra space between a size x to a size y, even within the same store! At the same time as messing with objective and subjective measures, or perhaps as a cause, it makes it more challenging to identify the art as derisive of class, gender, and race.
    I finally got over feeling like I need to look a certain way to be a “feminist”. I am a feminist and can express it through words.
    In case it matters, I love me some super-high pumps. But I always do a mini jog to see if they’re practical (haha) in the store before purchase.

    Vanessa
    @vanessalingyu

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