High heels are part of a long tradition of sexism
Published: Sunday, April 4, 2010
Updated: Sunday, April 4, 2010 22:04
Anyone would agree that foot binding was a sexist institution. Young girls, beginning at only two to seven years old, would have their feet constricted in order to make them smaller and supposedly more attractive. As is well-known now, and pointed out in any history class, this also reduced women's mobility, requiring servants to attend to them and restricting their personal freedom. Obviously, this was a sexist practice intended to make it more difficult for women to challenge men.
The same was true of corsets, which centuries ago were so tight that they made it incredibly difficult for women to breath and function normally. While women often chose to wear these of their own accord, it was due to the standards of a male-dominated society as well as other social pressures.
We often think of these sexist demands of the fashion industry to be a thing of the past. However, there are similar trends in modern society. While burqas in the Middle East have received criticism, there is another example of sexist fashion much closer to home.
High heels, ironically marketed as empowering, are a form of oppression via attire. While all high heels are damaging, the most drastic are the "high-fashion" stiletto heels, with a heel of two or more inches. These are incredibly unhealthy for the foot and back, yet this often goes unnoticed as the effects take longer to manifest and are obviously less drastic than foot binding.
Yet it cannot be overlooked that one in six Americans report having foot problems, women making up a disproportionate amount of them. Many articles have been written about the problems caused by high heels, and studies have shown that women are nearly 20 times more at risk than men for many foot problems. And this should come as no surprise if you simply compare men's and women's dress shoes. A man's shoe actually looks like a foot. It is flat, and has a roughly uniform width. Today, many women's dress shoes, including high heels, also constrict the width and length of the foot, tapering down to a point. Women do not have one long, pointy toe. Women's feet are shaped the same as men's. So why is it that they must force their feet into unnatural and uncomfortable positions in order to look fashionable?
The sexy stiletto is the most common marketing tool for high heels. This is very reminiscent of foot binding, as at the time, women did it to look attractive to men. Shockingly, one of the health risks associated with high heels are "the inability to run." While high heels may not cripple women today, it is scary to think that it is restricting their mobility so drastically.
Aside from being marketed as sexy, heels are often considered empowering in the workplace. Some businesses have even gone so far as to make them a mandatory part of the dress code for women. This is akin to the marketing of cigarettes during the movement for women's suffrage. Marketers called upon women to light up their "torches of freedom," and were hugely successful at piggybacking on the social movement in order to make a buck.
These supposedly empowering products have caused much more unhealthiness and suffering for women than liberation. And yes, while it may sound farfetched to some, high heels have actually caused a great deal of harm for individuals and for society as a whole. In a study by the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, it was estimated that foot problems caused by high heels cost the country about $3 billion per year.
It is important to look at the decisions we are making as a society from an outsider's perspective. Three hundred years from now, will history students laugh about how ridiculous our high heels looked, and learn about how sexist they were?