I have a love/hate relationship with heeled footwear. They’re impractical at best and medieval torture devices at worst. But they’re pretty. And like an attractive guy who rarely texts you back, it’s easy to become obsessed with them.
The latent symbolism of high heels is also at odds with itself. There’s something both empowering and almost violent about their design; they make your ass feel amazing while simultaneously making it really hard to run away.
Even if you wear them for purely aesthetic reasons, it’s hard to overlook the objectifying aspect of high heels. So does that mean my Rachel Comey platforms are anti-feminist?
The short answer: no.
Women have a long history of appropriating men’s fashion. To quote Will Smith in his seminal film, Men in Black, “[We] make this sh*t look good.” Whether it’s denim or suiting, women have refused to let any area of fashion remain a boys-only club. And by far, our greatest conquest was the high heel.
Oh yes. This modern symbol of feminine sexuality and sensuality was, in fact, designed to be worn by men.
There’s evidence that butchers in Ancient Egypt wore them to avoid soaking their feet in blood. (Mind you, those reddened soles bared little resemblance to a pair of Louboutins.) In 15th century Persia, soldiers on horseback wore heels to secure their feet in saddle stirrups. The trend made its way to Europe, where male aristocrats took note. For them, the extra height designated power and nobility, and the relative impracticality signified a labor-free lifestyle. In the 16th century, Italian courtesans bridged the gender gap and adopted heels as a symbol of irreverent and androgynous sexuality. Leave it to the most sexually and professionally liberated women of their time to make high heels accessible to the rest of us.
For a while, men and women revelled in the sexual and social symbolism of heeled footwear together. The fact that heels happened to accentuate a woman’s assets was more an accident of anatomy than misogynistic design.
So if history has a say, heels are less an evolution of sexual objectification and more trophies of women’s freedom to dress and act as like the boys. Consider your blistered ankles and swollen feet battle wounds in the fight for gender equality.