Walk in Her Shoes
There is hardly an area in fashion and clothing where the difference between the sexes is as clear cut and strict as in shoe fashion. A really telling demonstration of this is right at the beginning of the movie The Abyss - where the camera shows a bunch of soldiers getting out of a helicopter. All you see is their army boots. One by one, they land on the ship with a practiced routine. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, a pair of elegant high heels land gracefully after the army boots. The contrast couldn’t be more eye-catching (see the photos below). Femininity radiates from those high heeled feet so strongly that we know with absolute certainty that this is a woman wearing them despite the fact that we weren’t shown anything else yet. That woman, by the way, is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio with a great performance throughout the movie.
This scene really makes clear once more, how strong these secondary gender codes can be and it is absolutely not surprising that a number of people get fixations on women’s shoes. In fact, shoe obsession as a representation of femininity is quite natural and normal if you consider the symbolism that society attaches to womens shoes - in particular high heels.
I wrote in my article High Heels for Men that in today’s times, men are more free to wear high heels and shopping for them is easier than ever. While that is true, it is also true that, in everyday life, men’s shoe fashion is still highly restricted while women’s shoe fashion knows virtually no restrictions - certainly none that stem from gender codes. Now while I like challenging such boundaries and the fairness monster inside me roars at the imbalance of the genders, I also can’t help wondering if we wouldn’t loose some of the meaning attached to symbols like high heels if they were men’s shoes as well as women’s shoes. That helicopter scene would never have such an impact and nobody would get excited about shoes in the same way. Would that not constitute a loss to our culture? Would it perhaps only lead to society finding other symbols of femininity to use as gender codes? Or what would happen if the genders were one day exactly equal except for their anatomical differences - meaning no fashion or behavioral differences? Would society turn into a big grey mass of unisex people without the conflict, energy and excitement that arises from gender differences? These are all fascinating questions that I’d love to read some opinions about.
Check out my article: Men Wearing High Heels