I have always been uncomfortable with my relationship with shoes. More particularly shoes with high heels. Most of you know that while I do not spend ridiculous amounts of money on them, I am unreservedly a fan of a nice pair of heels. More than that, those that have come across me in a work setting know that my professional persona is clad almost exclusively in trouser suits coupled with a fairly high pair. All day, every day.
I know all the feminist arguments against heels. They’re uncomfortable. They’re not healthy for feet or for posture. They make it harder to run away from an attacker, thereby weakening women’s independence and agency.
But they look so much nicer than flat shoes! And they permit me to look down at most men, at least physically if not figuratively, in a profession where the vast majority of the movers and shakers are still men.* There is also something to be said about the power portrayed by high heels. Stilettos are not a self-evident part of the dominatrix wardrobe for nothing...
OK, you weren’t entirely convinced. Neither am I. But I will still continue wearing my heels.
The topic of today’s rant is actually Muslims. What is the connection between Muslims and high heels, you ask. Here’s what: The headscarf of an intelligent feminist Muslim woman is like my pair of heels. A personal choice that may not seem to coincide perfectly with our feminist ideals, but will not make us any less feminist in the grand scheme of things. I can’t really dismiss the feminist arguments against high heels, but I will continue to wear them nonetheless. Similarly, I can probably win the argument against a Muslim woman about the cultural significance of the scarf as a tool of women’s oppression, but it is unlikely to make her take it off.
And that is just fine.
I have for a long time felt annoyed at the “scarf debate”, both in France and here in Switzerland, because it has taken an extremely patronising attitude towards the women who are most concerned by it, assuming that the choice to wear a scarf CAN’T be theirs, they must have been forced by a man to do it. I have an idea: If you want to know why Muslim women are wearing scarves, ask them, dammit, don’t assume you know better than they do!
I was thus really pleased to read the comparison between headscarves and high heels in an interview with Isla Lehtinen, a Finnish Muslim feminist. I liked it immediately. It may not make men understand why a Muslim may want to wear a scarf, but it might resonate with women. The majority of us feminists are not scarf-wearing Muslims, but many of us wear heels at least sometimes. The desire to wear less-than-perfectly-feminist shoes will hopefully make us more understanding and tolerant towards the less-than-perfectly-feminist clothing choices of others without questioning the agency and free will of the persons themselves.
* Even though my employer is much better than most in that regard.