Ask Allie: Are Heels Feminist?

You regularly claim that you are a feminist, but then you always recommend heeled shoes to your readers. This contradiction has bothered me for a while, as I find heeled shoes to be a tool to hold women back. High heels not only cause foot pain and disfigurement, but they make women sexual objects and oppress them literally (try keeping up with a man in his flat shoes). As a feminist, I would think you would want to use the power of your blog to encourage women to dress in a way to be powerful and equal.

I am a feminist. I am a feminist who loves heels and makeup and skirts. I love that I have a choice in what I wear, and that what I wear can better express the person I am. I believe clothing and accessories are a fabulous way for a woman to express her personality and to help her realize how utterly gorgeous and wonderful she is. As a feminist, I think she can do it in the way she finds best.

Orthopedists have proven that a slight heel is healthier for the arch and your back than a completely flat shoe. That being said, I wear heels because they make me feel tall and they make me feel powerful. Not in a sexual way, but in a way that I walk differently, I stand differently, and I like how that feels. I personally don’t like how I feel in flat shoes – I pronate more, my arches hurt, it doesn’t flatter the type of clothes that I like, and it doesn’t feel true to my personal style.

I recommend heels because… well it is a personal blog and I am influenced by my own style and tastes. I also recommend them because most women I meet like at least a bit of a heel – just as a suit and tie makes a man look and feel dressed up or professional, a pair of shoes with some heel makes many women feel more dressed up. A pair of heels can oppress a woman if she isn’t comfortable in them, and the last thing I would ever recommend is for a woman to wear something that makes her feel oppressed, uncomfortable, or untrue to herself.

I think expecting a woman to not wear something because of her beliefs is just as oppressive. Read my blog, you will never see me recommending one to wear something to attract a man or be sexy – I don’t believe in dressing to please another person. I write about wearing clothes to please yourself, to be true to yourself, to fit your lifestyle and personality. A woman is powerful when she feels good in her skin, and good in that which adorns her skin. Be that a skirt or pants, heels or flats, it isn’t my place or your place to tell her what makes her feel powerful. I write advice, not gospel. I often offer flat-shoe options, and I often admit that my advice may not be universal. But I don’t believe for an instant that because I enjoy something different from you that I am any less of a feminist or doing my fellow women a disservice. For the definition of feminism is the belief that women are equal human beings, and that means that we women have choices, the right to choose the option that is best for us, and not be judged by our sisters for that choice.

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  • Susan Ashworth

    I love this post. The way I look at it is that heels are really not authentic for me, but I recognize that they are for others. To each her own!

  • http://twitter.com/DejaPseu une_femme

    Well said, Allie! I find that a low heel (1-2″) is actually most comfortable for me these days. I’m a feminist too, but an Emma Goldman feminist, e.g. “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

  • http://hipsandhangers.blogspot.com/ Tashia @HipsandHangers

    great piece Allie! Feminism is about choice and personal freedom. To me getting dressed every morning is just one of the another opportunity to make choices and express yourself.

  • VersatileStylebyTracey

    A great response to a very stringent definition of feminism. While I absolutely dress for me, I do get a kick out of my husband of 22 years noticing my efforts and complimenting me and I don’t think that takes away from me at all…I am petite and heels feel wonder yet, there are days when I love a flat. It’s about the right to exercise all the choices available, not boxing yourself into somebody else’s mold…

  • Cate

    Thanks Allie! I’m personally what I would consider a fairly radical feminist in terms of my politics (though I am married to a man, have kids, and enjoy traditionally feminine pastimes like cooking) and nothing annoys me like a feminist litmus test. I think it’s fair to say someone who dedicates their professional life to telling women to stay home, fullstop, is not a feminist…but telling a style blogger she’s not a feminist because she likes heels? Give me a break. I love my ballet flats as much as the next girl, but I find my heels just as comfortable (and can even run in them if I’m in a pinch; not that I’d recommend it!) I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to look sexy sometimes.

  • alice

    I think this is why so many women don’t identify as feminist because there’s this idea out there that if you are feminist you have to eschew all traditionally feminine things. I myself am most comfortable in flats and build all my outfits around them but I love how heels look and would wear them more if they fit my lifestyle. I like to knit and cook and wear makeup and have long hair. I also have a PhD in engineering and do academic research full time. I don’t think any of these things are incompatible. Your last line said it best: “the definition of feminism is the belief that women are equal human beings.” When there are so many important battles left to fight (equal pay, equal opportunities), it seems ridiculous to be squabbling amongst ourselves over heels and drawing lines.

  • Guest

    Advocate for people to wear what they like and dress to make themselves

  • hush

    What @Cate said is exactly right: “nothing annoys me like a feminist litmus test.” Of course, if there were such a test, let me assure you “high heels: good or bad?” would certainly NOT be a valid starting point for any sort of serious, substantive analysis. Also, there are different types of feminism – I’m more of a cultural feminist. Feminism is certainly big enough to include those of us who like to wear heels and perform as more classically feminine as well as those of you who do not.

  • http://phenofab.blogspot.com/ katie terry

    Advocate for people to wear what they like and dress how it makes them feel good to dress — absolutely! And the way you do that I have admired for as long as I’ve been following your blog.

    Advocate something damaging as healthy — “Orthopedists have proven that a slight heel is healthier for the arch and your back than a completely flat shoe.” — absolutely not! Heels have detrimental effects on skeletal alignment (which leads to: pelvic floor issues: incontinence, prolapse; osteoporosis; blood clots; and the obvious: knee, ankle, foot, and back problems), blood flow, and nerve-muscle coordination. Heels may make people *feel* better, because they facilitate the positions and muscle use patterns that have developed as the most comfortable, but the trade-off is decreased mobility and function, both in the immediate and in the long-term. (I’d be happy to go over the peer-reviewed research with you and translate from academicese, if you’d like.) Comfortable is not the same thing as healthy, and pain avoidance is not the same as wellness.

    Wearing heels is a calculated risk — for some, the benefit of feeling empowered/fashionable/sexy/taller/what-have-you may be considered worth the damage now or down the line. That’s a personal decision to make. However, to advocate that doing so is health-promoting is grossly inaccurate. Wearing heels is like driving a car: both are common, everyday aspects of our modern lives — some would say essential — yet both carry very significant risks. I value the thought you put into advocating personal style for personal edification, I really do. But please, please, do not downplay the fact that heeled shoes contribute significantly to nearly all of the “typical” female ailments, especially with age, and balancing that psycho-emotional benefit with the physical health detriments is a personal decision every woman must make.

  • http://www.wardrobeoxygen.com/ Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen

    Hi Katie, a flat shoe has been proven to be hell on arches and the alignment of the spine. The currently popular ballet flats are some of the worst shoes one can wear for foot and back health, though people claim to wear them for comfort. There’s a difference between an inch heel and a four inch heel in how it affects the foot, the spine, and the alignment of a person. I am not saying high heels are healthy, never did, never would. I wear them knowing the risk.

  • MamaCheshire

    I admit I was a little worried when I first started following you, because you seemed quite…forceful…on your stance that any adult female should wear heels to be thought of as professional. I am a professional woman with a mild mobility impairment, which was complicated when I dislocated my sesamoid bone and there was NO WAY anything remotely resembling a standard female dress shoe was going to go on my foot for some time (and when it did, the closest I could get was the sporty-looking Mary Janes).

    But, inspired by you and after recovering from the worst of my orthopedic problems, I started researching orthotic-friendly dress shoes, and I discovered Drew Shoes. With a mix of hope and fear, I ordered a pair of very low-heeled (7/8″) black pumps. And they feel WONDERFUL, and add so much to my look, and I went dancing in them and didn’t come home sobbing in pain! I danced the Electric freakin’ Slide in a pair of dress shoes. Me a year ago would’ve sworn that would NEVER EVER be possible.

    I also bought a pair of pewter flash Doc Marten 1461s, inspired by your “styling silver brogues” post. They served me very well when I was doing assessment work on a disaster site, and I get all the compliments on them. Also wouldn’t have done it without your inspiration.

    All this rambling is to say thank you – you’ve given me more confidence and ability to present myself, which makes me a more effective advocate and I think is very feminist. :)

  • crtfly

    Good for you Allie! Saying that one is a good feminist, environmentalist, scientist ONLY if you do/don’t do x is extremely limiting. How is that any different from the limitations that were put on women in the past? That is, you’re ONLY a good Mom, Wife, if you do y.

    Besides, if we’re going to strictly talk about shoes, you have always given great advice to those of us that asked about flats and low heels. You don’t negatively judge those of us who do not wear high heels. We can at least return that courtesy.

  • http://tokyoeclare.blogspot.com/ kuri

    Great post. As a feminist, I understand where the question is coming from, but I’ve long found it to be an overly simplistic position, just as I find the people who dismiss feminists as bra-burning eccentrics to have overly simplistic beliefs.
    Nowadays, I want to wear what I feel good in.

  • http://wendybrandes.com/blog/ WendyB

    Good answer!

  • Rachel Rossen

    Well said!

  • http://www.petitepanoply.com/ Jamie Rose

    Amen! I loved this post.

  • LG10

    I do like heels, but I think the OP might have been angling at the following idea: it’s all well and good to talk about “choice” and “freedom” as a feminist, but remember that we are all making those choices within a culture whose influence is pervasive. A woman’s “choice to wear X” is not made in a vacuum. It’s worth considering why we think some things are attractive, when we do. Part of feminism is to make open-minded choices in self-expression, part of it is to support other women’s choices, and I think a third part is to start questioning the basic societal tenets that inform our “choices”.

  • Sarah

    I don’t feel empowered or powerful when I wear heels. I feel hobbled. I feel like I can’t get where I need to go easily. I feel like I can’t get where I need to go quickly. I feel like I have to worry nonstop about my ankle twisting (which happens EVERY TIME I wear heels). I feel like I am about to trip and fall on my face at any second. I feel like my feet are bound and I have to rely on someone to carry me where I am going because walking in heels is torture. I feel like every step I take – even just walking from my desk to the office bathroom – is unbearably fraught. I feel like a prisoner. Maybe that sounds melodramatic but it’s the absolute trust when I wear heels. It’s just not worth it for me. But I imagine that if I could walk gracefully in heels and they made me feel powerful instead of powerless, I would love wearing them.

  • http://hollydollyfashion.blogspot.com Holly Mackenzie Cupp

    Well put! =)

  • http://www.fabfindsunder50.com Fab Kimberly

    “I think expecting a woman to not wear something because of her beliefs is just as oppressive.” — hear, hear!! I couldn’t agree more.

  • Carolyn Graf

    Apparently you can do no wrong in my eyes today. Love.

  • Charlotte Issyvoo

    You really speak to my perspective in this post. I suffered a severe back injury several years ago and can no longer wear heels so I always appreciate information about lovely flat footwear. But I’d wear my heels again in a heartbeat if I could. I too feel that some definitions of feminism really limit one’s expression of femininity. The only thing I would add to this conversation is the fact that I also fully support a man’s choice to be feminine and even wear heels if that is what feels right for him. I learned a lot about the power of choice and the joy of femininity from drag queens. My feminism includes men’s and women’s choices to be themselves, regardless of societal gender prescriptions. All that said, I do also agree with what LG10 says; we must realize that, even as intelligent people, we are not immune to the hegemony.

  • Vanessa

    As a woman who wears heels almost every day, I’m annoyed by the statement your reader made implying that I’m not “powerful and equal” because I wear heels. I am used to wearing them, I love the way I look in heels, and I certainly don’t have any trouble keeping up with men as they walk. They don’t cause me pain unless I make the mistake of purchasing (and wearing) shoes that don’t fit my feet correctly, but I’ve had that problem with flats as well. As a senior project manager in housing development, I am often surrounded by men as they dominate the construction industry. I’m sometimes the only woman in the room, yet I never feel less powerful or equal to the men I deal with based on what I choose to wear that day. My empowerment comes from knowing my own worth and confidence in my ability to do my job.

  • Clarissa

    That was a great response, Allie. Before I had my son, I only wore heels because I am so petite and worked in a professional environment. When I got pregnant, my husband pleaded with me not to wear heels (he’s an OB/GYN and should know better, but I digress). I went out and bought a pair…or two or five of flats. And guess what? I tripped over my feet constantly because I wasn’t used to walking in them. Go figure! I now live in FL where it’s more casual, and I do have a better mix of heels and flats. But, again, as you put so beautifully, it’s all about personal style preference.

  • http://twitter.com/KimberleeVDW Kimberlee VDW

    Great response! I think that heels should be within a limit. If you’re stumbling around in 5 inch heels then it is really holding you back. You wear “reasonable” heels. There is definitely a power a woman feels wearing them that doesn’t have to be sexual. I prefer a wedge as they’re more comfortable. Bottom line: being free to wear makeup, heels or dress up doesn’t make a woman any less of a feminist. Being a feminist means you believe in the equality of women. You have the right to look fabulous!

  • http://twitter.com/TheStyleConfess TheStyleConfessions

    I think I avoid describing myself as a feminist because I find the title so constricting. I certainly don’t want to be part of a group of women who can’t dress provocatively because it would be against the feminist code. I don’t always wear heels, but I sure as hell don’t want to be part of a group that tells me I can’t ever wear them, or talk about them, or be photographed in them!

  • Shybiker

    Complex subject. Your approach is one of the best available: women should have the freedom to choose any clothes they want, but that does overlook the loaded social cues clothes give off. On whole, I agree with you but I also respect others who want to examine the topic more closely.

  • http://www.wardrobeoxygen.com/ Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen

    I too agree that people have the right to examine it more closely and should if they do have concerns. However, I think like others have commented above that feminism gets a bad rap because it can be seen as too exclusive and judgmental. I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong with “Feminism Light” as it is better than none at all. I hope with this blog I can show women that they ARE feminists – they deserve to have equal opportunities, be treated as an equal human, and can do this on their own terms. And having those terms is something fellow women have fought long and hard for and continue to fight for. :-)

  • http://www.wardrobeoxygen.com/ Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen

    Thank YOU for this comment, I am so glad I have been able to assist in you having more confidence and presenting yourself, your comment is why I blog and I am honored that you continue to visit! Thank you again!

  • http://www.wardrobeoxygen.com/ Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen

    And this is WHY I define myself as a feminist and bring it up so often on the blog. People have misconceptions of what feminism is because the media has made it just to be bra-burning man-hating women with armpit hair and a pair of ratty Birkenstoks. Not all feminists are that way, just as all Republicans aren’t Tea Partiers, not all Christians are pro-choice. The definition of feminism is the belief that women are equal human beings, and no one has the right to define it further and exclude others. As with religion, politics, or any interest group you can make it what you want. And honestly, I think you are a feminist because you wear what you want with confidence, not to appease the masses. :)

  • http://www.wardrobeoxygen.com/ Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen

    I almost mentioned men in this post, how they too can wear what they want but felt I may go on a tangent and get off course. :) I did simplify my response because I wanted it to be accessible to all, especially those women who feel they cannot consider themselves feminist because they like heels and makeup. We women first need to realize that in 2013 there is still sexism, and then dig deeper. There are many fabulous writers who help those interested to dig deeper and realize what is going on, I hope my blog will help get more women who were afraid to get on the feminism bandwagon so they will seek out those more skilled with writing about feminism :)

  • Kelsey Barstad

    I agree, Allie! I always say that I am a Feminist who loves to wear dresses & heels, cook & bake and wants to be as teacher or high school administrator in my future career. Feminism is defined by everyone who claims it. There is not one “right” definition to feminism, and that’s why I love claiming that I’m a feminist.

  • SamiJ

    Being a feminist, I believe that people get to make their own choices — without imposing limits based on their gender. This means women don’t have to wear heels. This means women can wear heels. This means men don’t have to wear heels, this means that men can wear heels. Basically, this means you get to make your choices without those choices being limited by your gender.