So Long High Heels: Hello Equality, Once Again

Pink high heel.jpeg

I made a mistake. I wore heels. Not stilettos. Mine weren't even close to high enough that my heel looked brittle enough to snap. Slender at its point, my heels were not so pointy as to render me tipsy or tippy. Instead, I swayed, since I'd soon discovered that the cushiony cover on the heel tip was gone so what met the floor was a thin, metal spike. I felt like a tap dancer trying not to tap but only to remain upright as I walked gingerly across the slippery airport floor. 

Gail Sheehy wrote "Passages" – about the predictable crises of adult life. I don't remember reading about this one, though it's certainly one that could be predicted. Won't there come a time in every woman's life – born out of pain – when her body rebels and she sends a message to Self: "Self, I've worn the last high heeled shoes of my life."

Last Wednesday night, when hobbled by foot pain, I left my plane in stocking feet. I walked through the airport, my shoes dangling from my hand, and then to the the parking lot to await my Lyft ride home, and up the stairs into my room where the shoes fell to the floor, never to be worn again.

My last high heels.

My last high heels.

 

It's flats from now on. I never did wear heels all that much, but now I'm really done.

My mid-sixties heels' passage got me to wondering what embodiment of youth I will next throw over to age? Tight fitted waists on pants are fading fast. Bungee jumping is definitely out, though I'm not at all sure that in my younger years I would have done that. Not much else I can think of, yet.

What's comforting about ditching my heels is realizing I'm catching a wave of feminist #MeToo rebellion, and not just among peers. Here's a headline on a story I love:

This Unspoken Rule About Heels Is the Reason Kristen Stewart Ditched Her Shoes at Cannes

Kristen Stewart at Cannes.jpeg
Kristen Stewart made headlines at the Cannes Film Festival this week for taking her shoes off on the red carpet. And if you look back into the archives, you’ll realize she did almost the same thing in 2016 when she swapped her black Christian Louboutins for blue Vans sneakers. Her decision is not just about comfort — it’s about making a statement against the Cannes policy that requires women to wear high heels. Although the policy is more of an unspoken rule and isn’t etched in stone like other parts of the Cannes dress code, it’s become clear that women wearing heels are more welcome than those wearing flats.
— Popsugar, May 18, 2018

And this one

How High Heels Became a Feminist Issue at Cannes

Outrage ensued after a group of women wearing flat shoes was turned away from a Cannes red carpet. Why is the high heel such a charged piece of clothing?

The controversy at Cannes reflects a longstanding debate about feminism and high heels.

Indeed, the high heel—as the Brooklyn Museum’s Killer Heels exhibition revealed—is fraught with historical baggage.

From Chinese women teetering on foot-binding wedges to Marilyn Monroe wiggling in her stilettos, high heels have symbolized femininity, sex, power, and submission—sometimes all at once.

They can never be neutral. Women who wear them know this, whether they do so to express their own feelings of power and control or to look and feel sexy. ... Still some feminists insist women can’t be taken seriously in four-inch platforms. Writing in the anthology Fifty Shades of Feminism, Sandi Toksvig, the Danish writer and actress, argues that women ‘will never meet men on an equal footing … while they literally can’t stand up for themselves.’
— Daily Beast, May 19, 2015

After finally ditching my high heels, it's fun to feel part of what's become a broader cultural rebellion in which what women wear (or don't wear) on their feel sends a signal about our freedom.

Here's to flats and freedom!

It may seem somewhat overblown to declare the seemingly trivial act of wearing flats to a formal event as an act of resistance, but the potential impact is truly significant. After all, it’s not that long ago that women were forbidden from wearing pants in public,” says Juliet Williams, an associate professor of gender studies and associate dean of social sciences at UCLA. “By this logic, the expectation (if not formal compulsion) that women wear high heels may be seen as one more shackle that needs to be cast off if women are ever to truly compete, toe-to-comfortable-toe, with men.
— The history of the high heel – and what it says about women today, The Boston Globe, June 28, 2015

For a history of high heels – and what they tell us about women's lives, check out this Boston Globe story.

Sexy Sports Illustrated Hijacks #MeToo: Thumbs Down on the Result

SI Model Robyn Lawley.jpeg

Six years I reported on sports such as baseball and basketball at Sports Illustrated. Those six years the SI Swimsuit issue was published in mid-February. Still is. Gotta snap the men out of their winter doldrums. No more NFL where they can watch men crack heads, in the week after the Super Bowl the nearly naked women issue appears. Well, a man can go ice fishing for so many winter weeks. Heck, it's what men want, its sales and focus groups tell them – time to serve up gorgeous women wearing less and less of bathing suits as each year goes by.

This year, at least, in one section, they've dispensed with bathing suits altogether.

So along with nudity, Sports Illustrated is parading the fact that for first time ever both bosses in charge of this issue are women – the editor and the photographer, also a first.

By the way they are marketing this year's issue, you'd think #MeToo linked arms with a different kind of female empowerment. All the while the editor is assuring men that no matter what's up with women they can count on SI to serve up "sexy" images.

So how are the 2018 reviews? 

"Spectacularly Silly" – The New Yorker

"Ridiculous?" – Fashion

"the first shoot in which 'models were as much participants as objects' – Vanity Fair

The opening words of Vanity Fair's dive into this 2018 issue:

On the short list of American media institutions invented to take commercial advantage of the male gaze, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue surely ranks in the top-three, mostly-safe-for-work division. One could be forgiven, then, for thinking that the staff of the issue were reconsidering their efforts last fall as #MeToo trended, stories about sexual harassment consumed news cycles, and audiences thought more deeply about the ways their media and entertainment were made—and who was making them. It turns out the issue’s staff had already been on their way to rethinking all of it. Editor MJ Day and her core team, comprised of all women, had decided as early as last spring to try in 2018 to make a magazine where models were as much participants as objects.
— Vanity Fair

Let's pause to consider the word "objects."  Really? SI sees its models as much as objects as participants? Sounds about right. Can we agree that the women are objectified. I know some argue that being nude or nearly nude in these magazine spreads so men can ogle their bodies is an act of empowerment. I'm not in that camp; one reason I'm not is how often some of the same male sports fans objectify women who broadcast and write sports – undressing them on Twitter et al. with descriptions and threats that strip them of their humanity.

The consequences of inhabiting an objectified body are, in many ways, what #MeToo is all about, and there’s something spectacularly silly, not to mention tone-deaf, about Sports Illustrated fighting fire with fire. The ‘In Her Own Words’ shoot got a predictable amount of flak on Twitter; it seems that removing models’ remaining scraps of clothes in the name of empowerment has not been widely taken in the liberating spirit in which it was intended.
— Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker

In trying to "mirror" the #MeToo movement on their model's bodies, SI explained its mission this way; they are "allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves." Yet, as editor MJ Day assured its predominantly male audience for this annual post-Super Bowl issue, this issue is “always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening.”

Again, a word check:  "Allowing" this to happen? Perhaps, a wiser word choice would be "enabling" if this is such an empowering act. 

Perhaps all of this explain why on the brink of Sports Illustrated's sale to Meredith, Time Inc. announced the launch of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Enterprises. Here's how New York Post greeted with this news:

Sports Illustrated is going into the modeling business

.. the launch of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Enterprises, a branding and licensing venture announced this week by the Time Inc. title, which hopes to turn the popular swimsuit issue that hits in mid-February into a year-round enterprise to offset declines in SI’s print ad business.
— The New York Post
Si Calendar.jpeg

Meet SI's 2018 Swimsuit Calendar. Stay tuned for more as the year moves on. My hunch is that this is one part of SI's "editorial" content that won't be tampered with by Meredith.

 

 

Is Vigilante Feminism on a Rebound in the #MeToo Era?

Feminism and dangers of vigilantism

"Vigilantism is the new black, and it’s not a good look for feminists. Sanctifying accusations of sexual misconduct as proof of guilt, effectively blacklisting alleged abusers, #MeToo activists celebrate mob rule."

Wendy Kaminer, a civil liberties lawyer, opens her essay by examining if the #MeToo movement is driving feminism toward what she sees as potentially a revived era of undesired vigilantism over women's hard-won freedoms and equality. Kaminer has written widely on this topic in her essays and books, and in this essay she summarizes historic evidence and arguments that buttress her perspective that if women move down the "victimized" route with legal protectionism, they will challenge the sustaining of the sturdy roots of equality that have been won through tough-fought campaigns. 

In the concluding paragraph of her thoughtful essay (below), Kaminer cautions against regressive actions in the wake of these challenging times of #MeToo revelations. There can be no doubt that women experience personal trauma due to sexual harassment and abuse and that many women's careers have been jeopardized by men's use of power in demanding sexual favors in exchange for their advancement. Such assaults should not continue. This is a reason I am grateful for Kaminer's plea that we bear in mind women's roller-coaster experiences through history in attempting to secure equality and freedom as we seek solutions to this current crisis. She also warns us to stay acutely aware of missteps we could make that could hurt women, among whom as those who've been victimized already. Finding remedies for sexual abuse and harassment involves discussions about gender in an extremely polarized society, which seems a potentially worrisome sign that misjudgments could end up driving solutions.

"Restoring double standards of sexual behaviour and underlying sex/gender stereotypes will not free or safeguard women, much less imbue feminism and the #MeToo movement with renewed regard for fairness and individual liberty. Nor would a regression to double standards advance equality. It requires what Mary Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Cady Stanton envisioned centuries ago: the recognition that all of us – men, women and transgendered people alike – are ‘human creatures’, burdened by the same existential anxieties and entitled to the same rights and liberties. The challenge for contemporary feminism and the #MeToo movement is the challenge of equality – if that’s still what feminists want."

I encourage you to read her essay and scroll though some of the online comments.