Recent images from the news media have drawn my attention to women’s dress but before I explain what bothers me, let me make some things clear from the start:
- I am a woman. I am not a prude.
- I do not blame women for being assaulted if they are wearing skimpy clothing. It is the man’s fault for not controlling himself.
- I also feel women should dress sexy in appropriate settings if they wish. Show some cleavage and strut your stuff. Have fun!
- I have experienced beaches in France and have no problem with topless women (or men) on the beach.
- I am not a fan of shaming women. There has been too much of that throughout history.
I do, however, have a problem with expectations concerning women’s dress in today’s professional world.
For example, why do women continue to wear tortuous footwear such as pointy toes, high heels and stilettos? Men say it is sexy and women say it makes them feel sexy. A 2015 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior concluded that the higher the heel, the more attention men paid to women. Some women say it makes them feel and look more powerful. Some say it helps them advance in their careers. Really?
When I was 12-years-old, my mother told me I was finally old enough to wear high heels. I was excited; I had come of age! This was a big deal for me—until I started wearing pointy shoes with high heels and realized that it wasn’t all it was chalked up to be. Although it was uncomfortable, as a teen, I followed female fashion and was always eager to kick off my shoes as soon as I could. It has been more than 50 years since I’ve attempted to wear really high heels and, although I’m in my 70’s now, my feet look rather young. I’ve never had bunions, hammertoes, metatarsalgia or pump bump—conditions resulting from fashionable footwear. Personally, I am not a masochist.
Podiatrist Michael Liebow claimed to the Washington Post, “Women will wear their high-heeled shoes until their feet are bloody stumps.” (2) In a 2014 study, the American Podiatric Association found that 38 percent of women reported they would wear shoes they liked even if they were uncomfortable. And 71 percent said they have foot problems related to high heels. (3)
In 2018, we are participating in a modern version of the ancient Chinese tradition of foot binding, the result of societal pressure. “The practice of binding feet was not only considered beautiful, it was considered necessary in order to get married and to have a better life.” (4) Does this sound familiar to the claim today that high heels are sexy and help women to succeed? We may not bind feet but we certainly shackle women’s ability to be pain free and to move with the same ease as men.
Television screen shot of CNN
I also wonder why women feel obligated to wear dresses and skirts for state events. Notice on television when women sit while wear skirts and dresses and then constantly tug at their clothing to pull it down. It is okay in an entertainment situation but not in professional situations. Look at the image of Sarah Sanders in her “professional” situation, showing most of her thigh. Can you imagine a man in a professional situation unbuttoning his shirt so you can see his chest hair? Of course not! It would be too undignified. And it is too undignified for a professional woman to expose herself as Sarah did in her press conference setting. Hillary Clinton has received a lot of flak about her pants suits but she’s one of the few serious women in politics who consistently goes against the “expectation” that women should wear skirts and dresses. And she doesn’t wear stilettos either. Good for her! Some might argue that professional men are expected to wear a tie. Okay, but wearing a tie does not demean or damage health.
Women may “hold up half the sky” but we are not yet represented equally in professional and government positions. Why do women continue to dress according to “expectations” even at the expense of our health, dignity and freedom? Social expectations can subjugate women. When it comes to dress in the professional world, women make themselves victims. We will never hold up half the sky professionally until we quit bowing to men’s dress expectations.
(1) Photo crop of Melania Trump’s feet at the National Gallery of Art on Tuesday. Credit Erin Schaff for The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/24/style/melania-trump-white-hat.html
“Foot-binding is said to have been inspired by a tenth-century court dancer named Yao Niang who bound her feet into the shape of a new moon. She entranced Emperor Li Yu by dancing on her toes inside a six-foot golden lotus festooned with ribbons and precious stones. In addition to altering the shape of the foot, the practice also produced a particular sort of gait that relied on the thigh and buttock muscles for support. From the start, foot-binding was imbued with erotic overtones. Gradually, other court ladies—with money, time and a void to fill—took up foot-binding, making it a status symbol among the elite.”