Think about that train you take every morning to work. It’s a scene right out of Working Girl: at every station it pulls up to, women line up at the platform in blazers, pencil skirts, tights . . . and Nikes.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Obviously this is not the complete ensemble. A pair of painfully stiff heels is stuffed into the tote bag she carries, ready to be slipped into once she hits the marble floor of the workplace. It’s the presentation of feminine professionalism reserved for the office, because it’s just too damn impractical to clack around the subway system–you are definitely missing that 7 train. Jokes aside, why is it that we don’t see men hiking to their jobs in sneakers? Dress shoes are surely not as comfortable as a pair of boat shoes, but something about the male professional look allows for mobility as well, while the “female” does not.
A 2009 TODAY Show poll asked “Do high heels empower or oppress women in the workplace?” 32% of respondents said, “High heels oppress women. They objectify women as mere sex objects while causing lasting damage to their feet and ankles.” 49% said they serve to empower women. (Grindstone) A common sentiment is that high heels deliver a sense of authority and confidence–understandable, to anyone who has ever strutted into a room (after many hours of private practice walking around the house) in 6 inched glory. However, we all know this feeling lasts only a few hours before the confidence wears off and the fatigue and ache sets in. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that women who habitually wear high heels are at risk for permanent physiological damage to their knees, hips, back and tendons. This damage was seen in women as young as 25 years old, and continued even when the wearers removed the heels. (Huffington Post)
First, we need to ask ourselves what this says about the role of women in the workplace that there is a perceived need to reduce mobility and increase health risk in order to command authority and presence. Many articles surrounding the discourse on the health implications of wearing heels are titled in a way that implies total choice: i.e., “High Heels: Worth the Risk?” While 49% of people responding to the poll believed heels empower women, this still means a third believe they do not, and I am guessing the vast majority of women in business have worn heels at some point. They have done this in order to fill a required standard that is linked to economic benefits. For many women, there is a persistent need to impress upon others in the workplace that they have made the choice for career over domesticity, which may seep into a subconscious need to prove that professionalism presides over comfort.
Here’s to a future of women being able to wear flats and not feel small.