Because it is a heel, because it is very high

September 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

I suppose I’ve reached my saturation point on a certain sort of feminist art; nope, I do not find miniskirts and bikinis and makeup liberating. You can feel oppressed by seeing a woman in hijab; I can feel oppressed by hotsy-totsy dustjacket photos of women writers. It’s where we come from, I guess.

This was written in the Arabic Literature (in English) blog in response to a profile on Joumana Haddad; something about those words made me want to stand up and applaud, except that I was sitting alone in front of my laptop and I already get enough strange looks from my dog when I talk to myself.

These words are not new or revolutionary, but it sort of triggered something new in me. Let me call it the Treatise on the Objection to the Wearing of High Heels, Particularly When It Applies to Myself. I have made my peace with make-up; by which I mean that I have learned that using it whenever you want to use it is basically fun, and by which I also mean that sometimes like me, you, and everyone I know, I succumb to societal pressure and wear it when I have to Face The World in important ways – job interviews, weddings, stalking hot men. Sometimes, railing against societal constructs is just exhausting, especially since I belong to and participate in society. It’s the bloody crisis of humankind, isn’t it? To rail against, then succumb.

There may be hypocrisy to why I object to high heels more than make-up, I freely admit. I have not yet learned how to make sense of and reconcile these hypocrisies. This is why I have a blog.

It’s wearying, having to defend my decision to not want to wear high heels to certain women, in particular, who identify as “feminist” (understandably a loaded and undeniably tainted word, in my respects) and who, for example, will vociferously defend the right of, say, a Muslim woman to wear or not wear the hijab or niqab. However, these same women will try to exhort you, quite forcefully in fact, to wear high heels. And if you tell them how you’ve worn them in the past and you could care less whether they made your calves look slimmer and your butt perkier, how it hurt and felt uncomfortable and that you hate how unfriendly they feel on your feet after a few hours, they tsk-tsk and shake their heads and say, “Subashini, you simply need to practice wearing them. They’re sexy! They make every woman look thinner! It looks professional!” and so on. And on, and on, and on. But more important, there is that exhortation to practice wearing them.

Well, if I really, really, really wanted to wear high heels, I probably would practice wearing them, like practicing ballet or piano or dribbling a football or, you know, other types of skilled activities that can give one immense contentment. But if I really, really, really find them uncomfortable and dislike the pain that follows after a few hours of wearing them, and if I admit to this discomfort and dislike, it somehow implies a distinct laziness on my part. For not practising wearing high heels enough and refusing to make the effort.

What do you want from me?

Well, I shake my fist at you, damn you, and tell you that I feel oppressed by high heels. I feel browbeaten by the tyranny of high heels. Take that, feminine feminist. Take that, fashionable person. Take that, Victoria Beckham. I’m not telling you that you should feel oppressed by high heels. I’m saying that I am, which does not mean that I’ll always and forever NOT wear them, but I’ll probably very rarely wear them. But if you want to wear them, and run in them, and do whatever you want in them, please go right ahead. But do stop telling me that I have to wear them.

(So much for being objective. This is an extended personal rant to all the people of my past who tried to force me to wear high heels. You know who you are. May you, for one week, dream nightly of sharp stilettos poking into your ribs.)

Which brings me back to the initial quote about Joumana Haddad. I know very little about Joumana Haddad, and the first I heard of her was via this profile in The Guardian. While I find some of her pronouncements quite troubling, I won’t say very much about it because other folks with a strong sense of the Arab context have already done so.

What troubled me more was the journalist’s approach, which certainly became uncritically breathless when it arrived at the subject of Joumana’s physical presence. Beautiful or no, flamboyant or no, it seems that people who want to make a point about feminists! who are beautiful and feminine, too! are just further contributing to the ridiculous notion that beautiful, feminine women who are committed to women’s issues are somehow more special or worthy of note. Like, you know, it’s so predictable that ugly women will be feminists, but a hot! flamboyant! one! How rare a specimen! *breathless* Which is all the more ironic when you read the article, because it seems like Joumana herself seems to be exactly the kind of person who would object to such reductive representations.

Being comfortable with one’s body doesn’t necessarily correlate with being able to wear “sexy” clothes. Being comfortable with one’s body doesn’t necessarily correlate to being comfortable with one’s thoughts. Displaying one’s body explicitly at all-times in skin-revealing clothes doesn’t necessarily translate to being comfortable with one’s body any more than being a pedantic, patronising loudmouth makes one patently comfortable with one’s thoughts.

I mean, if being liberated in one’s thoughts and spirit, and being comfortable with oneself and one’s body can be easily achieved by wearing lipstick, or a miniskirt, or a tube top, or high heels, or letting your hair down, then we would all of us be free. Free, at last!

I will celebrate this moment with another pair of flats soon. Very soon.

(The title of this blog post owes its existence, somewhat, to Joyce Carol Oates.)

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