These are my work shoes. The one on the left is a women’s size 12E, the one on the right is men’s size 10 1/2.
Both of these shoes fit me quite nicely, The men’s shoe can accommodate my foot with a thick sock; the women’s shoe, a bit more snug, requires thin hosiery.
The women’s shoe is noticeably shorter than the men’s. Part of this is due to the fact that it’s tilted upward by the heel, but it also has less room at the toe. It’s not cramped, it’s just designed to fit my foot more closely. By the same token, it’s also narrower.
So why am I prattling on about footwear? It reminded me of a conversation I had on another topic, about Selfridges’ new agender concept. The department store is, for a period of six weeks, doing away with the men’s and women’s departments and implementing instead three floors of agender clothing.
Many commentators were aghast. They couldn’t see any way to fill three floors of a department store with clothing that would comfortably fit both men and women.
But I’ve studied both costume history and human anatomy. Clothing is NOT designed differently for men and women primarily to conform to differences in physiology. Clothing is designed to accentuate, emphasize and in some cases create those differences.
My shoes are an example. The women’s shoe, by conforming more closely to my foot, makes the foot look smaller, daintier. The men’s shoe has extra space on the sides and at the toe — it fits just as well as the women’s shoe, but it fits differently. It is designed to maximize my footprint rather than minimize it.
The heel is an especially interesting design element, despite being very low. It gives me a extra bit of height, of course. More significantly, it’s inherently unstable… the bottom is narrower than the top. It also prevents a proper stride, Wearing these shoes into the office or around town makes me walk more slowly, with a different gait. If I do walk briskly, my hips trace interesting patterns through space. The shoes change my standing posture by pushing my center of balance a little forward. The instability makes me more aware of and careful of my stance and balance.
In short, this one item of clothing not only makes my feet look smaller (more “feminine”), it translates my entire body language into a more “feminine” mode.
On a side note, I hypothesize that this is the origin of the “cowboy swagger” — even with the relatively low heel of a cowboy boot, if you don’t cultivate a swagger you might very well end up mincing instead.
The shoes are just the tip of the iceberg. My blouses emphasize the curves I have, suggest curves I don’t have, and conceal curves I’d rather not have, all in ways that men’s shirts don’t. My women’s pants have no pockets, or small, shallow pockets, because it is apparently better to carry a Bag of Holding on my shoulder everywhere I go than to ruin the smooth silhouette of my badonkadonk.
I love the feminine side of my wardrobe. I have expansion plans for it. But my awareness is increasing of how even the smallest things can reinforce rigid and oppressive gender roles. Walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes. Literally.