Sisterhood Blog

The Politics of 'Bad Shoes'

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images

Elissa Strauss’s post on high heels and power opened a proverbial shoebox of worms for me on this fraught subject — a topic that writer Leora Tannenbaum wrote an entire book about: “Bad Shoes and the Women Who Love Them.”

It’s true that high heels are fun and flattering, and like anyone else, I stop and stare at the windows of my favorite shoe stores. But like Elissa, my biggest beef with heels is that they’re seen on so many television shows and on the feet of politicians and cultural stars as thoroughly necessary accessories for power and beauty. Whenever I see Julianna Margulies’ “Good Wife” character, Alicia Florrick, strutting across her office floor in a pair of sky-high pumps, I have two thoughts 1) she has great legs and 2) Why do her heels have to be that high? Is it part of the allure of Alicia’s character — a survivor, a great mom and someone who has no issues with plantar fasciitis? Would Alicia still be the idol of many female TV viewers if she showed up in an occasional pair of flats to complement her power suits?

The problem, of course, is not limited to fictional characters. Last year, Jezebel’s Irin Carmon published an email from a female politician in Maine complaining about the double-standard of footwear and how it feeds into other double standards:

Finding the right pair of shoes that balances professionalism with comfort is paramount for women. Men are not forced into Chinese-foot-binding-style attire and they are automatically taken more seriously than their female counterparts.

As this kind of thing demonstrates, it’s actually a serious issue.

Personally, I’ve had one of those lifelong love-hate relationships with “bad shoes.” I never particularly had a yen for girly, strappy shoes of the kind featured on “Sex and the City,” but I always had an overly eager eye for funky and offbeat footwear styles with eye-catching patterns, shapes or colors. I frequently bought said shoes and always ended up wearing sneakers or flats anyway because the more aesthetically pleasing shoes hurt me so badly I ended up unable to walk or with my feet covered with blisters. Eventually, I gave up entirely on high heels until I started shopping for them at the comfort-focused Aerosoles. But even those more manageable heels pinch and tire out my feet after a few hours at a wedding or party, and I always throw a pair of crocs or sandals in my purse so, if I feel like it, I can walk part of the way home from any event. I can’t imagine having to wear heels to work every day. As Amanda Marcotte wrote a long time ago on the feminist politics of shoes:

A lot of women experience chronic pain because of their shoes. A lot of them have to get foot surgery to reverse some of the effects. And for what? A slightly better calf shape under a knee length pencil skirt? Why is it so hard to relegate high heels to special occasions, and view flats as the only appropriate everyday wear?

That’s certainly the choice I’ve made.


Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.