These were power heels, and they were worn by women from all over the world. They were leopard print, or green and scaly. They were amaranthine and violaceous and subtly velvet. They were black and shiny as Japanese lacquer, with a shock of red on the sole. Some were plain, but uncomfortable anyway. Perhaps I have embellished them somewhat in my imagination, my memory tempered by glamour. What is not in dispute is that all of these statement shoes invariably came with a steel-spined appendage like an exclamation point: stiletto, the heel named for a dagger. For the women whose feet put up a fight, these shoes were changed out of and put away, smuggled in and out of the building in handbags, like weapons.
What confines, impoverishes, exploits, enslaves, oppresses, sickens, bloodies, rapes and kills women are not generally clothes or shoes, but rather laws and societal norms. Prejudice. Misogyny. White supremacy. Transphobia. Homophobia. Predatory corporations and unfair labor laws. Discriminatory work and hiring policies. Lack of legal protection from violence in the workplace, home and street. Non-enforcement of existing protections. Weaponized bureaucracy. Overpriced women-specific services. Medical sexism. Religious sexism. Barred access to property ownership, financial management, a credit card or a checkbook. Threat of violence in public spaces, both physical and virtual, and on public transportation systems. The mobility of women is and has been restricted physically through fashion, but most of all it has been restricted legally, financially, professionally, medically, intellectually, sexually, politically. That is to say, systemically.
The dominant narratives in society and media still struggle to see women as individuals. We are more often flavors, types. Public feminist intellectuals are routinely castigated for criticizing individual women with whom they disagree, even when that disagreement has not been expressed in a gendered or sexist manner. It comes up a lot when women fight about whether or not they should wear high heels.
When women are not seen fully as people, we are all the same, and criticizing one of us means criticizing all of us.