Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sexism, shoes, and apologizing for femininity

Yesterday evening I picked up the book Whipping Girl by Julia Serano, and by two in the morning I was already nearly 200 pages into it. Time flies when you're examining systemic cissexism! :)

One point she makes is that our culture has a (often unconscious) tendency to see expressions of femininity as artificial and impractical, whereas expressions of masculinity are seen as natural and practical. She argues that this negatively impacts all feminine people, including men and women, both trans and cis; but that it is especially harmful to feminine trans women. After all, why would anyone go to such great lengths to choose artificiality and impracticality over more sensible options?

And reading about this I realized that I sometimes see femininity and masculinity in those terms as well.

Like when it comes to shoes.

Back in this post, for example, I was a describing an outfit of mine and wrote: "I had decided to femme it up a bit with a tunic, tights and silly high heels."

Now, why would I feel the need to describe my heels as "silly"? They weren't particularly silly, after all: just plain black shoes with a tall heel. I think it was a way of apologizing for being feminine. I was trying to say: yes, I know that heels are impractical and that I wore them anyway, but it's okay because at least I recognize that it was silly of me to do so.

But, as I see it now, there is a big problem with deciding that a certain style of footwear is impractical. Namely, that whether or not something is practical depends entirely on the goal of the person using it. If your goal is to hike up a mountain, then yes, high heels are very impractical. But if your goal is to feel sexy, you might find high heels to be very practical indeed— (depending, of course, on how you express your gender and sexuality). I certainly do.

Both of these items are in my closet. I own them for different reasons.
(And really, it's not like a suit and tie is good for much else besides feeling sexy, either. But when was the last time you heard someone call such masculine clothing silly or impractical?)

It just goes to show that there are lots of subtle messages I've picked up from my culture which are still influencing how I think about gender expression. In the future I'll be a little more careful to remain as unapologetic about my femininity as I am about my masculinity.


  1. What a big subject this is, and well worth regular examination. Nobody should ever have to apologize for who they are.

    I would add that "being silly" is not always a bad thing. More people should give themselves permission to 'be silly". :-)

    1. That's very true. I certainly don't think silliness is bad in and of itself, I just want to be wary of the idea that femininity is inherently kind of silly.

  2. This is the fourth time in the past 24 hours I've read about this book (once was as a suggestion for Jeremy). I should pick it up... once I read the six other books I've promised people I'd read. No wait... seven.

    I don't own any high heels (because there's a good chance I'd accidentally kill myself by falling in them) but my running shoes are completely covered in shiny black sequins and have black and silver laces. Not silly and anyone who doesn't like them doesn't need to wear them :)

    I had a customer last week who actually said, "Now that's a good girl." I asked one of my coworkers (sarcastically) if I was expected to serve coffee or sit up and play fetch. I could have used one of those red shoes about then. Looks like it's got a bit of heft.

    1. Yeah, it's a pretty good book. She has a real knack for being able to point out, "this is what our culture says or does, and this is how it affects people."

      And wow, I cringed reading that customer's comment. That is yet another situation in which heels could be practical. :)