The patriarchy wears patent leather heels

The patriarchy has reduced me to an immobile blob; it won’t let me shower; it has covered me in crumbs of stroopwafel, the legendary Dutch treat; it makes me use a walker to hobble to the toilet; it has forced me to down shots of milk of magnesia in order to regulate my bowel movements. I’ve pissed you off, patriarchy, and this is your retaliation. You have turned me into a doped-up dependent.

It happened on (Black) Friday. I was returning to my dorm, wearing a pair of purple patent leather five-inch heels from Top Shop in London. The heels from Top Shop are important because on the Friday night in question, those same heels slipped on some devil ice. My heel, and the foot inside it, twisted. And then it snapped.

“This is my penance,” I thought, as the doctor shot Novocain into my swollen foot. “I’m a bad feminist.” Yes, I make gagging sounds whenever Soulja Boy comes on and I don’t laugh when someone calls me a slut affectionately. But at night I slip into purple patent death traps and risk balance, blisters and bones for the sake of beauty. As a rightful punishment for my hypocrisy, I won’t begin spring break unconscious on someone’s pool deck, but anesthetized on an operating table.

It’s hard to find comfort in my state of penance. It comes but in three forms: ice, percocet and post-feminism. Post-feminists tell me it’s okay to wear heels. I can wear all sorts of crippling footwear as well as wonderbras. I can get waxed and sample starvation diets. I can get a nose job, breast implants or liposuction. I can do whatever I want. Although these may be self-destructive performances of gender, they are chosen by me. My heels. My choice. My liberation.

My heels are my post-feminist female independence.

They are sort of like the Patriot Act. They are restrictive and just a little damaging to my dignity as a human being. However, I had the freedom to wear them, just like America had enough freedom to pass laws that violate its fundamental freedoms.

Women, however, are not free to decide what makes them attractive. Nor are ideas of attractiveness “natural” and immutable. There’s nothing “natural” about a 100-pound woman with DDs and there’s nothing natural about purple patent leather five-inch heels; they’re actually quite a feat of engineering. My fetishized footwear is one small example of the male fantasy women strive for every day, often at great detriment to themselves. Victims can end up with low self-esteem, eating disorders or, as in my case, really messed up ankles.

The righteous feminist in me is really mad. The righteous feminist in me is not a victim. She insists that I didn’t wear heels to fulfill a male fantasy. Men weren’t involved in the decision process at all, in fact. I wore my purple patent leather five-inch heels because they’re really awesome. I wore them because they went really well with my mini-black-lace-prom-style dress. I wore them because they completed my gothic-teen-princess look on that fateful Friday night. It was for fashion. Not for men. The righteous feminist in me is very sure that she is right.

I quieted the righteous feminist in me with a stroopwafel. The fashion industry is patriarchal, I explained to her. I reminded her of corsets. In the 19th century, America imported high heels from Parisian brothels, because they increased a prostitute’s popularity. Even today, I pointed out, the fashion industry transforms women into skeletal, yet sexual, objects. If so much of the fashion marketed to women has roots in patriarchy, can a woman wearing it consider herself liberated? Can a feminist wear heels, painful heels, liability heels, as a valid form of self-expression?

Under the influence of many, many narcotics, these questions became muddied in my mind. It was so much easier just to give up, lie back and get taken care of. It was so much simpler to regress into dependency. Yes, I’ve now spent three days in the Yale Health Services infirmary. Maybe I feel a little bit like a waste of a human being who is dying a slow and weirdly painless death. And okay, I’m being threatened with suppositories. But I’m telling you all, the above question can guide us into the future. It can and, for me, it already has.

This is Fourth Wave feminism.

Claire Gordon is a sophomore in Saybrook College. She is the special events coordinator of the Yale Women’s Center.


  • Anonymous

    Don't wear high heels if they hurt your feet! It's really not worth it! There are a lot of cute flat shoes, and comfort when walking on campus should take a priority over attractive feet! If a man complains, tell him to walk around campus in heels!

  • Old Blue '73

    Very funny Claire. Let it no longer be said that women involved with the Women's Center have no sense of humor. Of course, feminists in my class wouldn't wear 3 inch heels, let alone 5 inch. I'm still processing the thought of feminist and 5 inch heels going together. Get well soon.

  • Anonymous

    This is probably the best thing to come out of DUH I've seen at Yale. And that includes the HPV vaccine. Fantastic work.

  • JS

    High heels are not for walking… They are supposed to slide upon red carpet and to rest in the passenger seat in a car. Men cannot wear their dress shoes on ice either. Be more practical, girls.

  • Man '08

    Ummmm, what guys are telling you to wear heels?

    I think they are just as stupid as you do.

    Listen girls,

    You look great in them, you look great out of them. You look great in sneakers going to the gym. You look great in flats going to class. You look great in sandals in the spring.

    Feminists seem to be the only ones hyping this issue.

    I do completely buy your fashion argument though.

    It must be about fashion for girls.
    Guys are clueless about fashion. If you think a label or designer will impress us, then you are insane.

  • AC

    Claire, I really enjoy your article. It was funny and smart. It was refreshing to read an article that doesn't regress into angry rants about men, or yale, or fraternities. I will respond to one thing; while it;'s completely true "There’s nothing “natural” about a 100-pound woman with DDs and there’s nothing natural about purple patent leather five-inch heels;", there is also nothing "natural" about guys (increasingly) shaving their chest, and there is nothing natural about 6 foot 200 pound buffed up guys hitting the gym every day. Let's face it, for both genders there are pressures to conform to what is considered "beautiful". Is this really a problem that specifically victimizes women or just for PEOPLE who don't look like Abercrombie and Fitch models?

  • Anonymous

    Women aren't the only ones held up to unreal stereotypes. Seen a superhero lately? It's the male equivalent of the Barbie. Notice the physique on the models in the Yale Sex Week lingerie show? Not skinny pale intellectuals. We can't blame patriarchy for everything.

  • R 08

    great article, claire. very funny, well-thought out, and feminist. i hope your foot gets better soon!

  • Camille

    @ #7: Actually, I would blame patriarchy for that too. Patriarchy can have negative effects on men, women, and everyone else: just like it expects women to conform to (often contradictory) roles and standards that they will never perfect, it also builds up a model of masculinity that can pretty much only be achieved by superheroes.

    Think how often people joke that a man with an expensive sports car or a really aggressive attitude is "overcompensating"--the idea is that if a man cannot live up to the pinnacle of masculinity, then he has to do something extra to make up for it, or else he's failed. That's exactly patriarchy at work.

    One thing that I think mainstream feminism doesn't always do (and one reason why I tend not to take part in more mainstream types of feminist activism) is really investigate the ways patriarchy affects more than just women, but broaden that to include children, queer, genderqueer, transgender and intersex people, the environment, animals, and yes, men.

  • @Camille

    Can I just point out that you've reduced the word "patriarchy" to mean "wanting perfection"?

    Oh, and on another note, if women were expected to wear ties, we'd complain about them being symbols of male oppression akin to leashes. Instead, males wear them without complaint and look hawt in them.

  • guy

    yes, high heels do make your legs look attractive and they nice to look at in magazines, but honestly, the positive utility from that is way outdown by the negative utility of girls complaining about them the entire time that they're wearing them… look for some attractive, comfortable shoes or get smaller heels.

    also, guys have plenty of things to live up to… physically and personality-wise. at least women are allowed to express emotion.

  • Old Blue '73

    I barf a little every time someone uses the term patriarchy seriously. It is just another term for "society" except that it adds a maleness to it in a pejorative sense. There is no one perspective that "society" has, patriarchal or otherwise.

    I'm sorry Camille farted to stink up this otherwise joyful article and string of comments.

    Here's hoping you are soon tripping the light fantastic, Claire.

  • JAT

    Heels lengthen the legs, accentuate the calves, and raise the buttocks, all things make a woman look more attractive. Seriously, who wants short and stocky legs? Perhaps some qualities just look better than others.

    As the author pointed out, no one is forcing her to where heals. In fact, there is an entire "fashion" industry devoted to comfort…so why choose the "fashion" that was uncomfortable? Perhaps it's because she feels it looks better, is more likely to grab attention, makes her feel attractive, and ensuingly raises self-esteem? Seriously, if it didn't work at accomplishing any of that, would women still be wearing heels today?

    Perhaps the author really wants to blame the patriarchy for deciding that longer legs, toned calves, and raised buttocks look better than short and stocky legs…

    While she's at it, she should also look into why girls like taller guys over shorter guys and why they like more muscular guys over scrawny guys. I'm sure that the patriarchal society is responsible for this travesty also.

  • Anonymous

    please dont tell yale girls not to dress up. we already have that problem. go to any other school and youll see what i mean. cant wait for spring break.

  • Joey

    What did the x-rays reveal ? MRI ?
    A good OS can have you good as new in no time. Dont forget to ice it …honey

  • Histiletto

    I feel bad that you had to suffer the effects of your injury. Hopefully, your pains have ceased and now they are memories to grow by. We have tendencies to pass on blame for circumstances we have caused from our own choices. Neither the patriarchs nor the feminists decided that you had to wear that outfit. Your attire was your decision for what ever reasons you had and I'm sure you looked stunningly beautiful. However, what came to past must be yours to bear for the most part. May you always continue to learn and remember that leadership is best in the service of others.

  • another alum

    well said yale alum.