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.