High heels. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, chances are you’ve probably worn them at some point. Even the dudes among us – surely almost every little boy tried on Mum’s high heels (for the comedic benefit of the whole family) at least once.
I’ve spent most of my working life in them. As a classical crossover singer, I was expected to wear them pretty much everywhere – on stage especially – and let me tell you, standing in vertiginously high heels for two and a bit hours during a performance is no walk in the park. Especially when classical singers are taught to “anchor” themselves, and “channel tension” into their feet (read: basically push your feet into the ground really hard).
So when I read that a receptionist was sent home from PwC in London for refusing to wear high heels to work, I wanted to simultaneously buy that fantastic woman a wine and rip the PwC dresscode into tiny shreds and burn it whilst crying “DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY!”
Don’t get me wrong, I love high heels. They occupy the choicest position in my wardrobe. As a newspaper columnist with a deep (ly embarrassing) love of expensive stilettos, I’m well aware of the Carrie Bradshaw parallels.
But let’s cut the crap for a moment. No matter how expensive or well-designed, high heels hurt. The first couple of hours are okay. Not great. But tolerable. But by hour three, little red daggers are starting to shoot through the soles of your feet. Four hours in and your feet are starting to go numb. By the time five hours have passed you probably can’t feel them at all anymore – but you’ll certainly feel them when you finally take those gorgeous, excruciating patent pumps off.
I once wore five-inch peep-toe stilettos to a party where I danced for six hours. By 3am I couldn’t feel much of anything, but when I woke up the next morning I found that I still couldn’t feel two of my toes. It took about four days to regain sensation as the nerve damage healed.
How the hell are women expected to wear these exquisite, torturous inventions for the entire workday? My favourite part of the PwC story was that the woman, Nicola Thorp, asked whether a man would be expected to work the same shift in high heels and was laughed at.
Of course. It’s preposterous that men would be expected to wear such uncomfortable, unnatural footwear.
No double-standards there.
None at all.
Sure, high heels can be empowering in their own way, allowing you to tower many inches taller than usual. They can also make you feel somewhat vulnerable as you teeter precariously over uneven cobblestones (Europe, I’m looking at you). Either way, they are gendered accessories that are both loved and hated by women around the globe.
But they should never be compulsory.
And if any executive wants to make them compulsory for female staff, they should first make it compulsory for all male staff to wear them too.
I can just imagine all the blokes limping into the office, with a few sprained ankles thrown into the mix.
The rule would be abolished by lunchtime.