High heels and their connection to female empowerment have been a major topic of discussion lately: One woman posted photos of her friend’s bloodied feet on Facebook after she spent a shift waitressing in heels. Another woman, this one a U.K. receptionist who was sent home for refusing to wear heels to work, created a successful petition asking her company to ditch the policy.
While those stories have been making the rounds on the Internet, former SpaceX recruiter Dolly Singh has been hard at work creating high heels that are more comfortable. As Bloomberg reported, they use a nylon and fiberglass shank to make the heels stable and combat physical damage to wearers, whereas traditional heels use an uncomfortable metal.
But what about symbolic damage? In a powerful piece for The Atlantic, writer Megan Garber explores whether we can ever truly separate heels from their effect on women in the culture.
“In their teetering heights, they make audacious assumptions about fashion and feminism and professionalism and sex and privilege and power and its opposite, and about the way all those things, in the early 21st century, chafe against each other,” Garber writes. “Heels at once lift women up and hold them—hold us—back.”
Garber aptly points out that many women associate heels with empowerment: “Heels as power. Heels as sex, co-opted in the name of professionalism. Heels as, in all that, ambition. Avery Jessup, the hyper-ambitious Fox News reporter on 30 Rock, summarized the thinking perfectly: ‘Flats,’ she declared, ‘are for quitters.'”
Garber also notes the irony of heels—that women often complain about having to wear them but still sometimes choose to wear them. “We choose, day by day and week by week and Special Occasion by Special Occasion, to let them do it. Heels are both a claim of femininity and a test of it. They are the bindings of the willfully bound.”
Read the full piece over at The Atlantic.