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Monday, May 24, 2010

Ugly shoes that lesbians wear

At church yesterday, I learned that early feminists like Margaret Fuller were called "Blue Stockings" because they had a reputation for wearing sensible and comfortable blue wool stockings over the black stockings a true lady wore. People have been obsessing over feminists' footwear since 1750. Which is to say that bigots have been characterizing feminists as ugly since feminists first appeared.
The title of my blog refers to an episode of a game show (Pyramid?) in which one player gets another to guess "Birkenstock" with the clue "ugly shoes that lesbians wear." (On a side note, I spelled Birkenstock wrong, and one of the suggestions spell-check gave me was "Bluestocking."). And of course, every anti-feminist idiot will site ugly shoes as a defining, and damning, characteristic of feminists.
You know, if the worst thing they can say about us is that we wear ugly shoes, you've got a pretty flimsy case against us, kids. If the best you can do to argue with people who believe in equality for men and women is that we're ugly, well then, you don't have an ugly shod leg to stand on. I happen to be gorgeous, and I have fantastic shoes.
I wonder, though, exactly where the stereotype even comes from. Is it that women who have the audacity to try to break free from discrimination could only want to do so because they can't find a man? Is it that being pretty is a full time job and doesn't allow any room for having thoughts or careers? How do you contest an argument that is so fundamentally stupid? What logical response could stand a chance against such an alarming lack of logic? 
Some other arguments floating around the Interwebs about us man-hating ball busters:
We're all lesbians. Obviously.
Rape isn't real - feminists largely made it up to punish men for having sex.
Women are taking all the men's jobs, and they're not qualified to do them
Nobody holds us accountable for our actions
We won't be happy until men are submissive (OK, well who can argue with that?)
That last argument, though, tells us a lot. If women were once dominated and want to now dominate, and that's a bad thing, than it is correct that men should be the ones who dominate. In making this argument, anti-feminists are explicitly saying that men should dominate women, and then they claim that men do not want to dominate women.

Thanks to Renee for the info on Margaret Fuller.


bearkate said...

Jen and I used to get the most marvelous looks when we'd go out to the store with Chance and I'd be in my Birks, jeans, t-shirt and frequently a bandana to hold back my hair. I'd like to think that women get characterized by our shoes because all men's shoes are ugly and look alike.

XDruidess said...

Perhaps women should just be able to wear whatever comfortable shoes they like and not be forced to squeeze into those tippy toe high heels because that's what men think look sexy.

disheah said...

Speaking as a male, it's sentiments like those in the two comments that makes most men think of feminists as bra-burning lesbo ball-busters. Most men don't think of themselves as misogynists, and are a bit disturbed when a feminist starts cornering them like they're personally responsible for the repression and rape of all women kind. Frankly, it can be a bit like watching Louis Farrakhan rant about "whitey" and the "jew conspiracy".

...all men's shoes are ugly and look alike. Despite what you think, men's clothing do matter. It's different than with women, because men's clothing is more like a uniform and denotes status and rank. Man that wears italian leather = CEO of a big Co. Man that wears sandals w/ socks = Tech geek or homeless hippie. forced to squeeze into those tippy toe high heels because that's what men think look sexy. Hate to break it to you, but unless they're metrosexual or gay, most men don't even notice what color of shoes you're wearing. We just care that you look nice, and yes 99% of us are objectivizing your body. We honestly can't help it because it's hardwired in our brains. It's not personal, really.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

D, how often is it that a feminist corners you and blames you for all repression? I'm not being sarcastic; the anti-feminists online claim it too, but no guy I've asked IRL has ever had this happen.
As for societal expectations, I think Bearkate and Xdruidess can both site examples of people making comments about their footwear as it relates to their sexuality. I've heard the phrase "Nice shoes, dyke" more than once, and I don't even own a pair of Birkenstock's.
It's also pretty common for employers to tell women to wear shoes that men are not expected to wear; I know a woman, for instance, who has been talked to by HR multiple times about her wearing the same shoes every day, despite the fact that she is wearing work-appropriate dress shoes that are in good repair. I would guess that men in her office aren't expected to even *own* more than one pair of dress shoes. Men who have long hair face the same discrimination, and that's not cool either.
While you may not notice women's shoes, a great many men do - check out the anti-feminist groups on Yahoo Answers or Facebook and you'll hear all about feminist footwear.
As for men's shoes - if Brad Pitt shows up on a red carpet wearing Italian leather Oxfords, that's stylish. If Angelina Jolie shows up on a red carpet wearing Oxfords of any kind, she's on every worst dress list on earth. The difference between the dress shoes that men are expected to wear and dress shoes that women are expected to wear is that men's dress shoes do not cause permanent damage to the feet, ankles, and calf muscles. Another difference: a woman can't run for her life in the shoes *she's* expected to wear. Except Gweneth Paltrow in Iron Man, because she's a badass.
Anyway, point being, Bearkate is right in that men can wear boring black dress shoes every day and never have someone call their sexuality or gender identity into question. And Xdruidess is right in that the shoes women are typically expected to wear are more oppressive than those men are expected to wear.
I personally don't feel this is the result of men oppressing women, I think it's an example of a double-standard, and as such I'd like to see it changed. I feel the same way about men being expected not to have long hair, and I've been known to rant on that subject at length as well.
As for "objectivizing," seriously? "My brain chemistry made me do it"? If humanity weren't capable of overcoming its wiring, we'd still be living in caves and bashing each other with rocks.

Cap'n Ergo "XL+1" Jinglebollocks said...

I got married the 1st time in leather combat boots I got for $5 a pound at a lesbian punk clothing store in Ithica. Does that count?

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Did the lesbian punk clothing store always sell clothing by the pound? Do they sell bathing suits? Because seriously, my bathing suit cost more than almost any other single article of clothing I own, and is made of considerably less material.
Or is it sexist of me to assume that lesbians wear bathing suits?

disheah said...

Okay, so not exactly "cornering", but I have often been the only man in the room when some woman makes an off-handed comment about "men", usually along the lines of how we are pigs. I've also learned to stop watching the Oxygen network with my wife since the men on that channel are inordinately absent, idiotic, pansies, or psychotic. I've honestly never heard of anything like that about women's shoes, although I can see the logic *if* that woman was in a career where her appearance was a part of her job function: eg restaurant hostess, receptionist, model, spokes-person, UFC ring-girl, etc. I've known a few salesmen who have told me stories of how they have to wear a different tie, ironed dress shirt, and nightly polished shoes to work or they'll get read the riot act by the boss. Luckily, as an IT geek, I get to show up in any sort of semi-dressed state and chalk it up to nerdy social-obliviousness.

As for those insults, those are boys, not men. They're bullies who pick on people they think won't fight back. I used to catch a lot of those insults in high school, too, but then I started growing out my ponytail and taking up martial arts, and strangely I don't get those anymore.

I do feel for women about high heels, although I don't think it's really as required as you make it out to be. Not unless you're hosting a banquet, or entering a ballroom dance competition, anyway. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are extreme examples because their careers are based on their appearance. I'm pretty sure the average woman might only encounter a dozen times a year where she'd even feel the social pressure to wear heels. In fact, at my current workplace, I have counted 3 women in flip-flops, 1 in knee-high boots, and have yet to see anyone in heels.

And yeah the brain chemistry thing... Sure, we can hide it and we sure as hell don't have to follow it. Some of us get really good at it, but it's the first instinct in the male brain (even the homosexual ones). Yes, most of us understand that's very rude to do it when we're out with our lady, so we do control our urges. But I guarantee you almost all men will ogle if no one's looking.

For what it's worth, I think you're one of the "good" feminists, and I respect a lot of what you say. It just seems like it's really easy to turn such a subject into an excuse for extremism and an "us-versus-them" world-view.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

I see your points more clearly now.
I think to start with, you and I have vastly different understandings of the idea of objectification. Technically speaking, sexual
objectification entails treating someone as if she or he is worthless except as a sex object. To me, admiring or even lusting after an
attractive woman isn't objectification unless it is accompanied by disrespect or disdain of some kind. So noticing a woman has a nice
chest is, as you said, hard wired. Making an unwelcome or unsolicited comment about her chest, without regard for how that might make her feel, objectification. I would agree with you that being attracted to people you find attractive is a question of biology.
As to shoe comments - I'm kind of realizing this is probably regional. When I lived in urban Cleveland and North Akron (and I'm using urban to mean "not suburban"; I'm not using it as a euphemism for race), grown men would shout things like, "Nice shoes dyke" out the car window when you were out walking and minding your own business. Although I more
frequently got "fat whore." Bearkate, living on the border of Deliverance country, probably got some of that too. I guess maybe the
reason I'm so resentful of anti-feminists claiming that this sort of behavior doesn't exist is that I started having men shouting graphic sexual propositions out windows at me before I had my first kiss, and this was just a fact of life. However, comments like "Nice shoes, dyke" were no more unwelcome, really, than comments like "fat whore" or my favorite, "Hey little girl, you want some candy?" So shoes, not necessarily the issue, but gender is. I realize that you have to get a thick skin about stuff like this, but it's draining, to say the least. Luckily I live out among the corn nowadays, and the corn doesn't usually say hurtful things.
I don't have a problem with dress codes that require dress shoes that are shined daily, I just would hope that women who work on
their feet all day, like restaurant hostesses, have an option to wear dress shoes that won't cause long-term damage - for instance, wearing
heels all day every day can eventually warp a woman's calf muscles until she can't walk *without* heels, and that's not cool (happened to my Gram. She walked into the hospital in high heels before she died). However,
personally, I think I'd prefer heels to a necktie, so, you know, there's a trade-off.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

I remember hearing an interview on NPR with a woman who had been a producer for one of the first shows on Oxygen. She said that she was
really excited about the idea of the network, and then was very disappointed to find a bunch of shows with women acting like idiots to
be cute. I always find it ironic that Oxygen shows America's Next Top Model, which reinforces every stereotype in existence, but I can turn to Spike TV, the men's network to watch Star Trek, which has always been pioneering in showing women as intelligent and capable. In the interest of full disclosure, I love America's Next Top Model, but I think that's a form of self-injury. And what the hell is with this show "Snapped" all about women killing men? How is this OK in any world?

For the man bashers, I'm sorry you have had to put up with that; it's really shitty feeling and it's unacceptable behavior from either
gender. I wonder if the man-bashers would consider themselves feminists, though. A depressing number of feminists bash men, but
man-bashing and feminism are distinct things. I don't understand feminists who bash men, because one of the fundamental ideals of
feminism is that men and women are equal. If men are horrible and responsible for all the world's ills, then we're not equal. I don't
think men in general today are any more responsible for gender inequality than white people in general today are responsible for racism. Although as a white person, I
do try to be cognizant from the ways in which I benefit from my race (they became very obvious to me when I worked down South). But
blaming, whoever's doing it, is without benefit.

If you have time for a good read, I suggest "Who Stole Feminism" by Christina Hoff - Really good reflection on what feminism was (and should be IMO) and what it has become. Your wife might like it too.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Also, I totally don't think it's rude to stare at a girl in front of your significant other. It is my firm opinion that I am not the boss of the things that happen inside my husband's head. Nor do I want to be. :)

disheah said...

Thanks for your words. You are far more liberated than most women I've met. I understand what you mean about the difference between objectification with your thoughts and objectification with your actions.

As for the bigots, I guess they are more predominant where there is lower education levels.

hopeflavoredchapstick said...

I'm with D. Also, you forgot a period. I'll let you figure it out.

Anonymous said...

People say lesbians where ugly shoes... because they do. It's not really a negative thing, but more of a means to pick lesbians out of a lineup so that men won't be wasting their efforts.

Anonymous said...

Oops... I meant "wear." ;)