Posted byat 26th July, 2010
by Lisa Hix, Woodhull Alumna
(Originally posted to Collectors Weekly on July 22nd, 2010)
Behold the power of the stiletto heel. Despite all the advances women have made, it’s one fetish we can’t seem to escape, a paradox epitomized by “Sex and the City.” The characters embodied a late-’90s vision of independent women, enjoying the spoils of feminism: They had the financial power to support themselves, and the personal freedom to sleep around. Yet, they turned into swooning schoolgirls at the sight of a pair of Manolo Blahniks.
Collectors Weekly recently interviewed Elizabeth Semmelhack, a curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. In our Q&A, Semmelhack details the fascinating history of heels, how initially high-heeled shoes helped keep women, who were seen as irrational and frivolous, powerless—and then how the stiletto endowed women with another kind of power, explosive sex appeal.
Semmelhack credits World War II for turning the high heel into the erotic obsession it is now. While the women at home, working in factories in the U.S., wore sturdy, thick platform shoes, the men in their barracks fantasized about pin-up girls in very high heels. Not long after the war ended, the stiletto hit the runway.
“What I find interesting is that when the war was over and men came back, fashion brought itself into closer alignment with men’s ideas of female desirability,” Semmelhack says in our interview. “I think that was a very potent part of the stiletto’s success.”
Stilettos, she explains, fell in and out of fashion over the decades, but they were a fixture in erotica for men. When stilettos are in vogue, so are tight, revealing clothes.
“In 2000, the New York Times wrote, ‘High heels are women’s power tools,’” Semmelhack continues. “What’s problematic about that is that the power that is supposedly wielded by women in high heels is sexual power. And so it seems like what wins for women in the culture is not the Harvard education that you have and how many cases you correctly argue in court, it’s whether or not when you walk into a room, you make all the men want to drop to their knees.”
In exchange for this almost talismanic sexual power over men, modern women sacrifice a lot — the ability to walk or stand comfortably for a long period of time, and more importantly, the ability to run fast when attacked. Stilettos, literally, render women less physically powerful. With so many comfortable-shoe options available now, who would bother with this ridiculous footwear without such an intoxicating promise?
Read the rest of the article here at Collectors Weekly!