Thursday, March 5, 2009

Michelle, You Don't Have to be so Flat.

I've been thinking a lot about high heels lately, in part because I'm obsessed with learning how to walk in them so that I can appropriately accessorize a cute skirt/dress to a summer wedding. But lately, there's also been quite a bit of noise in the blogosphere about Michelle Obama wearing (or not wearing as it were) high heels.

It seems that Ms. Obama, nearly six-feet-tall, often chooses to wear flats rather than the more traditional pump. The Huffington Post even ran a photo retrospective on Obama's fashionable flats, which I scrolled through to discover that the First Lady really knows how to buy a shoe. But then I read the comments. Many readers lauded Obama's choice to wear flats for health reasons; others congratulated her on her willingness to shirk tradition and pursue her own style. But then there were then countless readers (many of them women) who claimed that, because Obama is so tall, she really should stay out of heels, lest her husband - you know, the president - look short. Huh?

Some less-than-informed attempted-feminists think that, because heels are bad for the foot, women should never wear them. Some even go so far as to suggest that, because heels are generally worn to look sexy, they always make a woman an object of desire (i.e., "objectify" her). And even many Huffington Post readers, and dare I say many women living in this country, think a tall women should not wear a shoe that would make her appear taller than her male counterpart because it would, you know, like, emasculate him. There are two kinds of arguments going on here, but I think they're both all kinds of crazy!
One of the most important lessons feminism has taught me is that a woman can - and should - make a variety of choices. She can rock the Tevas and cargo shorts (although lord knows why). She can do the fashionable flats for comfort and maybe a nod to Audrey. Or she can wear four-inch heels that hurt to walk in just because she chooses to. Women can decide to cover themselves from foot to throat to remove nearly every possibility that someone would find her sexually appealing, or she could go for the plunging-neckline and stripper stiletto look to ensure than no one could avoid seeing her as a sex object. The point is that women can make all sorts of personal and fashion choices and just because I probably wouldn't go the Teva or neckline-to-the-naval routes doesn't mean that I can decide that the woman who does needs some serious consciousness-raising (although some of them probably do).
But the Michelle Obama "Flatsoversy" has taken the arguments of some of my crunchier sister-feminists and twisted them with decidedly anti-feminist arguments about what women should look like, and how they should look in relation to the men in their lives. The suggestion that a man being, or even appearing to be, less tall than his wife is somehow detrimental to his "manhood" is a joke. If a man, let alone the president, can't handle a tall woman, then he's a pretty sad character.
And really, other than Right-wing extremists/bible-beaters, who even uses terms like "manhood" and "emasculate" anyway? The notion that manhood is something that needs to be protected at the expense of women's fashion choices is a joke. Men are not endangered species who need a nature conservancy full of short woman to make them feel better. And Barack Obama doesn't need his wife to pick shoes that won't hurt his feelings.
Of course, all this is speculation. My best guess is Michelle Obama just likes flats, not heels. And that's fine. They're her feet.

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