Sunday, September 03, 2006

The politics of platforms

Ginia Bellafante is a fan of Manolo Blahnik shoes. She writes (in The Age) that Blahnik,

built a career on the notion that women possess an inherent regality embodied nowhere more gracefully than in the arch of the foot.

Ginia is therefore displeased by a "rare seismic shift in fashion" in which "shoes have suddenly come to look like vessels for cement".

Platforms are back in style, but chunky enough to suggest that,

a woman's natural inclination is to stomp and squash whatever might present itself before her ...

Ginia continues,

Every time I see a pair in a magazine, I want to know what woman in the world is going to want to look as if she were heading off to a meeting of Ironworkers Local 256 in a Weimar cabaret hall.

But do such unfeminine fashions "liberate" women from "norms of beauty"? Ginia thinks not. Quoting Arianna Huffington, she suggests that such fashions simply make it more difficult for ordinary women to feel attractive; fashion, in a sense, becomes more exclusive. As Ginia puts it,

Aggressively ugly fashion doesn't liberate women from normative standards of beauty; it simply sets the standards higher ... Shoes that might have been crafted from a coffin exclude everyone but the exceptionally beautiful. Beautiful shoes invite the ordinary to feel less so.

I hope Ginia is wrong and that we're not on the verge of more mannish fashions for women. I hope too that she writes more columns like this one: it's refreshing to read pieces in which the female writer isn't conflicted about her womanhood and is able to express what womanhood powerfully embodies.


  1. Unfortunantly, I think, the micro-focus on cursory accessories (such as shoes, fashion, etc) will only increase; as this seems to be the last refuge in which the modern women can ‘portray’ her femininity in the feminist world. Women are more than free to look in cracks and corners to find intimations of something that has been lost in femininity, but it seems to be a surface (or short-term) grasp at something that is willfully being relinquished in the name of ‘matching it with the boys’.

    While it seems as though I may be somewhat off-topic, I tend to believe that the search for feminine ‘meaning’ today is largely (willfully) diverted. It’s ‘literally’ interesting to look at philosophical subtexts like shoes, I grant you, but it tends to be evasive if the only way feminists can gauge a semblance of logic about femininity is to paint it in romantic allegory.

    I have little patience in hearing (however insightful or intelligent) expositions of feminine meaning in cultural subtexts when there is a extremely deliberate avoidance of looking at the dircet image in the mirror. Femininity will increasingly be more and more ‘theoretical’ , if looking just ‘beyond’ the mirror becomes the cultural norm.


  2. Interesting point Bobby. I remember back in the late 80s and early 90s when third wave feminism was at a peak and many young women chose to dress very drably (a kind of uniform of boots, jeans and windcheaters), that there was a lingerie boom. I can remember surmising at the time that this was a hidden way to compensate for the overt masculinisation.

    I generally agree with your argument. However, Ginia's piece does seem to go beyond the usual mantras of lipstick feminism.

    She writes, for instance, of feminine grace and regality, and of a deference won by feminine rather than masculine qualities.

    Ginia also defends a joyful attitude to dating and relationships, in contrast to competitive or combative relationships between men and women.

    She may not be committing herself to the whole woman, but at least she's showing us part of a healthy womanhood.