Musings on Heels: Power may be liberating but it is never free

So this is not really about comics, but it’s related to my approach to reading and representing gender, class, sex and power in comics, and that’s my excuse. It’s also my response to Sex In Word’s post, the Catch-22 of Sexy Shoes.

The other day, I was explaining to a new friend how those with privilege are trained to police themselves and eventually learn to take pleasure in their own oppression. And she pointed out that that’s exactly what she thinks of my heels.

louboutin-fetish-heelsI love heels because they represent to me, something contradictory and complex. It’s a rich symbol, something mundane (four little inches of leather or wood or plastic) that we’ve inflated into something truly grand. When something produces an influence that far outstrips itself or is capable of containing contradictions and confusing categories, it’s a locus of power. I’m attracted to complex, powerful things. And as far as complex, powerful things go, heels are very cheap and easy to access.

On one level, I completely agree with my friend. Heels, when worn chronically, can strain one’s joints. It undoubtedly renders one less mobile. It is a popular manner by which women choose to sexually objectify themselves for the visual pleasure of men. Heels are very much an instrument of patriarchal dominance today.

But heels are more than that. The fact that we’ve reduced heels to the realm of female seduction tells us more about our society than the nature of heels. Unlike Chinese foot binding, which heels are often compared to, heels have a richer history in which they were worn for practical reasons (yes! Look it up!) and have been worn by both sexes to display status and power. I strongly disagree with the notion that heels are just about female sexual power. That dismisses the true power of the heel. Heels are about all kinds of power.

When I wear heels, there are a lot of contradictions at play. To list off a few: When I add another inch onto my heels, it’s a sign that I am in full control of my body and am fully conscious of my straight posture and movements, but in asserting my dominion and ownership over myself, I restrict my own mobility. When I strut down the street in my heels, I’m doing drag. I’m performing my female gender which may include seduction, but even then, I’m simultaneously using the extra height to emulate the physical stature and patriarchal power of men and to ironically place myself on equal footing, as it were, with men (which is why I love pairing a well turned heel with masculine attire). When in stilletos, I’m figuratively walking on knives, an act that suggests my own physical torture, but also implies the exquisite ability for this petite Asian woman to physically torture others. (Don’t believe me? Well then I suppose you’ve never had someone crush the tender parts of your body with her/his fuck me pumps.)

Heels empower as they disempower. I imagine much academic ink has been spilled on the topic so I won’t get into it further. However, if there’s only one thing I wish for my readers to learn from my writing and my comics, it is to understand that this is how all powerful things work. “With great power comes great responsibility.” That phrase suggests that with power comes being in control, being boss, which may be true, but then it’s only a half truth. Nothing powerful comes without your bondage.

Stay tuned for another highly tangential post about heels and comics…