Saturday, May 16, 2015


"There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."
-Madeleine Albright

I had been living in New York for about a year when the show 2 Broke Girls first came out. In one episode, the character Caroline arrives in a chic uptown apartment building and promptly removes her flat boots, takes out a pair of shiny, white and gold platform heels and changes her shoes, putting the flats in her bag.

Her friend Max stands next to her, befuddled:"You always have those with you?"
Caroline responds: "Yes, I'm from Manhattan."

Though I haven't watched the show since then, I still think of it every time I bring a pair of heels with me somewhere. After all, in my old apartment I lived .75 miles from the train; in my new one, I live .8 miles away. I don't mind the distance in flats, of course, but heels are not an option unless I want to arrive at my destination a cripple. And I do like wearing heels personally, so I bring them along. In a city like New York where walking is an integral part of getting anywhere, it's better for your health this way.  Learning this is "the way" is also a rite of passage. You're taught by your foremothers (or sometimes your actual mother) that you pop your heels into your bag; I remember teaching a friend this who was staying with me and going on job interviews. We like to feel good in heels but we also need walk long distances, so this is how we do it.
Melanie Griffith changes out of her sneakers and into
heels in this scene from the movie Working Girl (1988).
Yesterday was another day of heels-in-the-bag, for a morning art gallery preview. It simply was not a time when I wanted to wear flats. The shoes I chose for today were terracotta wedges with a peep-toe and laces. Definitely not shoes in which I could walk long distances, but short distances, like around a gallery, are just fine. I changed into them on a bench in front of a French restaurant across the street from the gallery, gingerly stepping off of the curb, tottering across 10th Avenue, and tip-toeing across the crags of a Chelsea sidewalk. I even took out my headphones so I could concentrate on the task, much to the chagrin of the Amy Winehouse radio station I had previously been enjoying. You really don't notice how jagged and treacherous a New York sidewalk is until you're called upon by the fashion gods or just your own masochism to brave it in platform heels. Why bother with the heels at all? you might ask. Well, that's how I wanted to wear my outfit, and that's what made me feel good this morning.

Ultimately I arrived safely at the gallery and had a look around at the exhibition. Then found my seat for a discussion the artist would be having with a curator from a local museum.

I should mention the gallery preview was of a feminist artist who, in her 40-some-odd year career, has chosen to examine sexuality, gender, and power. Her new work on display featured nude paintings of men and women in a variety of footwear, many in high heels.

In the discussion, the artist remarked, perplexed and perhaps even disappointed, on the absurdity of young girls wearing heels. It was modern-day corsetry, modern-day footbinding, she said, self-imposed for the desires of men. She may as well have shaken her head and looked down in shame, worrying what to do about the younger generation. I stared down at my wedges, and caught the eye of a girl sitting across the aisle from me. She was wearing fabulous bright silver stilettos. We stared at each other and raised our eyebrows, smiling mischievously at each other in unapologetic bemusement. We were easily two of the youngest people in the room. I stared at the artist's shoes: black, rubbery clogs worn with green and black striped socks. I stared back at my shoes and then the girl's shoes. It was funny, I didn't think when I got up that morning I would be using my heels as a metaphor for feminism by lunchtime.

We could get into a lot of discussions here, about feminism; about personal style and taste; about the politics of fashion; about the practicality of fashion; about podiatry, and the list goes on forever. Each of these conversations has been beaten to death. At the end of the day, the thing I love about my favorite New York women is how tough and powerful they are in and out of four-inch stilettos. They conduct business meetings in heels simply because that's how they like to conduct meetings. They don't do it for men, they do it for themselves. And if you can be a CEO or an editor-in-chief just like a man can AND do it in high heels, doesn't that make you all the MORE powerful? Being a woman wearing rubbery clogs doesn't make one any less a tool of the patriarchy than being one who's casting judgment upon other women, especially for their appearance.

I gave the girl across the aisle a thumb's up. 

Later, on the street, I caught sight of myself in my heels in a glass storefront. Damn, I thought, I look good. And I carried on with my day, running my own business, as usual.