Okay, I admit it—I can’t remember how many pairs of shoes I own. And it’s more than I thought I did; for one thing, I was forgetting about the brown boots I bought a couple of years ago to cosplay Rogue. On the other hand, I thought I had three pairs. Two of the kind of slip-on I wear everywhere and one pair of sturdy walking shoes. I don’t even own a pair of sneakers and haven’t in years—mind, that’s partially because my preferred exercise is swimming, traditionally done barefoot. My joints won’t take much else. Still, it has always frustrated me that there’s a constant assumption that all women universally care a lot about shoes.
Yes, women who are not me do tend to have more pairs of shoes than the average man, and I don’t dispute that there are women who need practically an entire closet just for their shoe collections, even before we get to Imelda Marcos. I won’t even dispute that I know women who are big into shoe-shopping for fun. Any number of my friends routinely post pictures of shoes they like on Facebook, and it’s not just cosplay—though, my friends being what they are, it’s often about cosplay. Sometimes hiking or running shoes; I have some athletic friends, though goodness knows I wasn’t athletic before my joints crapped out.
On the other hand, there are weird expectations about women’s shoes that I’m not sure men realize. My first job was as an intern at a savings and loan’s corporate headquarters, and I still remember that the dress code really emphasized that women were expected to look a certain way. I’m pretty sure we weren’t required to wear heels—this was the ’90s, not the ’60s—but there was a certain level of expectation that they would be. Cannes insists they don’t have a high heel policy, but women have said they were denied entrance for wearing flats.
Further, because women’s clothing is so varied, our shoe requirements are varied, because “look, I have one pair of black shoes to match all my formal wear” isn’t going to cut it. I get away with wearing slip-on flats everywhere because, let’s face it, no one really cares what I look like. The one place I go with a dress code is a place where they’re appropriate—as is the fact that there, too, I mostly go barefoot for preference. Actually, leaving aside that you’d turn an ankle in high heels out in that field, they’re pretty much an anachronism at Ren faire. (Except on riding boots, of course, and a certain kind of platform shoe is period but is still a bad idea in the field.) I do have a friend with a pair of handmade boots that I really admire, though.
It feels, then, as though the whole “women be shoe-shopping” thing is taking a small subset of women, adding in the cultural necessity of a larger shoe selection, and using it to shame women. Because heaven forfend you spend hundreds of dollars each on multiple pairs of shoes when you could spend it on I don’t know what women are expected to be spending it on instead. It feels to me as though it comes with an unspoken undercurrent that they can afford to spend the money on shoes because they don’t have any real needs, which is almost why defending the need to own ten pairs of shoes is beside the point.
If you can afford ten pairs of shoes and you enjoy buying shoes, why is that inherently funnier than buying sports equipment? I get that it’s funny to try downplaying claims that you had three thousand pairs of shoes by saying you only had 1060 of them; yeah, that’s worth a laugh. (And a sigh, and despair. But a laugh first.) I just don’t get why we’re still letting “she owns shoes!” be such a standard piece of lazy comedy hackery. Worse is the woman trying on dozens of pairs of shoes; it obviously can’t be because people nitpick how your shoes look with your outfit or because you’re desperately trying to find a pair that are actually not painful despite looking the way people expect women’s shoes to look.
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