Ooh, what a shoe-do!
So, a parliamentary report has found we need new equality legislation after finding evidence of sexist instructions given to female employees in the UK. Instructions like: wear heels not flats, dye your hair or have no visible roots, regularly re-apply full make-up.
I’ve lived this discrimination. When I worked as a news anchor for a well-known TV station, the news editor pulled me into a meeting room, and said: ‘I don’t like the way you wear trainers around the newsroom.’
‘I don’t wear them on air,’ I frowned. ‘I always wear heels on air.’
‘Doesn’t matter. I like to see our anchors in heels at all times. You don’t look like a news anchor in those – you look like you don’t give a shit about your appearance.’
I couldn’t believe my ears. It was certainly an unusual comment to direct at a woman who was on a constant diet to be underweight so she didn’t look ‘fat’ on camera, who spent hundreds of pounds a year dying and styling her hair, who took full advantage of a clothing allowance and left home every morning wearing full makeup.
I looked at my news editor: short blonde spikey hair surmounting two chins and a beer gut squeezed into jeans. Estimated amount of time taken to get ready in the morning: two minutes. Estimated effort to look great: a shit, shower and a shave.
I decided to reason with the man-sized toddler: ‘They’re comfortable – I do a lot of walking around in a day and…I’m wearing a suit; it’s not like I’m not smart.’
‘You need to look more like the other girls – they’re beautiful. You don’t look like one of them. Wear heels from now on.’ He said, opening the meeting room door by way of dismissing me.
Now as we all know, hindsight is 20-20. I should have attached the correct label to the behaviour: discriminatory bullying. What I should have said was: ‘listen you little shit. The next time you try and get me to wear shoes for the duration of my 15 hour day, which will have a detrimental effect on my back, I’m going to make you eat one of them. And don’t imply that I’m not beautiful when you look like a Jabba the Hut tribute. Fuck off back to Comic Con where you belong.’
However, what a much younger me did was to take his messages personally. Because I lacked confidence in myself, I believed that my appearance was lacking. I took the lesson hard, went out and bought a pair of heels and wore them religiously for five days a week – whether I was on a studio presentation shift, or whether I was presenting outside the Old Bailey. By the time I kicked off my heels on a Friday night, my back was sore – and my self-esteem hurt.
The irony is I’ve always chosen heels over flats in my private life – in fact, I have a closet full of them. I love the way heels make me feel – like a taller, sexier version of myself. I feel awesome in them – but only when I choose to wear them. To have someone tell me that I should wear them when I do not choose it for myself is Non-consensual Shoe. No one should have to live through that. And it’s only a heel who would think it okay.
Today, 10 years on from this experience, it makes me sad and angry that women are still subjected to such bullying treatment in the workplace. It makes me doubly concerned when I read that other women are complicit in reinforcing workplace cultures that make this ok.
Words create worlds and discrimination tolerated in any form – banter, make-up edicts, shoe Fascism etc – should be outlawed in the workplace. A woman’s right to choose her shoes or her Choos is fundamental – otherwise what’s to separate us from those fundamentalist regimes that dictate what women must wear?
C’mon women – vote with your feet.