Tag Archives: class

Shoes, Class and Money

Laurie says:

I’m not a fan of high heels and haven’t worn them in years. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed the explosion of high fashion shoes over the last number of years, or the magic associated with shoe designers and shoes that used to be only associated with high fashion and couturiers. And I know that, as with all fashion, there is a complicated language that includes class, sex, culture and money.

I do know that high heels had started in the French courts as men’s shoes. (Quotes are from Lisa Wade in Sociological Images.)

…Men were the first sex to don the shoe. They were adopted by the European aristocracy of the 1600s as a signal of status.  The logic was: only someone who didn’t have to work could possibly go around in such impractical footwear.  (Interestingly, this was the same logic that encouraged footbinding in China.)

…Women started wearing heels as a way of trying to appropriate masculine power.

…The lower classes also began to wear high heels, as fashions typically filter down from elite.

…How did the elite respond to imitation from “lesser” people: women and workers?  First, the heels worn by the elite became increasingly high in order to maintain upper class distinction.  And, second, heels were differentiated into two types: fat and skinny. Fat heels were for men, skinny for women.

And continuing in the present. (Quotes from Sociological Images again.)

…The higher the heel, the more impractical the shoe.  Eventually the working classes couldn’t keep up with the escalation because they had to, you know, work.  Sociologically, this is an example of what Pierre Bourdieu famously called “distinction.”  The rich work to preserve certain cultural arenas and products for themselves.  This allows them to signify their status; you know, keep them from getting confused with the masses. I think something similar is going on today among women. Certain class advantages make it easier for upper middle class and wealthy women to don high heels.  High heels can really only be worn routinely by women who don’t work on their feet all day. (I’ll grant there are dedicated exceptions).

…Having money, in itself, means that nothing stands between you and buying things that are impractical. So, high heels function to differentiate women who can afford to be impractical with their footwear — both monetarily and in practice — from women who can’t. This, I think, is why the highest, spikiest heels are are the front of the shoe store.  In a certain way, they signify status.  Wearing those shoes promises to differentiate you from other “lesser” women, women who can’t invest in their appearance and get lots of practice looking elegant on their tip toes.  Women of all classes desire such shoes because of the signals they send and they often buy them aspirationally, hoping to be the type of woman who wears them.

..The rich have the power to control the discourse and can always access the high-status objects.  The poor can copy, but they are often playing catch up because the rich are always changing the rules.  So, as soon as the poor are doing it right, the rules change, otherwise the activity doesn’t function to distinguish the rich from the poor.  And so on.

And then there are all the more complicated nuances of the language of high heels. I know I don’t understand it but the above and below examples make for interesting speculation.  What I do understand, from long ago, is how good your aching feet feel when you take them off.

Betty Rose Dudley: 1951-2011

Laurie and Debbie say:

Betty Rose Dudley, head shot in a purple shirt

Betty Rose Dudley often described herself as “a fat working-class dyke from Missouri.” She wrote for us once, on food and class:

I remember a friend gagging because her boyfriend had put peanut butter in scrambled eggs. I asked her if she’d eaten it in Africa, cooked by a poor tribesman, would it not be wonderful? She had to admit it would be different, and yes wonderful. Even meat that was not red might be okay. This is where I really learned about class and food. And I learned that discussing it usually left a very bitter taste in my mouth.

In 2006, she wrote “one of her stories,” a brilliant series on her LiveJournal on the flowering of the fat acceptance movement in the Bay Area, and her personal experiences of being there (click on “next entry” at the top of each page to read them all):

It has been, and continues to be both personal and political. And in retrospect I realize just how much I have loved and continue to love my life.

1982: I still remember how I felt the first time I heard Sylvia [Kohan] sing. I was standing right next to her, and she started singing protest songs, songs of empowerment, etc. And her voice was so big and wonderful. In between songs and chants she started telling me about fat acceptance, and a new group that had just recently formed and was getting ready for their first public performances.The name of the group was Fat Lip Readers’ Theatre.

That night I masturbated resulting in one of the best orgasms I’d ever had. In that moment I thought Sylvia Kohan was one of the most beautiful human beings on the face of the earth and it was not just inner beauty I was seeing. I liked the way I felt when Sylvia looked at me, and I began seeing myself in her eyes. Maybe for the first time in my life I felt whole. I had a body and I was someone who just might be lover material. I masturbated and cried as I remembered the day, Sylvia’s words, and how she looked in that white jumpsuit as she stood there singing….

I masturbated and I cried, and I started to heal from wounds I’d never let myself feel before. It was as if my whole being was numb and starting to wake up, like when your foot or hand goes to sleep when you lay on it wrong. That night I began to wake up and come alive, to heal, and to stop holding my breath because of the tension created around being fat. I began to stretch and take up my space; space in a world that was beginning to grow and expand and become big enough to accommodate me. I began to make a world that fit; where I fit. I also stopped accepting the idea that this was a world that didn’t fit me, because if that was true, and I had let it become true, well now it was time to make alterations. And so I began my life, and I stopped dreaming about becoming thin. There were so many other dreams hiding behind that one ill-conceived notion that you had to be thin to live. I dreamed them all, and lived many of them, and they are now my stories.

At a Fat Women Only early performance of Fat Lip Readers Theatre, a] woman in the audience had had her stomach stapled. She was still fat, but felt discrimination and ostracized because of the surgery. She said that others treated her as if she were an enemy. There was a lot of feeling about this, and I remember speaking up and suggesting that people who had surgery were more like victims, our war wounded. Some agreed, some did not, and the weight- loss surgery goes on, even today. We talked about discrimination from the dyke community. I still have these conversations today, but this was the first, and it was incredibly exciting. That night I forever lost the feeling of being alone and isolated because I was fat. I had always had sisters who were fat, so I wasn’t as isolated as some, but unlike my sisters, many of these women were dykes. Now that took my breath away. Here was community. There must be a goddess because this was heaven.

Betty had a rare clarity of mind; she could look at an issue and pull out important points and valuable perspectives. She had the kind of courage it takes to live as yourself in a world where you don’t fit. She wasn’t conventionally “nice”; she was frequently sharp-tongued, and she had moments of extraordinary compassionate kindness.

If you read through the LiveJournal series, you’ll also find a link to a very personal piece that Betty’s partner Carol wrote, with a little bit of insight into how Betty felt about their relationship: “Oh, I love this woman! And I love to read what she writes. Damn she’s good!

Debbie says: I had the rare privilege to spend a night taking care of Betty just a week before she died. I didn’t really know what she would need or how she would feel about having me there. She was slipping in and out of lucidity, but when she was lucid she was totally and completely Betty, and I got great pleasure and satisfaction out of being with her.

She died in late June of this year, and her friends and family are holding a memorial service for her tomorrow. She is much missed.