THE BLOG

Footwear Is A Feminist Issue

21/07/2017 11:52

Imagine for a moment, someone, a manager, sending you home because they don't like what you're wearing. Picture your face, picture the words they'd use, the official-sounding management-speak they'd employ in an attempt to lessen the awkwardness.

That's what happened to a London receptionist last year, the story became a national scandal and a video we made in response travelled round the world. And yet the very same event could be repeated, legally in any UK workplace today as the government rejected calls to change dres
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We were trying to think how to respond to the news that a receptionist at PricewaterhouseCoopers was sent home for refusing to wear heels at her desk. Nicola Thorp - educated, urban, making her living in a competitive city was one of ours: exactly the kind of woman we'd invented Stylist to entertain. She hadn't been treated appropriately and we wanted to find a way of saying, 'This will not do any more'.

Our response starred some men who work in our office, it took a couple of hours to film, a day to edit, and it was seen by 20 million people.

We sat around in the windowless basement room that serves as our creative nerve centre (this seems odd now I write it, maybe the lack of distraction works for us?) and we started, as I remember, with outrage and disbelief but slowly came round to humour. If you can make people laugh at a political absurdity, you take your point beyond the debate, beyond lines drawn by party and ideology and you enter the world of the sharable, self-evident truth.

Would us men be treated this way? We began think about discomfort and mobility. All of us were wearing clothes that would allow us to run from an attacker or scale a reasonably sized oak. Dr Martens, the odd brogue and substantial majority of white trainers, made us mobile and profoundly comfortable. Then we wondered how it would feel to have someone make us take them off and switch for footwear that pinched feet, offset postures and made stairs challenging let alone trees?

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So the idea was born, the men of Stylist would try wearing heels. Men would feel the pain women had felt for years. We laughed as we all enjoyed our own mental pictures and we continued to laugh as our hand-picked group of young men ventured out onto our nearby cobbles and staircases followed by a camera.

This was not an assault on heels - the women in the office love them; the Stylist audience loves them. Heels can be a cheering luxury, an empowering extra four inches, a playful nod to the glamour and the femininity of the past. But the choice has to be theirs. The moment it's forced upon them, the pinching and the balancing becomes intolerable. This was about choice and freedom, not Louboutins.

The men sacrificed their ankles and their dignity and the video shows them finally saluting the extraordinary trick their colleagues pull off every day as they walk and stand without crying or screaming. We turned the tables and the world (genuinely, a fair proportion of the world) watched, commented and shared.

The responses fell into two main categories: delight that the extraordinary act of coercion that sent a woman home had been marked in this way, and secondly, women who fancied the blokes from our office. We haven't counted but I suspect the sexually intrigued outnumbered the morally outraged. This was the internet remember.

Regardless of our distracting males, we remain convinced that this timely gender reversal touched a nerve. When we launched Stylist, feminism was a relatively uncharted area in a women's press dominated by sketchy (that is, entirely fabricated) celebrity stories and the creepily detailed analysis of paparazzi pictures and the tiny flaws they exposed. Women's magazines weren't very keen on women. They laughed at them for sweating, for having normal knees, for being too fat, for being too thin... We broke the mould, but the battles still needed fighting.

The 20 million people who watched our heels video understood that women in 2017 have the right to wear whatever the hell they want on their feet, whenever they want and no employer - or any individual or public body - should interfere with that freedom. They also, it turns out, have lost many of their traditional inhibitions about expressing their sexual feelings on the world's largest social media platform. Brilliant.

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