Monday, February 11, 2013

Being a Heel

You may or may not have noticed that I sing. I sing with an excellent chorale who routinely performs with a superb symphony. You'll have to take my word for it, but I have always been willing to admit when groups I sing with lack skill or professionalism, and while I can't vouch for every singer in my choir, by the time our conductor is done with us, we're kind of awesome. This year, because we're kind of awesome, another choir has asked us to help them augment their numbers for a large and fabulous choral work which we will be collaboratively performing in two weeks.
We don't regularly collaborate with other choirs. Collaborations require a lot of coordination, and so they're generally undertaken with a lot of forethought, planning, and compromise. They're rare beasts, but not unheard of. Today I was reminded of the primary reason I dislike collaborations. 
Today we received a seemingly innocuous email, and I'm sure you'll think I'm being oversensitive and extreme to be offended by it. You might even be right. But there is this small dress code section that has me A. planning not to comply with the dress code and B. already losing respect for the person making the request, the other choir's director. I am glad that it will be a symphony's maestro who will be conducting the whole ordeal, because I have, in full Elizabeth Bennet style, already decided not to like the collaborating choir's director.
"For concert dress, we're planning on black dresses for the women (with black stockings, black close-toed heels; [our] singers have a uniform, but any simple black dress will do) and tuxes for the men. Hair pulled back, no fragrances."
Simple enough. Our choir wears black from the collarbone down. Long sleeves and dress pants or skirts for women, black socks, black shoes, and the men wear a dark suit, white shirt, and conservative tie. The dress code isn't actually that different, but it has me thoroughly agitated.  
Can you see why I'm going to be the woman who shows up to the performance without having followed the dress code? 
Sure, women being required to wear a dress is kind of sexist, but I'm good with it. It's fairly reasonable to presume that most women who perform in a choir will have some sort of black dress, and they're fairly ubiquitous if one needs to purchase one, granted, I don't have a black-dress budgeted for this season, I am sure I can make do with something I already own. That's not my problem, though I understand entirely if it is a problem for someone else.
It's the close-toed black heels.
Heels? Really?
Did a man just tell me to wear heels? A man who has likely never had to wear heels himself? 
How is it 2013 and women are still being TOLD to wear heels?
About years ago I was wearing my favorite pair of low-heeled Dr. Scholl's sandals, the wooden ones with about a 1.5" heel that they stopped making shortly after I fell in love with them and I was chatting with a rheumatologist. He said a funny thing to me. "I know you're very young, but you really shouldn't wear heels. You're doing a lot of damage to your feet." He went on to talk about a vast swath of patients he sees because of their debilitating foot pain brought on by wearing heels, and stressed it wasn't just women who wore them regularly, that it was also women who frequently donned them for special occasions, and that the damage was directly related to the wearing of heels. 
Of course, I thought he was a nutball. After a debilitating bout of plantar fascilitis at the nearly geriatric age of 32, I started researching shoes with some seriousness. I'd heard, in college, of a woman who had shortened her Achilles Tendon substantially by overwearing heels too much. I thought it was a myth to get us girls to look like hippies in Berkenstocks. It turns out, no one was trying to frighten me. They were just being honest.
Experts on foot pain warn against wearing high heels
So, aside from purely feminist issues with being told to wear heels (all the better to admire your calves, my dear), asking people to do something that can be damaging to their health is unethical and inappropriate.
Yes, many women love high heels: the look of them, the feel of them. They have the right to love them, to wear them, to enjoy them. That's their business. And if on very rare occasions I want to wear high heels, it's my business, but do not tell me to.
Actors are often asked to wear or do things that aren't the healthiest things in the world because it's part of the character, and if they're unwilling to do them, then the director finds someone who is willing. Of course, that's the answer isn't it? If, after months of preparation you don't want to wear high heels, don't show up. Right? 
I don't know. 
I suppose I've gotten all of the scathing invective my husband overheard upon my first reading the message out of my system. I'm secure that I'm not going to call the person who rudely suggested that health and comfort are secondary to style for a collaborative community endeavor an arrogant misogynist to his face, but I'm surely going to arrive in flats, because I'm certainly not risking reverting to last year when walking was so painful it brought tears to my eyes. 
So yes, maybe I am too sensitive, but maybe just maybe men need to think before they instruct women to self harm for the visual effect.

3 reflections:

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