I have a strong antipathy to high heeled shoes. This is well known in my family and much objected to as part of my considerably more minor non acceptance of general “fashion” trends.

But now I am also being subjected to attack for my explanation that I feel we are “conditioned” into accepting high heels as part of women’s fashion. A close friend the other day and my son last night asked me last night why I feel I am exempt from the conditioning process which might be, in my case, AGAINST the wearing of “high heels”.

I must state that, as a former psychologist, I am well aware of the nature of conditioning. But has this, in essence, conditioned me to the view I am harder than average to condition? I first studied psychology in the days of Skinner when much of Freud’s work was being challenged. Skinner’s experiments and contribution to psychology were almost all about conditioning. However I have never been entirely convinced that conditioning played as large a role in psychological processes as he alleged and I have always retained considerable faith in many of Freud’s theories.

( I must state clearly here, in defence of Freud, that I have never heard an allegation that he thought women’s wearing of high heels was just another form of “penis envy”.)

The history of high heels on shoes is interesting. It was, at first, a man’s fashion and their first use was a practical one. It gave an extra tool for gripping on to stirrups etc when horse riding, particularly in battle. The use of heels then, over many years, became a sign for both genders of being a member of the upper class. Perhaps this was because the “menials” needed flat shoes to be mobile enough do all the work? At the time of The French Revolution high heels went out of fashion for the very reason that it signified the class division. Marie Antoinette, in defiance, wore them to the gallows.

Much effort was then expended by the fashion gurus on the design of flatter shoe wear.

However high heels made an eventual comeback but only for women.

In deference to my son’s views I must say I grew up at a time prior to Germaine Greer’s “Female Eunuch” was published and my friends and I were quite a strong feminists. My mother always wore a hat and gloves out shopping. Prefects would give us detentions if we were caught on the train on our way home from school without hats or gloves on. At University we were not able to wear long pants to lectures. We would sometimes do so and roll the pants legs up under our undergraduate gowns. Later all teachers had to wear skirts or dresses when teaching a class. As a young solicitor I had to wear a hat in court and of course to church. So I was perhaps “conditioned” by reverse psychology to be a very overt feminist.

All these requirements about appropriate ways for females to dress and act changed gradually with the push from we feminists.

But, as far as fashion goes, high heels are the only fashion item that I know of that can cause actual damage. That done to the feet and back is sometime irreparable. High heels are harder to walk on, make the wearer slower, can and have caused accidents and falls and they damage some floors. They make it more difficult to drive cars and operate machinery.

Why has this much bigger, more physically damaging issue of high heel wearing not changed attitudes and choices? My assumption is that it has been conditioning, helped along by shoe manufacturers. We see many public images of well known women still wearing high heels, we hear of things like women being banned from the red carpet at award ceremonies if they did not wear heels. Heroines of children’s movies and adult dolls for children wear heels or very long dresses which cover the feet. (Mermaids are exempt from this criticism.)

I found one picture this morning of a well known celebrity wearing high heeled, open shoes pushing a motor mower on her front lawn!

But do I just think all this is wrong because of my own conditioning?

In an attempt to find out about perhaps more modern views of conditioning I went to the tried and trusty Google.

But I had forgotten about the hair product “conditioner”. Google was full of details about this product. The rationale for its use is that it makes the hair “soft and pliable”. That fits with Skinner’s view.

Do I think I have become soft or pliable?

No. Perhaps unfortunately I have become even more tough and opinionated.

Young girls around me (and my sons) will just have to put up with my opinions or close their ears!


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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