The Tone Up

The Politics of Footwear and the Sinister Designs of Patriarchy

You Can Tell a Person’s Politics by Their Footwear

A few days ago, I accompanied a friend to buy hiking shoes for our trip. As she tried on different fits, I wandered around and ended up in the children’s section of the store where I often got shoes as a little girl. It was a local brand shop that had changed little over the past 20 years. The smells of rubber, leather and shoe polish permeated the air and waves of nostalgia crashed over me, taking me back to my trips to the shoe store with my father. As I stood there thinking of the good old days I could not help but notice how all the shoes for the boys were sturdy sandals and the ones for girls were flimsy, glittery, uncomfortable scams.

I remember arguing with papa as he bought me shoes from the boys’ section because he thought the ones from the girls’ section were really bad for my feet. I remember wanting the pretty pink heeled ones that all the other girls had at school instead of having the black and grey boys sandals. Yet as a 27-year-old, I stood looking at the shoes in the girls’ sections and I felt anger towards the store and gratitude for my father. It made me reflect on how at every point and turn, gender roles are socialised in us. How certain traits are encouraged in boys and deliberately and consciously stigmatised and discouraged in girls. How even a basic thing like the shoes we wear is a tool to be used for or against us. How the type of shoes we wear as children groom us to be more submissive to gender roles in the future and decide what we do and how we experience the world around us.

It made me reflect on how patriarchal elements work in subtle and sinister ways to perpetuate myths about the passive and dormant nature of women as opposed to the active and engaged nature of men. How it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy by designing the world in such a way to put women at a deliberate disadvantage. These myths are then so deeply socialised over generations that we start mistaking them to be ‘natural’ and forget that we have been socialised into these gender roles strategically every step of the way. Obviously, a child with pink glittery heels is not going to want to go outdoors and jump in puddles and catch ladybirds in the garden, be it a boy or a girl. Put boys in those shoes and see how many are suddenly not running around anymore. Put girls in good shoes and see how many are no longer playing with barbies and cooking with a toy kitchen set.

My friend pulled me out of my thoughts as she called me to help her make the final choice. I leave the store angry at patriarchy; angry at a world that is designed with a clear bias to favour men and inculcate submissiveness into women. I leave angry at all the childhoods lost to poor shoes that prevented girls from playing in puddles, running outside and going on adventures. I leave angry at how we mistake deeply socialised behaviour to be natural. And I leave grateful to my father for letting me miss out on the glitter barbie shoes and letting me have a childhood instead.


Sanaa'i Muhammad

Sanaa'i Muhammad writes about theatre, her experiences as a Feminist, a Punjabi activist and her travels across Pakistan.

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1 Comment

  1. Very well written Sanaa!

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