But now I'm not about to dress up in some other woman's shoes
The power of heels
Just look at ya now, the ultimate guy
Class and wit and style
Once I might have pretended to be someone else
Attracting you with guile.
But now I’m not about to dress up in some other woman’s shoes
I’ve got nothing to lose!
— Carly Simon, “Don’t Wrap It Up”
In 2018 when I moved to Reading to live with my mom for awhile, I gave away most of my high heels. I had an amazing collection from living in New York, where I worked for the Committee of Interns and Residents, the resident physician’s nationwide union. New York residents wore stilettos to work in primary care clinics, and if you didn’t rock the heels, you didn’t organize the doctors. But when I moved to Reading, my mom said no one wore heels in Reading (actually people do) and my confidence was so low that I felt I no longer deserved to wear the heels I had loved so much. I made the AIDS thrift store in Philadelphia so happy. I know that people out there loved my shoes. But something inside me died for a while.
When I graduated from college, a cadre of young activists who were involved in the historic Yale strike of 1996 became union organizers. Within a year I began organizing nurses and other health care professionals. I had to dress up for work. We wore suits and heels. We had to look more professional than the boss in order to overcome nurses’ negative feelings about joining a union. They associated unionizing with being working class, and nurses have worked hard to attain the status of professional. Classism is just as real as racism, and in Philadelphia health care the two are closely tied together. To win nurses over, we had to look the part. So I wrecked my feet wearing Payless Shoes high heels with outlet mall-purchased Ann Taylor suits on my $22,000 a year salary, but I had to win, so I dressed to win. And I won. A lot. We blazed a trail through New Jersey organizing.
The nurse who started the campaign at Cooper Hospital in Camden, Diana (may she rest in power) spoke of the hearing at the National Labor Relations Board this way: “Management’s lawyers looked all greasy, but we had our girls in their Ally McBeal suits.” The nurses followed us, even though for many of them, we were their daughters’ ages. We knew our craft. We were good.
I always said I wanted to change the world in heels. But in the difficult years of 2015-2018, many things eroded my confidence. I gave away most of my heels, and in so doing, I gave away something that made me feel not just feminine but powerful. I respect other women’s footwear choices - please, wear your Crocs or whatever - but for me, high heels are where I belong.
High heels at the negotiating table so I can look management’s negotiator in the eye. I am still shorter than he is, but I stand up very straight and breathe fire when necessary. I miss those days. I had a vivid dream of negotiations night before last. We were back at the negotiating table with one of the biggest hospital systems in Philadelphia. We had a committee of about 35 that represented every single department of 1550 workers. That was the group that had the big strike back around 2010. Yeah, that was us. That was me. That was who I was.
A close friend recently said to me, via text, “You. Are. Not. Done.” I would like to thank that friend for reminding me that I am not done, and that I can rock the heels.
Wearing high heels isn’t just about attracting men to me. People seem to think there is some kind of shame in wanting to attract men, yet men have been chasing women since the dawn of time. As women gain more power in the world, why should we be expected to just stand there and be passive recipients of male attention? Many a good man these days is afraid to make a move for fear of being accused of harassment. In these times, a woman should be clear as to where she stands. So even if I wore heels just to attract men, there would be no shame in that.
But to me, wearing high heels is about power. Taking up space. Larger women often talk about taking up space, not trying to shove themselves into tight clothing or hide their bodies. I have never been a large woman, but I have a big personality that quite a few people (mostly women) have wanted to squish into a small box. It didn’t work, at least not for long. I prayed and prayed and God or the Goddess sent me just what I asked for. A chance at a life free, as my own boss, doing what I want. In heels.
When I recently attended the New Jersey Bar Association Fifth Annual Cannabis Symposium, I met a group of attorneys who have blazed a trail in legalizing cannabis use and figuring out the effects of this. I have learned so much in a short time, especially from Michael Hoffman, and others who you’ll read about soon, as well as some you may not read about but who have supported me in a fast journey of transformation.
I may wear yoga pants and sneakers on a work from home day, but when I go out, I have traded in my sensible flats for heels. I am reclaiming my power, my agency, my life, one pair of shoes at a time.
I do not wear heels because men tell me to. I wear heels because I want to. Those who think I should wear boring shoes may keep their shoe choices to themselves. If your shoe fits, wear it. Don’t bother walking a mile in my stilettos. You wouldn’t make it to the corner store.
I’m not about to dress up in some other woman’s shoes. If there is one clear advantage to being in your late forties, it’s that you have some idea who you are. I do not belong behind a desk, in a cubicle, being silent in meetings or censoring my writing. I’m not sure where I belong yet (though the pull of some sort of negotiating table is strong, like the gravitational pull of the Death Star at the beginning of Star Wars) but wherever it is, I’ll be in heels, like the beautiful cannabis attorneys who are proud and powerful and full of the energy of winning.
I am soon to cover (as a journalist) a meeting about psychedelics, and I have a new pair of shoes.
The glass slipper, the ruby slippers… throughout legend and history, shoes have held power.
Cinderella is about ready to go to the ball.
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