Many people consider high heels and miniskirts to be degrading to women. High heels can restrict a woman's movements. Fitted clothes objectify women, which is intrinsically demeaning to them and prevents them from achieving equality with men – so the theory goes.
Yet women have never worn less and achieved more in the public sphere than they do now, and so – arguably – there goes the theory.
My own feeling is that if it were the men in our society who wore the four-inch Louboutins, we might well theorize that this reflects their privileged position in society: Men know they'll never have to stand all night, or chase after a bus, it would be said of the men in pencil skirts.
When I was growing up, my mother used to say to me, both of us wearing our sensible Mary Janes, that her mother told her, “There's nothing less appealing to a man than a woman in high heels. No man would ever want to be with a woman with pretty feet and a pained expression on her face.”
From a fairly early age, I remember thinking, “Oh, granny, I think we're going to move in very different circles.”
At any rate, I grew up to wear high heels fairly frequently and whatever else it pleases me to wear. The only way in which what I choose to wear is problematic for me is if it invokes any patronizing assumptions that I require liberation from my footwear. And yes, I've thanked my mother for the 13 years of ballet that enable me to walk fairly well wearing the very shoes that bewilder her.
The common argument is that wearing these clothes isn't a choice: Rather, women are socialized to dress a certain way. Some even risk their parents' disapproval if they don't: Brush your hair out of your eyes. Why don't you put some lipstick on? Why don't you stand up straight and put a belt on that?
For many girls, those phrases are the chorus of their youth. But I think most Canadians would resent the government imposing rules designed to counteract this socialization.
Rather, I believe most of us want everyone to take advantage of the incredible levels of freedom and opportunity Canadians have, in order that we might be in a position to make decisions about what we wear, choices based on that impossible-to-unravel accumulation of early cues and influences and, yes, religious beliefs that form our aesthetic choices and our identities. This seems preferable to a dress code.
This week, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that women won't be allowed to wear the niqab when taking their oath of Canadian citizenship. He made no pretense that it was an issue of establishing their identity.
He did say he had heard concerns that some women might not really be saying the oath, which is a peculiar worry. Citizenship oaths are part of a ceremony, often performed in large groups. Anyone there might not be saying the oath. Or they might have their fingers crossed. Or they might not really mean it.
But an oath isn't a magical incantation. The speaker won't be struck by lightning if he doesn't really mean it. So I doubt that anyone, no matter how duplicitous, would bother not to say the oath. Besides, the solution might be to say, “Speak up, please.”
Mr. Kenney feels that veils are fundamentally at odds with “Canada's commitment to openness, equality and social cohesion.” Many Muslim women have told him so, he claimed. But surely neither Mr. Kenney nor an unidentified lobby of concerned Muslim women should be making wardrobe choices for adult women, for any occasion – because that is at odds with Canadian values. He's the Minister of Immigration, not Anna Wintour.
Veils are spooky and challenging to many people. You might feel cut off from a woman if you can't see her face, and thus disadvantaged. I'm not sure why people feel they have a right to see a woman's face any more than another part of her body. When my eyes meet the eyes of a veiled woman at my No Frills when her child is yelling about breakfast cereal, they speak volumes, as does her body posture, as quite often does she.
If there's a barrier between a veiled woman and me, it's on my side. It's made of any preconceived notions I might have about why she's wearing what she's wearing, and what it says about her ambitions, education, self-esteem and status in her own household.
I refuse to make those assumptions and I regret any rule that enshrines them. Just as I ask those assumptions not be made about me, based on my shoes. Click, click, click.