The Red Shoes

When she was a young woman, my mum wanted a pair of red shoes. Her mother told her very clearly that red shoes were not for nice girls; red shoes were for harlots.

On a visit to my 63 year old mum last year, she took me upstairs to show me her latest purchase. She took a shoebox out of her wardrobe and slowly opened it. Inside nestled a pair of very sensible, very comfortable, red sandals. “I always wanted a pair of red shoes,” she reminded me, and joyfully slipped them on.

This time last year we saw the emergence of Slut Walks: women protesting against victim blaming and slut shaming around sexual violence. The term originated following a Toronto Police officer who referred to women and survivors of sexual assault as “sluts” and suggested women ‘dressing like sluts’ were inviting their own victimisation.

The walks were an opportunity for protest against assumptions made about women and their behaviour, and subsequent sexual harassment and abuse, on the basis of clothing and appearance.

I bet there were lots of red shoes on those marches.

There were also lots of stockings and basques, and trainers and jeans. The women wore whatever they wanted.

You see we do make assumptions about what a woman’s choice of clothing means. Is she dressing ‘sexily’, or is she dressing ‘conservatively’? I even recently read an article about whether or not a woman with long hair was deliberately displaying her sexuality whilst short hair meant the woman’s intention was to hide her sexuality.

It makes me want to scream.

I know I am not the only woman who has a far more complex relationship with clothing and her body than whether someone will think me ‘sexy’ or not. If I wear red shoes is it because I am a harlot or is it because I am finally free of my mother’s opinions about me? If I cut my hair am I signalling my lack of sexual availability or do I choose to keep it short because it’s easier to maintain when I go swimming in the summer? And if I wear a low-cut top is it because I want people to stare at my cleavage or is it because I’ve embraced the scars on my chest and no longer need to keep them covered?

And yet we can (and do) also use clothing and our appearance to communicate aspects of our personality, beliefs and preferences.

At Pride Exeter last month I made a very conscious decision about how I wanted to look: out and proud, not ashamed to be seen, joyful and confident.

This was the result:

Photo by Kat Fyfe


So what’s my conclusion?

You can wear red shoes without having to be a harlot.

You can also wear red shoes and enjoy being a harlot.

But it’s always YOUR choice.

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  1. JillyBoyd

     /  April 10, 2012



  2. I love your post and your blog! Yes to women and their sexuality! I find it reprehensible that someone would allow the appearance of another person to keep them from interacting or connecting with them. You say it so eloquently. We all deserve respect. xo

  1. I’ve been a bad girl « The Ladygarden Project

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