Among the many parts of the woman’s anatomy, perhaps the most loathed one is her foot. Just a century ago — even after the invention of the motor car — a woman showing her ankle was deemed a harlot. Although feet have nothing to do with coition or procreation, men and tradition have tried their darnest to control women via their feet — symbolic of their steps.
In our Ramayana, Sita’s great fall from grace came after she placed her foot over a line in the mud her husband’s brother had drawn for her. Later in the book, she had to walk over fire to prove she was faithful to her husband after being kidnapped.
Perhaps it isn’t shocking then that women have thrown a hissy fit about being told what to shod their feet in at a film festival. Last week, much of the western world was uproarious after the ultra glamorous Cannes film festival set a dress code — formals. Even on your feet. , among other A-list celebrities huffed and puffed in favour of flat shoes. High heels hurt, they argued. Comfort over constrictions, they tweeted.
It is interesting to note that the stiletto has been a symbol of women’s liberation in the first place. It stands for (excuse the pun) a woman who goes to work and wants to tower over her male colleagues. It is also highly sexualised: slipping on a pair of high heels straightens the back, tightens the butt and makes you swing with every step.
Foot fetishists abound — from Casanova to Elvis Presley to Quentin Tarantino (incidentally not on the Cannes jury this year). ‘Toe cleavage’ — the crack between your big toe and the next one — is symbolic of a woman’s genitalia. Christian Louboutin, the maverick pop star of shoe-making, has famously said “women don’t want to run in my shoes, they want to have sex in them”. This explains his red soles and studded uppers. Shoes have long suffered bad PR. Since they’re worn on the feet and touch the dirty ground, they are considered inauspicious in places of worship. You are banned entry in temples, mosques and synagogues with your shoes on. Politicians and footwear don’t make great bedfellows either. George W Bush and Wen Jiabao have had a shoe thrown at their faces during public events.
Besides, the silly purse has always won the fashion war between the handbag and the shoe. Simply because you can see its label easily.
The Cannes administration had its point in getting its guests to dress the part: the red carpet is strictly black tie after all and the festival gets its funding being the most glamorous event in the world. Sigmund Freud considered foot binding as a sort of fetishism. Shoe politics have made footwear a feminist issue. Ask the ladies and they’ll tell you high heels or flats or frumpy sneakers, their footwear is their beef.
The rest of the world gets the boot.