Monday, 13 April 2009

Polly Vernon and the 'slapper' shoes

Let's not even get started on the Observer Woman monthly supplement as an entity.  Really, let's not.  Let's just think about the latest edition's opening article, written by that friend of women everywhere, Polly 'Cocktail Girl' Vernon.  It's about shoes.  Of course, I read it before I read anything in the rest of that serious and weighty (and liberal/leftwing - remember that, for later) Sunday paper.  I can be shallow like that.  Shoot me.    

Our Polly has a problem with the current trend for ever-more-vertiginous footwear.  "When did the slapper shoe become so damned acceptable?" she asks.  
I'll concede first that she has an initial point - a smidgen of one.  Women's shoes have definitely been getting higher and higher over the past two years or so.  I put on a pair of Miu Mius yesterday that I haven't worn for three years because last time I did so, I nearly killed myself by teeteringly uncontrollably, and at ever-increasing speed, down the slope of our drive before literally smashing into the side of a waiting taxi.  
Warning: these shoes could kill.

The weird thing?  Compared to what I've been wearing recently, they didn't feel half as high as they used to.  A little wander around Office, Topshop or Kurt Geiger will confirm the diagnosis. 

So with that minor concession out of the way, let's take a closer look at Polly's argument.  She thinks such vertiginous shoes are both "ugly" and impractical, turning your feet "into clomping cart-horsey parodies of sexiness".  Fair enough.  But slapper shoes?  Come on.  What brilliant bit of editorial decision-making allowed such cheap, nasty, misogynous writing to go to the printers?

Where I grew up, in the south-east of England, a "slapper" meant a girl who was thought to be a bit cheap - common - nasty.  To put it bluntly, it meant a girl who was sexually promiscuous.  It was a slightly less harsh word for "slut", and the OED backs up that interpretation.  As, I should add, does Polly's article.  You might think I'm reading too much into this one word - it could just be used to mean 'cheap', 'tasteless', 'tacky', perhaps?  Oh, but no.  No, Ms Vernon actually spells it out for us.  Such footwear is, apparently, "as synonymous with the wardrobe of your average pole dancer as nipple tassels and fake tan".  It's "an all-round dodgy look with dodgier associations".

Gosh, there are a million more things I could say about such phrases, but let's lay out the basic logic behind the article: really high shoes are like shoes that strippers wear, and that makes really high shoes inherently BAD.  Because women who earn money by stripping are really goddam awful women, right?  (Perhaps the next issue will feature an article on how suits are just unacceptable on men, because so many men wearing suits visit strip clubs where they pay women to take their clothes off for them.  But then again, let's not hold our breath...)  Strippers are equated with slappers because all strippers have loose sexual morals, right?  And of course, it's just totally fine to a) make negative judgements about women by looking the shoes they are wearing and b) for those judgements to be based upon their sexual behaviour, should it fail to conform to your view of how women should use their sexuality.

I don't want to get into the strip-club debate here.  But women have been fighting long and hard against the repression of their sexuality, not just by men, but by other women.  Such repression is what lies behind such well-worn insults as "slut" and "slapper".  Women whose sexuality hasn't conformed to the society's limits - limits which, so often throughout history, have been hypocritically imposed by men - have been derided, both by men and by other women, by the use of words like this.  For them to be thrown around so ignorantly and with such joy (she clearly thinks she's really, really witty) by an Observer journalist - by any journalist - makes me fume.

Am I taking this too seriously?  Am I being too damn humorless?  I just don't think you have to be a close-reading literature-studying feminazi to spot this one.  That joke isn't funny any more, Polly.