The curator is Helen Persson. We are surprised by this because we all assumed it would be a man. A man who found the pain of women amusing. A misogynist. As we know ....some women internalise men's misogyny. Helen.... step forward for your cookie.
The presentation of the opening to the museum itself gives it context.... that context is a sex show. This is how men are enticed to view women who are sexually exploited is it not?
Because it looks very much like this and that is not a random choice by the curator....
And that normalises the exploitation of women and the acceptability of shoes as a uniform worn for that exploitation. The entrance is reminiscent of a portico to a venue where women may have been trafficked. The title of the exhibition suggests that there will be some sort of analysis of the painful aspect of all this. The blood red that bathes the exhibition would tend to suggest that there will be a balance. There isn't.
The exhibition celebrates and admires footwear which has inflicted upon women pain, degradation, suffering and control. It celebrates whilst offering virtually no criticism. This should be a history of the horrors that have existed throughout time to disfigure the feet of women. An effort to destabilise them, to sexualise them and to stereotype them. This should be a comment on binding women for male pleasure. This should be a comment on the need to disempower them by literally "wrong-footing" them. It isn't. There is absolutely zero of critical value in the presentation of these oppressive symbols.
The shoes themselves as historical artefacts are not the problem. The imposed narrative is. Let's have a look....
"Strippers" are sexually exploited women and the shoes they wear as uniform are a symbol of that oppression. The V and A... a well-respected museum will surely offer a balanced view of that?
This is often used to suggest sexual repression. It is frequently presented as an unattractive characteristic in women who should of course make themselves sexually available to men.
Again there is a lack of any challenge to the obvious message of the binding of women. Women are bound in order to tantalise males. The description of the way the shoes mimic corsets is fine with the V&A. Big tick. The fact that corsets disfigured women. Made them faint. Stopped their periods and changed their spines. All totally ok. Doing that to feet? Its just a massive turn on. Look at the words and how positive they are.... "excites" "desire" "promise" "daring" "flashed" "tantalisingly". Not one word about the constraint. The pain. The restriction of women's freedom. Not a word of it. Which brings us on to one of the cruellest types of footwear.....
Fashionable Binding....One of the cruellest and most barbaric practices to be inflicted on women in history was the binding of the feet of Chinese girls. It was a breathtakingly brutal practice. The feet of young girls were tightly and very painfully bound to stop them growing. This led to disability. They were hobbled. Unable to walk without pain. This was seen as "beauty". By whom? For whom did young girls need to remain young girls in order to be beautiful? For men. This is how a damaged foot would actually look. The bottom of the foot shows toes. Not blisters. The 2 images below i have selected. They were not included in the exhibition. They were conspicuously absent.
Note the choice of vocabulary that is prominent and the absence of words of cruelty and oppression. Words like "wishes", "aspiration", "desirable" are not balanced with any criticism of this appalling practice. This was sickening to observe and the V&A should be thoroughly ashamed of the neglect of criticism which acknowledges the suffering of Chinese women.
What of the men who design the shoes?
Emma Thomson notoriously and visually criticised Christian Louboutin at the Golden Globe awards by showing the soles of his shoes, which are "humorously" blood red by taking them off, holding them up to the audience and saying "See this? It's my blood." before throwing them over her shoulder. Louboutin is the king of high heels. Here is a shot of some of his shoes. You know the things we wear to keep our feet protected from the elements.
Or is it so that we can be "supremely sexy" while we navigate the "dramatic pitch" (have our arches painfully angled) over a "superfine stiletto heel" (balance our wide heels on a needle) ? The blood red soles are a "joke". An in joke by a man who hates women. There is nothing funny about convincing women to spend hundreds of pounds in order to please men while in extreme pain. Look at this sketch from the exhibition. He obviously enjoys the thought of a pool of a woman's blood beneath his shoes.
The V&A however are comfortable celebrating his continued abuse of women both physically and financially. Likewise the way they present shoes from cinematic history.....
For the V&A to accompany the description of shoes which disable women and force them to crawl with the adjective "erotic" is offensive to women everywhere. The use of "impossibly" is not offered with any trace of irony. It is impossible to wear the shoes so a woman is forced to crawl at which point a man can see her vulnerable. He can see her sole/soul. She is powerless, weak and open to sexual assault. The accompanying pornographic image is freely on display for children at eye-level.
Further on the subject of pornography and shoes, and much of this exhibition focuses on how lovely it is for women to be sexually available and shaped for the pleasure of men right down to their toes, the V&A calls it "naughty". It likes the word "naughty". There is nothing "naughty" or "mischievous" about pornography. It is degrading, dehumanising and is currently ruining the potential sex lives of boys and girls up and down the land. Ask them. The V&A however think it is "chic". Possibly in a trendy, cute way. A woman being repeatedly anally raped on camera isn't cute.
Inspired by the footwear of a "certain clientele". Prostitutues then? That would be women whose bodies are bought by men. Slaves some might say.
Then comes a nice little venture into victim-blaming. "Women eh? You sell em ridiculous and dangerous shoes and they wear em and then their feet hurt and they can't walk properly. Silly women." Might I also take the time to remind the V&A that women who have been conditioned into wearing high heels are also unable to run away from predatory men. Missing a bus is really the least of our worries. We need to fight off misogynist shoe designers first.
The V&A is very proud of having on display the glass slipper from the latest Cinderella film. As a piece of cinema history this is indeed interesting.
but let's look at the accompanying message.
So the message is very much that there is "no margin for error" if you want to be the perfect woman and find the "prince" who will free you. You need to be able to wear a shoe which is made of the hardest of materials and is unforgiving and painful. This is the perfection women should aspire to.
This gets worse. This is a museum where young girls were happily wandering and this is the message the V&A were happy with.
There is no criticism of this narrative offered. True love awaits a perfect girl. Shoes can "transform" her from her imperfect self so that she can be married and become the possession of a rich man. Is this really something we want to "teach" our girls? The final line of this is editorial. It is not tongue in cheek or dripping with sarcasm. It is offered as fact!
So what was there available for comment on men's footwear?
Here's some trainers. They are comfy. They come in different colours. Crack on.
The V&A should be ashamed of the curation of this exhibition.
[The Bowes Museum itself is very beautiful and I recommend anyone to visit it. It displayed a fine collection of paintings by Josephine Bowes. Unfortunately the Bowes website describes her as a "talented amateur" despite some extremely skilful and striking landscapes and works of cliffs and the sea which were stunningly moving. She wasn't a man though. Just a woman with a box of felt tips or something. ]
Doffing my cap to a "talented amateur" with a few felt tips. #JosephineBowes