The Etymology of Stilettos: An Intersectional Feminist Dissertation
by Annabelle Mae T. McDonnell, La Salle Academy
Essay Writing 2018 Champion
‘The future is female’ is a statement that has the audacity of women who have for far too long been expected to anchor their existence on the patriarchy’s standards. It is a battlecry that rallies a warning for those who stand in the path to egalitarianism, and a challenge to those who blindly assert the belief that the future has already come. It is true that the feminist agenda has achieved considerable success over the years. In the 1900s, the suffragists earned the right to vote at last; allowing them to some degree shape their political destiny. The second wave of feminists waged the sex wars that finally instigated public discourse on previously taboo topics such as sexuality, reproductive rights and the like. Today, it is 2018 and feminism has reached its third wave. However, its success is water that one cannot see the bottom of and its ripples are that of a child struggling to keep its head above water rather than the magnanimous strokes of a ship steered towards its course with the utmost conviction of a steady hand. The United States, conventionally deemed as a pioneer in women’s rights, is still afflicted by the gender wage gap that yawns into further distance when race comes into play. China still bans on certain tertiary education courses, inheritably limiting a woman’s chance of upward mobility. India, due in part to its caste system, has Dalit women who toil day in and day out to scrape the equivalent of a mere dollar or two. If the future, as some people suggest, has already come – it becomes evident that the only thing female about it is its oppression.
The reasonable train of thought has tracks that lead to a conclusion. The idea that women, before attaining social and cultural equality, must first obtain equality of economic kind. Aside from how this notion puts the burden on the marginalized to aspire for their fundamental rights, it cheapens the inherent nature of the said rights. It asserts that the sole bargaining chip one has is one’s own economic status on the negotiation table, wherein the patriarchy’s rhetoric remains unchallenged and somewhat affirmed. Should we measure a woman’s worth by the span of her wallet? This, in no way, challenges the misogynistic discourse at its heart. This was the idea that the first wave feminists banked on. Partly due to a shortage of manpower during World War II, women were pressured into becoming factory workers. This was seen as a huge step forward in the 1940s. However, when the 1950s finally ushered in peace, the feminists agenda took two, confused steps backwards – and suddenly women were once more societally pressured to conform to traditional gender roles. The key factor that allows the patriarchy to turn a woman’s body into a cage of flesh and bone is not the absence or presence of a means to make one’s living exclusively, but rather the notion that society possesses the authority over a woman’s life – and that she should ideally be a puppet to dance if and when society plucks the strings.
To truly achieve the feminists agenda, especially in the realms of the third wave, the absolutist method or approach in mandating a woman’s way of life must not defeat its purpose. A semantic shift of woman from a caged bird to a cash cow should not be in order. If the feminist movements were to do that and become dictators themselves, they would be by definition, Machiavellian hypocrites. They would be no better than the French government that bans a woman to wear a hijab, no better than Nepalese villagers who banish menstruating girls into huts, no better than the Russian congress that forces women to accept their husbands’ battering on the first occurrence and no better than the Philippine government that forces a woman to continue her pregnancy, even if it already means the death of the unborn child and the eventual death of the mother.
What must be done instead is an expansion in the world’s vocabulary on what it means to be a woman, and better yet on what it means to have a good, fulfilled life when one is a woman. There should be a renovation of the intellectual’s worldview. Perhaps it is not the tapestry of womanhood that must be changed but rather it is the blindfold that needs to be removed from the common humanity. Perhaps a woman need not be born this way, and perhaps trans women can have their identities affirmed, respected and recognized in the social sphere. Perhaps the canvas of feminism need not be always white, but also black, yellow – and in the spirit of affirmative action against mainstream ideals of beauty – be unapologetically morena. Perhaps the definition of fulfillment need not be only on the aspect of having children but also be expanded to cater to the more professional and secular angles in the diamond that is a woman’s life. Perhaps femininity need not be equated with the weaknesses and paragons of the ideals; beauty queens for instance should not only be viewed as entertainers but also as legitimate ambassadors of advocacy or advocacies that need to be injected into the vein of public discourse. Perhaps pretty should not semantically shift towards pettiness. It is these social constructs that should be rewoven , and it is the blindness that these personal experiences are already innately political that must be removed.
For a woman to be truly free, she needs to first define what it means to be free and what freedom is, to her as an individual, in the micro-level. In this way, not one identity and merit shall be compromised in the macro-level. When even a woman’s footwear like restrictive stilettos becomes a symbol of oppression, women themselves must re-own and reclaim such as a weapon in their arsenal. The etymology of stiletto can be traced to Italy – not too far from the Roman Empire which was an undeniable site where human condition developed. In Italian, it means a thin and lethal dagger – which possesses the authority over life and death itself. It should be about perspective that the click of heels on a tiled floor need not be the sound of submission but rather the sound of a woman, who like her shoe, knows her power. And if the shoe doesn’t fit other ladies, well it wouldn’t make that much of a difference since women can slay without heels and can opt for shoes of their choice. It begins and ends with the premium on choice, and a woman’s choice should always wholly be her choice. For a woman cannot authentically be expected to write, decide and define her own stories and lives if the pen – which is ever so mightier than the sword – is not within the reach of her hands, manicured or not. The right to self-actualization, the means of subsistence, the clamor and grit of self-determination should not be bottlenecked in any way, shape or form by socially constructed definitions. The trading of colors for the same chains is a fashioned choice which should be ruled out.
This is the Champion essay entry written by Ms. Annabelle Mae Tate McDonnell for the 2018 Women’s Month on-spot essay writing contest, hosted by the Department of English.
Annabelle Mae Tate McDonnell is a graduating Grade 12 Humanities and Social Sciences Student of La Salle Academy. Dabbling in campus journalism,debate and public speaking contests; this self-identified feminist has always fostered a need for intellectual growth and a deeper understanding of the world. For her, femininity should never be deemed as a mark of inferiority. She is also Miss Iligan 2018.
Topics : women’s month. feminism women history women empowerment