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The case for aching, bleeding feet


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Moniqua Lane
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 15, 2000
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Chief among the advantages of being Barbie is wearing Stiletto heels all day, every day without feeling any pain. Would that cocktail waitresses on the Las Vegas strip had the same, unfeeling rubber legs and feet so as to not feel the pain of working long hours in three-inch heels. Since the nature of their legs can't be changed, the nature of their shoes should be; this is the hard-line of a coalition of Las Vegas activist groups who want to force casinos to drop requirements that waitresses wear high heels when working. This is an issue directly affecting the health and well-being of these women, and so they should have a choice in the matter. Cocktail waitresses should not be forced to wear high-heeled shoes while working, but should be allowed to choose whether or not they will.

Choice is at the crux of the issue, though it is somewhat hard to get at. The first difficulty is whether or not cocktail waitresses have a choice in wearing heels. Of course, the job mandates it, but managers claim that they mandate heels because that's what it takes for a waitress earning far less than minimum wage to make enough in tips to feed herself.

Sex, sexy legs in particular, put clothes on the backs of these women and food in their mouths. Do they really have choice between aching, sometimes bleeding feet and not making the rent? Absolutely. The answer is not meant to be cruel; it is not meant to enforce the fact that life is filled with tough, unpleasant choices. Simply, people should have an unconditional right to do whatever they want to their bodies. This means if a woman wants to use her sexuality to make a living, it is her prerogative. If doing so means she has to hobble home at the end of day and bandage her feet, and she still chooses the job, the choice is hers and hers alone.

Apparently, the choice is not as painful as all that. Women do still choose to work as cocktail waitresses. What's more, cocktail waitresses are unionized, and this complaint has never come up in union negotiations. This is notable because if cocktail waitresses wanted to effect a change in the high-heel policies of casinos, it is likely that they would use the union to do so. A union has much more leverage in this area than a loosely knit confederation of activists.

Doctors are in disagreement as to the amount of real injury inflicted upon women by high heels. Some, who have obviously never worked an eight-hour shift in three inch heels, argue that there are no lasting ill-effects. Even more incredible, at least to the ears of women with pinched toes and aching arches, is that some doctors argue that high heels can be good for a woman. They make the proviso that the heels should be low - an inch or so - but many an arch has fallen victim to a conservative, low-heeled pump.

Many waitresses have said they would like a choice in the matter, most often citing their own preference towards wearing high heels. They claim that they look better in the uniform while wearing heels and that the shoes give them a sense of identity. This is understandable. Men like women in heels and women like to wear heels because they make the leg look sexy. High heels can give a woman, whether she is explicitly aware of it or not, a sense of the social and economic power of her own sexuality. Sexy works very well in the business of cocktail waitressing, and everybody involved knows it. This is why the group of activists is encountering opposition from not just the casino managers, but from the cocktail waitresses as well.

Many women, from students to attorneys, make this same choice every day, opting to spend hours walking on their toes with little support from the shoe underneath. They know high heels, even those with large platform heels, hurt. Still, they carry out the dictates of fashion and personal whimsy. It is, as it should be, their choice to hurt for a pair shoes. It is as wrong to deny women the choice to wear high heels as it is to force women to wear them.

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