Film, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 24/02/11 The Red Shoes

Have you ever heard the Tale of the Red Shoes, written by Hans Christian Anderson? A vain girl tricks her adoptive mother into buying her a pair of much-coveted red shoes, which causes her to pay no attention in church. She stops attending services and goes to a party in her bescarleted feet instead. Once she starts to dance, the shoes will not allow her to stop. She dances and dances without an end in sight, through storms, through her mother’s funeral, until she reaches the point of insanity or death, when a man take mercy on her and chops off her feet.

She eventually realises the folly of emotionally blackmailing a parent into irresponsible shoe buying, then she dies. So, a happy ending for everyone involved. Or maybe not.

In 1948, a seminal dance film was released, also called The Red Shoes. In it, aspiring prima ballerina Vicky Page gets the chance to dance the lead role in the titular ballet, but eventually has to choose between love of a man or love of her art, symbolised potently in the form of a pair of red ballet slippers. The consequences are predictably disastrous.

That’s the trouble with red shoes: They symbolise the things that a woman are, very unfairly, restricted from freely having. These stories are designed to encourage women to conform. Dedicate yourself to your artistic passion instead of looking after a husband? Indulge in hedonism and freedom of self expression? Be an independent person who answers only to herself? Then prepare to have your legs chopped off with a rusty axe before repenting your wicked, wicked ways.

Even now, the world at large doesn’t want us to own a pair of proper red shoes. After spending a day in town with my friend Fiona, bemoaning the dearth of such appendages, she came home and asked a question on Facebook; ‘what do red shoes mean?’ The answers were varied, but the real corkers included such gems as ‘red shoes, no knickers’ and ‘red shoes = Amsterdam window girl’. Apparently, only whores get to don red shoes.

In this day and age, it’s surprising that such asinine restrictions actually exist in terms of a simple primary colour. I want a pair of red shoes. Preferably with a very high heel and all kinds of ribbons and general fripperies. And yet, I have never ever had sex in exchange for money – what kind of topsy-turvy world do we live in?

My non-purchase is not as a result of these utterly sophomoric preconceptions; it’s the conditions that these preconceptions may have precipitated. There are just no nice red shoes to be had. Of the 1000 or so pairs of women’s shoes available on behemoth e-tailer ASOS.com, just fifteen are red, and even then, maybe only two pairs are even slightly close to that particular shade or rich, tomatoey, viscid, brilliantine red that has provoked centuries-long controversy.

It’s damnably sexist to assume that such a shade of footwear automatically shrills ‘come to bed NOW’. Don’t get me wrong, it commands your attention – but the sexual attention can be unwanted or unintended. Red holds immense, often untapped power. Just look at the pope. He wears red shoes, and you don’t see anyone wolf-whistling at him or mistaking him for a call girl, now do you?

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17 thoughts on “Licentiate Column 24/02/11 The Red Shoes

  1. >Red has always been a colour that I am very fond of/naturally drawn to (I also am not a woman of the night! :) ) that been said I can't for the life of me ever remember having a pair of red shoes, very sad! But you are right if the Pope can then why can't we! ;)

  2. >great article – i never noticed that connection before, good point! I adore red shoes (I own two pairs! Wait…do penny's trainers count…? :P) and if I could afford it, my shoe wardrobe would be awash with crimson…there's just something so exciting and daring about the color I can't resist! I actually found my perfect pair of red shoes…too bad the strap broke and I haven't the money to repair it…:( haha, up the red heels! :P

  3. >The Red Shoes is on my to watch list although I'm not sure I'm going to like it, particularly since I have a pair of really lovely red heels and I also like, you know, life and the ability to walk…

  4. >Oh I love Hans stories! The red shoes has always been a favourite. I have always loved red shoes, I have 2 pairs one a sequined court very Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and a mary jane style from Vivienne Westwood. Its funny you mention the pope it is something I was discussing with a friend, why does he have such hot footware!!

  5. >Red definitely grabs your attention. This column is so interesting. Red + shoes have never come to my attention before, but now that you wrote about it… I love both red and shoes, yet I do not possess red shoes!! Hmmmm….. Maybe, my next purchase will be a pair of shiny red heels. Watch this space. Haha:)SarahD

  6. >this is an interesting take on red, i'd never consider this before, i particularly found the fact that your findings on asos, red shoes proved lucrative "maybe only two pairs are even slightly close to that particular shade or rich, tomatoey, viscid, brilliantine red that has provoked centuries-long controversy."coincidently i just did a post in which i was wearing red shoes, quite chaste clarks ones mind you (i was recently told they were quakers so that might explain it?)i expect this post will spring to mind whenever i come across a pair of red shoes.

  7. >I love red shoes!!! Love wearing them with neutral outfits for a nice pop. They make me feel dressed up without even trying. Really must get around to watching that film…it's on a list that's about a mile long at this point!

  8. >i love this article! the pope wears red prada shoes which I always thought was great! i've never worn red shoes though aside from a pair of faded red trainers..and when I danced ballet, we were all obsessed with red satin pointe shoes because of this film (and a tacky dance scene in ballet movie Centre Stage). I love patent red sandals, remind me of being young but you're right, I just hate the connotations that women get for wearing red shoes so i still haven't been brave enough. Red lipstick was as far as I got!xo

  9. >This post made me smile, you're so true! I've never wanted a pair of red shoes (apart from when I was twelve, desperate for some glittery no-place-like-home kitten heels) but I can imagine if I looked all I'd find would be sex on stack. jazzy ♥

  10. >The only footwear I managed to browbeat my mother into buying for me was a red- bright red to celebrate arsenals double in 1971- pair of converse boots. My only other excursion into the red zone was a pair of red loafers bought with my first paycheck. I am not sure what this means or what it says about me but I can confirm I was never approached for sex – paid or unpaid-while I was wear either pair. Maybe they should have been Prada- I'll ask the pope when I next see him.Love the post .

  11. >fantastic article AS USUAL!Sarah, I HAVE to show you my red shoes. they're a deep cherry shade with a slight point at the toe, they rise up the back of the ankle a bit,suede with a red shiny heel and a bit of a platform, sweet lord, they scream SEX with every step – they seriously make any outfit and leave people swooning in their path!no joke :)

  12. >Sorry about the lack of replies guys, I've been internetless for a few days. Thanks for all the kind feedback! P.S. Blogger's reply function is crap.@Third Cousin – It's all about the right shade – it's just so hard to find.@Chuck – The Red Shoes is an excellent film (if you ignore the gender politics… it could have had such a happy ending…)@Karin – I shall certainly embrace the red – once I find the right pair, that is!@A Certain Vintage – The pope wears Prada shoes? That's going right on my trivia list.@Wally Baby – Is that you Dad???

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