If the shoe fits

At the Bram Stoker Club, Amy Smith presented a paper on the history and significance of high heels

For the uninitiated, the Bram Stoker Club is a place where students can write and deliver a paper on any subject they’re interested in. Topics can range from nuclear war to time travel to Taylor Swift’s disastrous new album.

For many students, listening to an essay presentation in between lectures is not a particularly appealing concept. However, Amy O’Sullivan’s paper on the history of high heels was surprisingly interesting and well-researched.

O’Sullivan began the paper by explaining the origin of heeled shoes, which came in the form of riding footwear in Persia.

These shoes became a trend amongst the aristocracy of Europe and later reached the lower classes. In response to the lower classes wearing heels, the aristocracy began wearing higher heels that were completely impractical. Thus, high heels became a status symbol.

O’Sullivan then moved from the past to the present. She used a quote from the classic ‘Broken Heels’ by Alexandra Burke, “All the ladies tell the fellas we can do what they can do,We can do it even better in broken heels”.

To her, this song perfectly encapsulates the popular attitude that women should not only wear high heels but be proud and empowered while wearing them.

She pointed out the different occasions in which heels have been imposed on women; stories of receptionists being sent away from work for not wearing heels and a film producer being reprimanded by security on the red carpet of a film festival for wearing flat shoes.  

More than anything, O’Sullivan asked why society sexualises something that makes women more vulnerable and puts them in pain. She pointed to a fashion industry almost entirely controlled by men, who will never wear the shoes they create.

O’Sullivan was careful to point out that she has no problem with women freely choosing to wear high heels. She just questioned how much choice women really have in the face of overwhelming societal expectations.

‘If the Shoe Fits’ was a fascinating and insightful look at a niche topic. O’Sullivan didn’t force an opinion, she simply provided us all with an alternate view of looking at things. Most importantly, she addressed the subject with a real, infectious passion.

One of my favourite things about the Bram Stoker Club was that anyone at all can present a paper. Applicants just need a topic they feel strongly about. It’s always entertaining to watch somebody talk about something they actually care about, no matter how weird or wonderful.

Update 09/02/18: This article was updated to correct the spelling of a second name.