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“Theresa May being told not to wear heels is another f*** off to feminism”

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Anna Brech
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As union leaders urge Theresa May to swap her kitten heels for "sensible" flats in the name of the sisterhood, Stylist's Anna Brech questions why the British PM is being reduced to her footwear - once again...

Theresa May has only been in the job two months and already she's been urged to censor herself on the grounds of being a woman.

Never mind a heavyweight casket of pressing world issues - Brexit, the budget and a burgeoning refugee crisis - the big wigs at the TUC want our country's leader to focus on another matter of global urgency:

Her kitten heels. 

Yes, May's one modest glimmer of self-expression came under fire during a debate by the TUC, the UK's  biggest trade union centre, in Brighton yesterday, as delegates backed a new law to ban workers being compelled to wear heels in the workplace (it's currently legal to do so).

Theresa May at the G20 summit in China this month

Theresa May at the G20 summit in China this month

"We now have someone running the country who can set an example for the rest of us by making a point of wearing sensible shoes," Penny Robinson, of trade union the GMB, told the assembled audience. 

Blind to the irony of her own words, she continued, "When Theresa May became Conservative leader and Prime Minister, I expected to read analysis of her policies, her priorities, and her approach to Brexit.

"Instead, most of the newspapers concentrated on her love of shoes and extensive shoe collection."

Yes because it's May's responsibility to stop critics from reducing her to her shoes, right?

Read more: woman wearing flats to work is sent home after refusing to go and buy heels

Boris Johnson's hair doesn't detract from his power - instead it's an asset, proof of his "charisma"

Boris Johnson's hair doesn't detract from his power - instead it's an asset, proof of his "charisma"

To the heavy thwack of feminists everywhere hitting their heads against the wall, Robinson urged May to "make a point of wearing pumps, flats and comfortable shoes for Cabinet, for PMQs and for meeting all those EU leaders.

"Let the media see that you can be the most powerful woman in the country - maybe the second after Frances O'Grady (TUC general secretary) - without needing to wear designer shoes to meet men's expectations."

Never mind the gaping contradiction of this edict: that May must correct the injustice of women being legally obliged to wear heels at work by herself NOT wearing heels. A fight against a facet of modern-day sexist repression leading to more sexist repression.

Never mind  that May's shoes are yet again the source of fascination  and scrutiny, far beyond what she actually ever says or does. 

The point here is that, like dozens of other women in the workplace, May is being asked to adhere to a red tape of expected behaviour - to caveat her power via her appearance.

The implicit message is that Barack Obama's counterpart can only enjoy the privilege of her position by wearing "sensible" shoes. 

That by not wearing said sensible heels, she is clearly attempting to "meet men's expectations".

Because sure yeah, May's agenda here is to seduce her male colleagues by virtue of her heels. Forget the kind of gravitas she emanated in her first PMQ session, she's obviously channelling the male gaze to push through her agenda. 

Why use years of front bench experience to persuade people when you can wangle a glimpse of expertly-manicured calf, eh?

Like Theresa May, temp worker Nicola Thorp's workplace performance was based on heels

Like Theresa May, temp worker Nicola Thorp's workplace performance was judged by the issue of heels

Read more: "Heels have nothing to do with power in the workplace. Why do we pretend they do?"

To suggest women such as May shouldn't wear heels in order to be taken seriously is every inch as absurd as suggesting women should be legally obliged to wear them.

Heels, or the absence of them, don't guarantee women power. They're simply a form of self-expression - no less, no more.

And  May, hardly a reckless character even in the most dramatic circumstances, is unlikely to become more "sensible", more worthy of the position allocated to her, by swapping kitten heels for flats. 

Not only is the whole you're-wearing-heels-to-please-men-you-hussy completely inappropriate, it also plays into a depressing thread of misogyny that lingers over all women in the workplace, still, now, every day.

Men in heels

Stylist's men flip the table on gender expectations by trying out heels for the day

Jeremy Corbyn would never be urged to curb his particular form of shabby chic in order to set an example to other men (yes David Cameron told him to ditch the "sloppy attire" but only in the course of political pot-shotting). Boris Johnson has not yet been told to reign in his foppish locks in a quest to be taken seriously.

In fact, tellingly, both these men's sartorial foibles are seen to contribute to their own unique brand of "charm". They've got testosterone - thereby power - in droves, you see. So being a little adventurous on the clothing front only serves to up their currency.

But May, no. A foot out of line - a heel up from what we deem acceptable - and she's not only setting a bad example to other women, she's also compromising her own integrity and her right to run the country.  

And wherever your politics lie, this surely doesn't hinge on her footwear.

Photos: Rex Features

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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