This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Devika. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

When Men Wore High Heels As A Symbol Of Power

More from Devika

When we talk of high heeled shoes and men, the two somehow never seem to go together. And even if they do, the person is usually stereotyped as a member of the LGBTQ community or labelled a ‘sissy’ or ‘effeminate’, which is apparently a bad thing.

Sadly the society has taught the denizens of the 21st century to think and function by specifying certain roles to the binary and stating that sex and gender are divided into male and female. Recent developments like pride marches, parades and movements along with governments across the world recognising the difference between sex and gender, have done a lot to improve this thinking but, the stereotypes stick.

To prove the farce that is the gender binary construction on the basis of roles and performances that society thinks as normal for the two genders, we simply have to look at the gendering of everyday material objects. My favourite are high heeled shoes, perceived as a symbol of sex appeal and femininity in a woman and hence making a man “effeminate” when he wears them.

Constructs are essentially what the society conditions us to think. Their transitory nature can be seen by the very manner stereotypes surrounding them are broken and constructed through history. Did you know high heels were initially intended for men?

Around 1000BC, they were popular in Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece to establish class differences. Even then heels were gender neutral and worn by upper-class people with the simple philosophy that only someone who didn’t have to work could possibly go around in such impractical footwear thus signifying privilege. This is a logic that high heels have followed for centuries now.

The first time high heels became popular was when they came to Europe on a diplomatic mission, sent by a Persian Shah. The heels were popular in the Middle East, especially Persia, where they were worn by horse riders.

This “impractical” fashion quickly spread through Europe and was adopted by aristocratic males who wore them as a symbol to assert their power, boldness, masculinity and status.

When the fashion was adopted by women around 17 century, to assert their “masculinity” and by lower classes to raise their status in society, the aristocracy merely increased the height of their shoes to set themselves apart. The heels also had another distinction besides height. Men wore broad heels and women wore skinny heels.

Christian Louboutin wasn’t the first to use red soles as a status symbol. Louis XIV, King of France, beat him to it. The monarch boosted his stature with heels—always red, an expensive dye. In the 1670s, Louis XIV issued an edict limiting red heels to members of his court; only the favoured few could wear this ostentatious colour.

Pierre Bourdieu in his theory of Class Distinction argued that aesthetic choices function as markers of class difference. Accordingly, the elite will take action to present themselves differently than non-elites, choosing different clothing, food, shoes. High prices help keep certain things the province of elites, allowing them to signify their power; but imitation is inevitable. Once something no longer effectively differentiates the rich from the rest, the rich will drop it.

Hence, as more women and lower class population adopted heels, aristocracy started shedding this fashion as it was now tainted by the lower classes. Upper-class men no longer wanted to associate themselves with heels, which now became a symbol of femininity and hence made them look effeminate.

During Enlightenment, men’s fashion became more practical, and heels for men was completely disposed of, as being silly and hence something that was for women. Soon, women and lower classes gave up the fashion too, a major factor being the French Revolution. Any symbol that reminded them of the old aristocracy was done away with.

The heels made a comeback in the mid- nineteenth century in the form of pornography. Women were painted in the nude, wearing nothing but heels. And it’s from here onwards that heels took on the role they play today as well i.e., a symbol of sex appeal, femininity and for women.

The changing role of heels hence carries an important message i.e., that cultural understanding of what is male and what is female changes over time. And hence establishes the fact that there is nothing inherently masculine or feminine.

Sex is biological (hormones, genitals ) while gender is cultural and social (practises and institutions). Recent studies have even established the indeterminacy of sex by identifying more than five types of it and New York City in 2016, recognised 31 types of genders legally. Which brings us back to the performative nature of gender and nothing being concrete. Like Judith Butler argues, gender can be understood as a series of performances or enactments which over time take on the appearance of being natural. By acting like men and women, we become men and women.

So ladies, gentlemen and dear humans who identify as both or neither or anything really, wear those heels with pride or don’t. Bend it like Beckham or Louboutin; the choice is yours.

Image Credits: David Prat by Sylvain Norget.
You must be to comment.

More from Devika

Similar Posts

By Vanshika Gadekar

By Yusuf Abidin

By Ranjeet Menon

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below