The Allure of the Stiletto

I always have to marvel at the way young women dress in this town. It is clear that many a young women must be spending quite a bit on creating a special Windhoek look. We have talked about hair quite a few times already. For practically every woman on the streets of Windhoek has her hair either straightened or weaved. The few who do not have hair – or HBOs as I call them – must be either dirt poor or just too negligent or backwards.

But then there are the clothes. And I have a distinct feeling that it no longer suffices to be clean, neat and fitted. The women that I see in town are all dressed up to the nines. Either in power suits or in outfits that strongly resembles evening and ballwear even at the sunniest and hottest time of the day. But the most astounding thing is the shoes. I cannot stop wondering how it might be possible for so many women to walk – even make progress – in the kinds of shoes that I see on the streets and on the rocky sidewalks of our town.

It is not uncommon for young students either from Polytechnic or UNAM to teeter to town in their high-heeled shoes, sometimes even in their stilettos.

I am completely gobsmacked by this spectacle. For surely this is what it is. A cultural phenomenon! But where should this come from? I cannot imagine that girls in the rural areas are wearing similar shoes when they go to town, whether town is Rundu, Ongwediva, or Mariental.

Somehow I am strangely reminded of the lotus feet of ancient China which Wikipedia makes me understand, ancient Chinese men found so alluring. The tightly bound and mutilated feet became a symbol for the status of men in the China of the time. Mutilating the feet of a woman meant that that she could barely walk – or if she walked, could only walk in tiny dainty little steps that men found so enthralling. Not only could women with lotus feet hardly walk, they certainly could not work and this directly reflected on the status and power of her husband.

Now back to present-day Namibia. Could there be a similar meaning in the torture that so many young girls have to endure while wearing the highest, most “sexy” stilettos in town? I am sure that if asked, every single tortured young woman would claim that she does it for herself. And that she feels good in these shoes. But still – forever the sceptic-, I just cannot shrug the feeling that there is more to it than that.

Could it, for instance be that wearing well- or precariously-heeled shoes, even while having to foot the distance between campus and town, has become a symbol for having establishing a distance between a more rural upbringing and the newly-found sophistication of urban existence? For surely, our farm-mouse sisters will be working the fields in nothing other than flip-flops – should they be so lucky to have flip-flops.  Otherwise they would be bare feet.

The stiletto, on the other hand tells of having embraced a lifestyle emulated from top international celebrities like Beyoncé, Rhiana, Gaga and the like. It exudes worldliness, an urbane and stylish lifestyle. Somehow I have the idea that walking to town in stilettos is a post-modernist statement – in other words an absurd and ironic self reference to modernity urban sophistication.

The stiletto of course is also about sex. It is about being sexy or being perceived to be sexy. These are bedroom shoes that have found their way to the rough and dusty streets of Katutura, Khomasdal and Windhoek West. Yes, they are still teetering, but eventually, they’ll find their way to the malls of our city. Power to our well-heeled sisters!