Thursday, May 6, 2010

Fetishism of the High Heel Shoe

by Danielle Auerbach

Are all high-heels created equally? Perhaps to the untrained eye they are, but there is certainly a social hierarchy which exists depending on what designer you are wearing on your feet. In the consumer oriented Western World a high heel fetish, as Karl Marx defines it, surely exists which provide the wearer of the designer shoes with an unspoken but socially accepted superiority.

Christian Louboutin, F 2009

Before addressing Karl Marx’s theory of fetishism of the commodity it is first necessary to distinguish it from Freud’s theory sexual fetishism. Freud addresses the shoe as a sexual object of fetishism in his essay Fetishism in which he defines a fetish as “a substitute for the woman’s (the mother’s) penis that the little boy once believed in and—for reasons familiar to us—does not want to give up” (Freud). Freud continues to more specifically address the shoe as an object of fetishism as he explains “[…] the foot or shoe owes its preference as a fetish—or a part of it—to the circumstance that the inquisitive boy peered at the woman’s genitals from below, from her legs up, fur and velvet—as has long been suspected—are a fixation of the sight of the pubic hair, which should have been followed by the longed-for sight of the female member; pieces of underclothing, which are so often chosen as a fetish, crystallize the moment of undressing, the last moment in which the woman could still be regarded as phallic” (Freud). Thus, according to Freud, the shoe is fetishized by young males from an early age in order to justify the mother’s lack of penis in a dominatingly male world (Freud). However, if this was the case even the most mundane pair of shabby flats would be fetishized so long as they provided a reminder of that first glimpse of the mother’s lack of penis.

Alexander McQueen's stiletto versus the flat sandal

While there is no doubt that the high heel shoe can be an object of fetishism, it is not fetishized in the way Freud argues (Marx). Instead, the fetishism of the high heel shoe rests within value it inheres from the consumer without regard to the labor contributed in constructing the shoe; thus the shoe takes on what Marx identifies as mystical value (Marx). According to Marx, value “[…] does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic” (Marx). The fetishism of the high heel shoe is much more specific than a general adoration for an ordinary shoe. Marx argues that capitalists fetishize commodities believing that they contain value which exceed the cost of production (Marx). Generally, high heeled shoes are accessible to anybody; however, as the shoe assumes exclusivity it becomes the subject of fetishism as it causes human interactions which form a sort of social ladder (Marx).



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