One Year of Trump
Trumpian Women: Stilettos Over Substance
by Sue Gillis

Sue Gillis
Photo: Jan Doerler

One year into the Trump presidency and what a year it's been. An administration mired in lies, scandals, and federal investigations. Let's just say it's been a two-year national fiasco the American citizenry has endured. We've witnessed reckless executive orders, the dismantling of affordable health care and the defunding of women's health care, the opting out of international trade and climate change agreements, relentless legal maneuvers to stop immigration and rescind DACA, support of local white supremacists, and Trump's demeaning of women, Gold Star parents, and members of his own staff.

And let's not forget the macho ape-like chest beating, the spewing and twittering of taunting threats and insults to North Korea's Kim Jong-un, which have created international fear and the possibility of an accidental or deliberate out-of-control nuclear holocaust … and the endless list goes on and on.

Worse perhaps (although what's worse than a nuclear war) is the ignorance and devaluing of science, diplomacy, institutional knowledge, experience, policy, and intelligence, all critical to sound decision making. Trump's extremely fragile ego, narcissism, and apparent insecurities are manifested in his Hitleresque entitlement that disregards the Constitution and American ideals; a disregard that threatens the survival of democracy itself by rendering its systems of checks and balances impotent.

Trump and his band of right-wing nutters effectively use the media to feed a daily dose of bloody red meat to those who voted for him. For those voters, a consistent 30 percent, it does not matter what he does or says, they continue to support him—a stance so unpatriotic, so self-damaging that it defies all logic.

The rest of us sense that the country and our democracy are in peril on multiple levels and worry that no one can stop the destruction. We fear for the future of our descendants.

The Trumpian Women: Melania and Ivanka

And so far, one year in, the Trumpian women have had no substantive influence. Ivanka, a converted orthodox Jew and mother of three, fails to make the connection between her daddy's inflamed endorsement of anti-semetic–black–muslims–gays, Christian-only white supremacists and their rise in power and apparently shows up unannounced in the Oval office while Daddy is in the midst of high-level meetings to whisper in his ear.

Melania, who didn't show up at the White House for five months, announced early on that bullying would be her "First Lady issue." So far she has shown no ability to connect the big dots between childhood bullying and her adult husband's pathological bullying. Perhaps Melania should consider taking a leadership role against sexual harassment, a national disgrace that has finally been exposed by hundreds of brave women, but then there's that husband problem again. Oh. Well.

Stilettos over Substance

First Lady Melania, 47, and Trump's daughter Ivanka, 37 (also Melania's stepdaughter), now one year into their unpaid high-level White House "jobs," one trend has become the new normal: 4.5-inch stilettos. The spike-heel shoe is the Trumpian women's shoe of choice, worn everywhere they go. They are hardly ever photographed without them, shown mincing down airplane stairs and teetering across the mud-soft White House lawn, cracked sidewalks, parking lots, and red carpets. Perhaps those stilettos account for Melania's stony look, as she must be keenly aware of every step she takes, with critical attention to structural surface changes—all the while keeping her head erect and maintaining a steady gait. One misstep can send her sprawling.

So why wear them? Because they think stilettos make them look good, creating a tall elegance.


I was struck dumb with horror when I saw Melania emerge onto the White House lawn prior to flying to view the results of the Houston floods and a few days later leaving for even worse conditions in Puerto Rico. Even though she changed before disembarking, the stiletto image stuck, and she was severely criticized for displaying such poor taste in view of the damage and distress in both these locations. Daddy Trump defended her, once again, saying, "She just likes to look good."

History of Stilettos

Stilettos are named after the stiletto dagger, a long, thin blade that the heel of the stiletto resembles. High heels have a long history, first worn by male aristocrats, who did not work and were mostly carried around, and then by queens.
In the 17th century, Italian prostitutes began wearing them, as the stiletto became an erotic object.

But the stiletto really came into prominence in the fifties, the heel made of steel instead of wood. Sleek designs were created, and while still considered erotic, they were also worn to give the illusion of height and power. Altocalciphilia came into being—sexual urges, preferences, or fantasies involving high heels. The theory behind their allure is that males, on a primal subconscious level, see women in heels—who may appear unsteady on their feet, weak and vulnerable—as prey and an easy sexual conquest. High heels also force a woman to walk in an exaggerated provocative way. American anthropologist and author Helen Fisher says, "High heels thrust out the buttocks and arch the back into natural mammalian courting, actually copulatory. It is a naturally sexy posture that men immediately see as sexual readiness. Heels are a come hither signal."


Do Real Vermont Women Wear Stilettos?

It was the shoes that made me do it.
September 1973.
New in town. Searching.
Walked up Church Street for the first time.
Some traffic. Busy. Bustling.
Leunig's was an A&W Root Beer joint.
Fresh from Fairfield County, Connecticut.
Fresh from everything money.
From the hustle.
From conspicuous consumerism.
It was the seventies.
Missing and searching for essential
essence of life …
Authenticity. Connection. Nature.
Then I saw them.
Birkenstocks. Hiking boots.
Lots of them.
Looked up.
Then I saw the wearers … women.
Spirited. Strong. Confident. Open. Alive.
Men too.
Same shoes.
Kind, Gentler, Interesting.
Struck me right in the heart.
A pivotal life-changing moment.
Moved to Vermont.
Never looked back.
It was all about the shoes…


Stilettos Are a Health Risk

Stiletto health risks include falling, as well as permanent skeletal, muscular, back, and nerve problems. And it's hard to run away from wild beasts!
Women know this. Men know this. Fashion designers know this. Yet, a confluence of data, influencing both women and men, suggests that stilettos convey professional power; they have become part of a requisite dress code in many fields, like finance and law. The height and the strut convey strength through agility as well as femininity through weakness—a combination women use to navigate male-dominated arenas. They are a red-carpet must in Hollywood and are worn by many women in power positions, such as Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In, Christine Lagarde, director of the IMF, and Oprah and her pal Gayle King—whose legs and stilettos are showcased every morning on the CBS Morning Show. Even so, women who love their high heels—and there are many—deny any discomfort, which is amusing because they flip them off and change into flats as soon as they can.

Sexualization Transparency

Many younger women who see through the sexualization of stilettos are refusing to wear them. Stiletto sales to younger women appear to be in decline. Apparently, they are refusing to buy into heels as a power concept and necessity.

To them it is a glaring inequity that for businessmen the dress code is buttoned down and suited up with one accessory, the tie, and sensible shoes. So attired, they can hold and comfortably convey all the power. Meanwhile, women in business teeter on stilettos. They must cross their legs and sit just so, worry about support when they rise, fret whether they are feminine enough, and somehow delude themselves into thinking that the shoes give them power. (I would be stone-faced too.)

Though younger women may be rejecting stilettos and high heels, these shoes will remain front and center in the media and on display all day and all night at the White House for the next several years. It is unlikely that stilettos will go the way of the corset or the bound foot anytime soon.

So What

As publisher of Vermont Woman, spanning over 30 years now, it is has become clear that for women, every few steps forward (and there have been several collectively), many issues continue to require massive amounts of energy and resistance that must be carried on by the young. We should all be encouraged by the millions who showed up for the Women's March in January and for those who are running for public office in record numbers and for those who are now bravely coming forward publicly to finally stop sexual harassment. (I cannot find one woman who has not been sexually harassed or assaulted at least once in her lifetime and kept quiet about it because she felt she had nowhere to go.) Affordable health care, affordable childcare, pay equity, access to affordable, safe reproductive health choices, including abortion, sexual harassment/assault in the workplace—all these issues will demand physical protest, political process involvement, and voting both locally and nationally. I see now that these rights will always be under threat, and that it is up to every generation to stand up to the tyrants who want to control our lives.



Sue Gillis is the Publisher of Vermont Woman