In 1982, in a comic strip about Fred Astaire, it was written that "he was great, but don't forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, backwards … and in high heels". "Backwards and in high heels" has since become something of a feminist mantra for women who achieve everything men do despite being hobbled by convention. It has been chosen as the title of several novels, a biography of Faith Whittlesey (the US politician who popularised the comment), and a book about "the impossible art of being female" by Tania Kindersley and Sarah Vine (the columnist and wife of Michael Gove). Now, it also seems to be the policy of the Liv nightclub in Manchester.
Last week, a woman was turned away from the club when she arrived with a group of friends, because she was wearing flat shoes. This was because she was eight months pregnant, she pointed out – to no sympathy from the female bouncer. She and her nine friends were on a hen night, and were "dressed fabulously", behaving well and – at least the pregnant ones – sober. Not good enough, apparently.
Lawyers have since suggested that the ladies could take action under the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone because she is pregnant. I'd say that pregnantism isn't the form of discrimination taking place here – unless all the male clubbers are required to wear high heels, too. And when we're trying to decide whether something is a feminist issue or not, it is often helpful to ask whether it would seem completely ridiculous if men were expected to do it …
A spokeswoman for Netmums added helpfully: "Many women don't find heels comfortable in pregnancy." Many women don't find heels comfortable ever, as it happens, especially on a night out at a club whose Facebook page carries the slogan: "We can dance forever". Not in stilettos, we can't.
High heels may be a feminist issue, but feminists disagree about them. (Feminists can disagree about lots of things, by the way, just like any other people with brains.) My colleague Joan Smith is a fan, and has written in this newspaper about owning a collection too large to count. Sandi Toksvig, on the other hand, has compared them to foot binding. In last year's Fifty Shades of Feminism, Toksvig wrote: "Women will never meet men on an equal footing … while they literally can't stand up for themselves. I'm not suggesting some kind of 'brogue-only' movement, but if we are strong let us not be afraid to look it."
Personally, I wear heels when I feel like it, for short periods, while sitting down. But I am writing this in a pair of elderly Birkenstocks, and I'm certain that flats are best for dancing, for drinking, and for running away as fast as you can from stuck-up nightclubs that want you to have a painfully boring evening.Reuse content