Running in heels, yes, but why?

I finally saw Hidden Figures last night and loved it. What a great movie.

There’s lots worth noting. I was struck by how much bathroom discrimination and having a place to pee matters, and how long explicit racial discrimination in the workplace and in schools lasted in the United States.

I also hadn’t realized that computing machines weren’t around in the first days of the space race. I hadn’t imagined that it would even be possible to do those kinds of mathematical calculations, so many of them, with just human head and human hand, no machines. I feel silly for not having thought about the technology timeline in that way before.

I hadn’t known that “computer” once referred to a job description for a person. And I hadn’t known that African Americans did this job in something like a segregated computing pool.

So I learned a lot and loved the movie.

But putting all of this aside, I was also struck by all the footage of women running in heels. The African American women  had to run miles across the NASA campus to get to the bathrooms for “coloured people” and NASA’s dress code mandated that they do it in heels. Why did they have to run? Limited time for breaks, distance, job security, and the space race.


However, unlike other Hollywood movies Hidden Figures didn’t make running in heels look easy.

The one time I decided to run home from a party while wearing shoes with heels, in a “sprightly fashion” according to friends (why is another story, for another time) I ditched the shoes and carried them. Luckily there wasn’t any glass on my route.

So it’s not that I never wear heels but I am opposed to anyone having to wear them. The shocking thing about this recent news item, Canadian province considers banning high heel requirement for women in workplaces, for many people was the idea that employers could dictate heel height as the law currently stands.

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Big boots, little boots

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I like to be able to run in the shoes that I wear. I can run in my McKinlay boots from Dunedin (above) and I can run in my “aggressively unfashionable” Dansko clogs. I can’t run in my witchypoo Fluevog shoes but I can dance in them and that’s good enough.

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New Year's Eve shoe decision

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Why do I care about running when I am not wearing running shoes? There are a lot of reasons. Safety, sure. I want to be able to run away from people. But that’s not even the reason that comes first. I also like to run if I’m late: for coffee, for meetings, for buses, whatever..

Running keeps me warm in the winter. I often run to my office from remote parking just to keep my fingers from freezing off.

Some people, of course, can run in heels. They even make an event of it. But not me.

And men do it too.

5 thoughts on “Running in heels, yes, but why?

  1. I saw this movie more than once and enjoyed it a lot.

    I am glad that these days there is a range of dressy shoe styles for women for “fashion” vs. 3 decades ago where not to wear high heels for a dressier occasion was just seen as unfashionable.

    I prefer to shoe styles that allow me to walk for a km. at least and safely. As for’s been a long time I’ve ran in them: I only wear them inside a building.. more sensible, walking shoes for true walking to work or..cycling.

    I’m glad it’s simply more accepted to wear a customized orthotic even when “young”. Sad, but high heels for long time wear, can ruin many women’s feet a lot..meaning misshapen them.

  2. And I haven’t even gotten into cycling in high heels…something I honestly am not interested in doing for commuting to work.

  3. I do wish that Hollywood would lose the running-in-heels joke; it seems to maximize badness. It portrays women as objects of ridicule– teetery funny-looking runners (not in this film, but in others), and unrealistically sets up the idea that women SHOULD be able to do this (I certainly can’t; I can’t even walk in heels for any length of time). Really weird.

    I read an article/interview (which I now can’t find) that says that in real life, Katherine Johnson ended up using the white-person-designated bathroom, precisely because the other one was too far away. And the scene where her boss destroys the sign didn’t happen, but I think he communicated that the bathrooms needn’t be segregated anymore (again, I can’t lay my hands easily on details).

    But it’s cool that you noted that the women in the film were not humorous, but determined come what may to deal with the job in all its injustice. I loved that, among many other things.

    Math geek notes: people have been serving as human computers for thousands of years. There are all sorts of folk methods for quick calculation using fingers (among other things). Here are sample links:
    Alan Turing used the term “computer” for both a machine and for a human performing calculations. Turing’s notion of a computing machine invoked the idea of the “tireless clerk”, performing endless manipulations of symbols. And from these endless manipulations would come forth substantive mathematical work. It’s not surprising that less-valued members of the math community were denied entry into more prestigious areas of math and relegated to work that was perceived as low-level.
    I could go on, as the epistemic relationships between calculation and proving are a topic I used to think about a lot. But I won’t. But thanks so much for provoking this trip down foundations of computing memory lane!

  4. I find walking in heels hard – let alone running in them. I have on occasion walked barefoot in the streets, because the high heels were just too much.
    I saw ‘Hidden Figures’ this past week and loved it! I have a review up on my blog, if you would like a read.

  5. They did impossible things and running in heels was just one of them.I loved the movie because it told their stories, that had never been told. Some child somewhere will be inspired to study math and science and be amazing in whatever profession they select. Running in heels was the least of the problems.

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