Spring 2008, Volume 4

Essay by M. K. Miller

Go-Go a la No-No?

Iím a librarian-type. Not in a sexy, tousled-hair with va-va-voom barely-contained kind of way—alas, more your classic mousy academic. Think cardigan sweaters and second-hand books (and fewer second looks). Think wide brown eyes nested behind their catís-eye frames. Think milquetoast in a cocktail party crowd and not in a Jacquie Kennedy flawlessly gamine way—more in a pass-me-some-Paxel and letís talk privatelyÖan hour away from this party. I doggedly return to my same shade of bottle brown every six to eight weeks, though thereĎs an entire panoply of options available to me. At 5í2Ē with a healthy appetite for anything covered in carbohydrate or chocolate, I learned enough back in the day from the dancers on 1980s David Bowie videos to know Iíll never be one of them—lithe and adored for my body.

So why have I always had a thing for the flirty footwear known as go-go boots?

As an East-Coast women’s college graduate, I’ve studied a boatload of gender politics, Feminist Revolution, and ERA-era policies. I’ve read The Feminine Mystique no less than three times, poured over Simone De Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf, and gloried over Gloria Steinem after being overlooked or dumped (“a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”). I’ve (over-)analyzed enough literature according to Freudian symbolism to know just what doorways symbolize, thank you very much. I’ve charted and memorized where we’ve been and that we‘re frequently not where we‘d hoped we‘d be by this point, as women juggling bad or almost-non-existent childcare options, still unequal salaries, and relationship roles that make a mud puddle resemble sparkling water.

You don’t have to look too far these days to see fashion’s flung itself back, in swinging vibrant geometrics, to the sixties—from shift dresses (as my mother, who wore them as a mere lass the first go-round, called them) to the curve of tortoise-shell cat’s eye glasses. Even former GOP pick for Vice President, Sarah Palin, has taken a turn in go-gos.  According to a Vogue interview with Palin, “I wish they’d stick with the issues instead of discussing my black go-go boots.  A reporter once asked me about it during the campaign, and I assured him I was trying to be as frumpy as I could by wearing my hair on top of my head and these schoolmarm glasses." When an Alaskan beauty queen turned gun-slinging mama of five has a thing for the kidskin wonders, will wonders never cease?

So. What are the prevalent notions of these prancing pony-feet? In addition to strip clubs and seedy bars, film and television have provided plenty of evidence in the sensuality camp. All of the Bond Girls, in their skinny nymphet outfits, wear go-go boots. Elizabeth Hurley dons grey metallic boots in the film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. In the same film, 'Fembots' (women with 1960s hairdos, go-go boots, and hot pants), are introduced over Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin',” the quintessential anthem that‘s (pardon the pun) a walking ad for the footwear. Jessica Simpson would do her own rendition of Nancy Sinatra's 'These Boots Are Made for Walking' for The Dukes of Hazard remake film. Or Jane Fonda’s scantily-clad, sixties film vixen, Barbarella. And is it any coincidence that those women in that ribald spoof-show, Laugh In, frugging and ponying, worked go-gos? Perhaps part of the mystique of this accessory is as John Berger philosophized, “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” Perhaps these boots perpetuate women as objects of the gaze, rather than pro-active gazers themselves.

Before we delve too much in that direction, though, there’s the flip-side of the coin—while the boots may give off the come-hither of Julia Roberts’ character, prostitute Vivian in Pretty Woman, many of the female friends I told about writing this essay eagerly mentioned a different kind of woman altogether—Wonder Woman.  Who, growing up in the late-seventies and early-eighties, didn’t want to be Linda Carter’s stylishly star-spangled Wonder Woman? I mean, really—she was sporting a bustier years before Madonna made it de rigueur, plus she doffed a cape that shimmered as she spun, as she nabbed the bad guys every last time. Girls of Baby Boomer mothers, just trying out the ERA/house-dad/working woman lifestyle, we knee-high to a grasshopper Gen-Xers saw in Wonder Woman both the propensity for positive change that our mothers always talked about and the kind of style our work-weary mothers had left behind somewhere in the dusty photographs of their '60s teen years.

What do Wonder Woman and She-Ra have in common (besides being cartoon super heroines)? Self-possession and an unrivaled, unshakable belief in their own abilities that we modern women, overcome with work scheduling and familial obligations, can find sputtering to a halt at every turn.

Wonder Woman was both beautiful and bodacious, positive and positively true to herself. And unlike Bond Girls, she worked very much on her own and with her own merit—in a fabulous star-spangled bustier and cape.

I recall watching—in a pink frilly dress—episodes of Wonder Woman after Sunday School, in my grandparents’ living-room—where my grandmother, who’d had eleven children and never learned to drive, sat almost blind, rocking in her chair, listening, while my Mom finished cooking lunch. What could Wonder Woman have meant to my grandmother? What did it mean to me? Linda Carter’s portrayal was at once soft and gamine, everything women were encouraged to embody, as well as fiercely determined when it came to nabbing the dastardly criminals. Sure, Wonder Woman was cheesecake, but she was also role-model. She embodied American culture’s continually struggling taste for dichotomy, the classic virgin/slut paradigm so many of us have tired ourselves living up against, until our own tastes and wants are buried deep in the internal graveyard of our glee.

This, to me, is the most intriguing purpose of go-go boots.

In a world where women, even in an “open” and “equal” free-society must weigh the meaning of clothing as well as lack thereof in mixed company, go-go boots are (at least in my mind) one of the last symbols of the carefree approach to life that my friend’s 6-year-old daughter and her first-grade friends still carry. It has nothing to do with sensuality, although I’ve watched them bat their eyes and giggle unselfconsciously—these girls can flirt. Imagination and freedom to dream, to live in this skin without apologies, in this very moment with grace and laughter. To me these boots symbolize the heart-open, fearless girls we once were, the selves that dim in adolescence and young woman hood, the selves we think we lose or have entirely lost, until.... Until we wake one day, and some inexplicable part of her has returned. For some, that’s the threshold of 30, or 40, or the day the AARP card arrives on the doorstep. No matter how soon or how delayed, as long as that day dawns.

The shoes I envision for myself are always white and they are invariably buttery-soft kidskin leather. They are hand-crafted to the curve of the calf. They gently nudge the knee-cap. They do not chafe. They do not itch or pinch the skin of leg or toes. Yes, they create a little swagger in my hips, but mostly they embody the confidence that’s hidden on a normal jeans and flats trip to the supermarket. A few heads turn, but mostly, my fantasy go-gos allow me to turn into someone more resembling the me I strive to be.  The me who makes an ill friend laugh.  The me who accepts his dinner invitation when I can tell he’s nervous and the answer matters, as he stands before me, tipping his heart.  The me who continues writing these words because not only are others found there, but so am I.  If all of this self-work comes from two impeccably-sewn shoes, then librarian-type or no, that’s the kind of footwear I can’t afford to do without.


BIO:  M.K. Miller is an educator, essayist, sister, bookworm, night owl, and poet, among other things. This is her second essay accepted for publication in the month of October, which she now considers might be her luckiest month. She traveled through Europe in the summer of 2009 to stock up on stories and believes a fanciful pair of shoes really can show the world who's who. But then, Wonder Woman knew that all along.