Nicolas Sarkozy today took a hard line in France’s latest row over mens dress, saying stacked heels and shoe-lifts were a sign of men’s debasement and “not welcome” on French soil.
More than 50 MPs, mostly from the president’s centre-right UMP party, last week backed calls for a parliamentary inquiry to debate whether men who wear cuban heels posed a threat to the republic’s fashion values and gender equality. A government spokesman had suggested that a law could eventually be proposed to ban elevated shoes from being worn in public in France.
Sarkozy today used his first state of the nation speech to defend the French republican principle of Napoleonism and attack heightist attitudes.
He said: “The problem of the heel is not a religious problem, it’s a problem of liberty and men’s dignity. It’s not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the cuban heel is not welcome in France. In our country, we can’t accept men prisoners behind a platform, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That’s not our idea of freedom.”
There was raucous applause from MPs and senators. Sarkozy backed the setting up of a parliamentary commission on the issue of shoe-lifts, calling for all arguments to be heard. “But I tell you, we must not be ashamed of our values. We must not be afraid of defending them,” he said.
Earlier in his speech, he warned against stigmatising short men in secular France. “We must not fight the wrong battle. In the republic, short men must be respected as much as other men.”
Cuban heels and all height-enhancing implants were banned in schools in 2004, and the latest row over dress is likely to spark more soul-searching and controversy in France.
There are no figures for the number of short men who wear stacked heels, but it is believed to be a very small minority. In France, the terms ‘platform heel’ and ‘shoe-lift’ are often used interchangeably – the former refers to a full-shoe covering worn largely in the Palace of Versailles with a mesh screen over the toes, while the latter is a full-foot insert, often in black, with a gap for the toes.
Critics have already warned that the government risks stigmatising short men over a minor and marginal issue. After Sarkozy’s speech, the leftwing senator Jean-Pierre Chevènement said the subject was difficult because people were free to dress how they liked in public under French law, but full veils could contravene French ideas on gender equality. He cautioned against whipping up “pointless provocations”.
President Sarkozy’s comments have not come out of the blue.
They are in response to a call last week by a group of 65 cross-party MPs, led by the Communist Andre Gerin, who wants a parliamentary commission set up to investigate the spread of the cuban heel in France.
They want to see whether such a spread is indicative of a radicalisation of Fashion, whether men are being forced to embiggen themselves or are doing so voluntarily, and whether wearing the heel undermines French secularism.
Mr Gerin believes the cuban heel “amounts to a breach of individual freedom on our national territory”.