In case you missed it, yes, Vogue has deemed Melania Trump out of touch for wearing a pair of stiletto heels on her walk on the tarmac to board the Texas-bound Air Force One.
But it wasn’t just the elitist, Manhattan-based fashion magazine that made a mountain out of a pair of Manolos. The first lady’s shoes, described by Vogue’s Lynn Yaeger as “better suited to a shopping afternoon on Madison Avenue or a girls’ luncheon at La Grenouille,” were met with breathless shock and condemnation from not just the usual outrage brigade led by Chelsea Handler and the like, but also by Politico, the Hollywood Reporter, and CNN. How, oh how could Melania make as egregious a faux pas as to walk in Washington, D.C., in shoes that have been an unofficial part of the first-lady uniform for the past half century?
Despite decades of feminists claiming that their movement will put an end to a culture in which women are judged based on their appearance, Minda Zetlin at Inc. angrily declared, “We live in a world of visual communication, and this is especially true of Melania Trump who has not been very vocal about much of anything during her time as a candidate’s wife and then first lady.” Slate’s Christina Cauterucci snidely added that Mrs. Trump’s shoe choice “found a way to make her visit [to Texas] about herself.” Well.
Most laughably, the New York Times fashion and style sections, which once told readers to “make Election Day a celebration of the style” of Michelle Obama, went positively apoplectic in analyzing the dire, civilization-threatening consequences of Melania’s minute on the tarmac.
The stilettos, “redolent of a certain clichéd kind of femininity,” writes the Times’ Vanessa Friedman, “are part of the identity the first lady brought to Washington — that her comfort level and ability to walk in exactly the kind of shoes that cause other women, wearing more solid shoes, to wince and crunch their toes in imaginary pain was part of her narrative and image from the start — does not obviate the fact that they have also come to represent her remove, for both good and ill.”
On its face, this line of criticism, promulgated by much of the media, reads almost like schoolyard jealousy of the first lady’s appearance, which seems to never falter. But assessed along with the ceaseless critiques that Kellyanne Conway is too “alt-blonde” and Ivanka Trump’s outfits are too “girly,” the motivations of the incessant image policing from the Left unravel and illuminate a powerful desire to strip society of any and all apolitical safe spaces.
Of course, prior to the politicization of almost everything, we didn’t need safe spaces. Women — and yes, men too — of all political, religious, and racial stripes could enjoy fashion for its aesthetic purposes, as we all could with art, music, sports, and food. Eating bánh mì opened us up to the intersection of Vietnamese and French cultures, once seen as a positive thing for cultural diversity. Now, at Oberlin, General Tso’s chicken in the cafeteria is lambasted as cultural appropriation.
With politics permeating every space that used to allow Americans of different backgrounds to empathize with each other, the culturally Marxist thought police, which is leading the charge to brand Melania’s likely 30-second shoe choice an act of “White Feminism” or toxic femininity, is also allowed to move the political-cultural goalposts at will.
Leftists have forgotten that Donald Trump’s rise was fueled by the Right’s disgust with these tactics.
Consider the contrast between the media’s treatment of Michelle Obama and Melania Trump. From an aesthetic perspective, Obama was rightly celebrated for her many bold fashion choices, especially in her husband’s second term. Given the largely visual aspect of the first lady’s job, this focus on appearances makes sense. But the fawning became cultish in nature — growing from simply noting the former first lady’s fashion choices to praising the level of wokeness or subversion they represented. It was pure narrative creation of the highest form, one that has degraded our political dialogue, i.e., “This is how we got Trump.”
Leftists have forgotten that Donald Trump’s rise was fueled by the Right’s disgust with these tactics. As social-justice demands radiate from sheltered college campuses housing 22-year-olds in bunk beds to NFL sidelines and New York Fashion Week, the reactionary Right will prove just as effective in using the Left’s overreach to push back in the general culture war.
Sure, Colin Kaepernick can refuse to stand for the National Anthem. The Left wants to infuse politics into sports. But in return, the stodgy old Republicans bankrolling these operations can fight back. Case in point, look to the University of Southern California and its purportedly racist mascot, a — white! — horse named Traveler. USC’s Black Student Association has generated national attention for attempting to make Traveler their next target on the grounds that Robert E. Lee’s horse was also named Traveller (but with a different spelling).
In an act of proactive retaliation, legendary sports broadcaster Brent Musburger has threatened to vote against USC’s star quarterback Sam Darnold in the Heisman Trophy race if the school dispenses with Traveler in his current form and branding.
The fact that these issues are fair game now may not be a positive good, but it is inevitable. As long as the Left continues to make it so that nothing is off limits, the Right’s reaction will sink further and further with them. The hysteria over Melania’s heels is just the beginning.
— Tiana Lowe is a senior pursuing her B.S. in economics and mathematics at the University of Southern California.