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On Style & Sexism: Can The Heights Of Business Be Scaled In Stilettos?

Nov 11 2013


Indeed they can.

Sexist stereotypes about women and heels are apparently alive and well if the random Twitter musings of techies are any indication. One of the attendees of a recent investor event in NYC, Jorge Cortell, CEO of healthcare startup Kanterson Systems and self-described "hacker-hactivist", posted a shot of a fellow attendee's high heels to his Twitter account with the following comment: "Event supposed to be for entrepreneurs, VCs, but these heels (I've seen several like this) ... WTF? #brainsnotrequired".

As Mr. Cortell's tweet suggests, to wear heels is apparently a sign of lack of intellect and a disqualification for attendance at an event destined for entrepreneurs and VCs. A firestorm ensued during which Mr. Cortell was accused (by both men and women) of holding sexist views. In his defense, he argued that heels are bad for your health ergo, to wear heals is a sign that the wearer must be dumb and presumably not worthy of being admitted to an event destined for intelligent people like entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Mr. Cortell's musings earned him a rough ride across the Twittersphere (and deservedly so) but since he claims to be a stickler for "data, science, health, choices, improvement … not taboo, cliches, superficiality", maybe his theory merits further examination? I would suggest he start with Angela Ahrendts, the stiletto-clad CEO of Burberry and the highest-paid chief executive in the FTSE 100 last year. Under her management, a fusty British maker of traditional outerwear was transformed into a global fashion and accessories brand with double-digit retail growth across Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa regions. You might say Ms. Ahrendts scaled the heights of the FTSE in shoes very similar in style to those tweeted by Mr. Cortell. What better place then for Mr. Cortell to test his theory?

Or, perhaps Mr. Cortell should run his idea by Christine Lagarde, former president of international law firm Baker & Mckenzie, former French minister of finance under Nicolas Sarkozy and current Director of the International Monetary Fund and see what she thinks. Ms. Lagarde has made a career of forging paths through male-dominated professions and she did it in heels.

Mr. Cortell might also want to float his theory past Nathalie Massenet, the founder and CEO of pioneering fashion e-commerce site Net-A-Porter. Ms. Massenet has built a lucrative business of selling gorgeous stilettos (and much, much more) to other busy professional and entrepreneurial women with little time for bricks & mortar shopping trips. Not only is she smart and successful but she looked the picture of health last time I saw her. She also happened to be sporting a gorgeous pair of Givenchy stilettos.

I could go on and discuss trailblazing Silicon Valley pioneer Marissa Meyer whose love of heels has neither compromised her health nor her ability to lead at not one but two major tech giants. Or, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who successfully prosecuted a war in the Balkans and negotiated various peace accords all whilst in heels. This might just be too much for Mr. Cortell's ego and intellect to process all at once however. It takes intellectual courage to confront one's own ideas and run the risk of being proven wrong. Based in his Twitter commentary, I'm not sure Mr. Cortell has what it takes. #ABiggerPairRequired


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The fact is, men as a species ALREADY think women are a priori "stupid and inferior".They hide it well most of the time; every now and again, the mask slips! But I will tell you a true story: it was a HUGE SHOCK to men returning from WW2 to discover that the women had not only managed without them; they managed BRILLIANTLY!- demonstrating for all to see that a female-dominated, male-poor society can not only survive, it can THRIVE. Since then , there has been an ongoing covert societal campaign to convince women of their "inferiority" and "lack of intelligence". Funny how this WW2 example is NEVER, EVER referenced when speaking of "women's lib" but the idiot "bra-burning' feminism of the seventies ALWAYS is.

With all due respect, the health debate over heels is not the point. It's a half-assed attempt to wiggle out of an offensive comment after he was virulently called out on it by fellow conference attendees and members of the tech industry.

There are plenty of lifestyle choices made by busy entrepreneurs (men and women) which are unhealthy (lack of sleep, poor diet, excessive travel, lack of exercise, smoking, stress) which Jorge Cortell could easily have chosen to highlight. They were no doubt just as much on display at that conference as that woman's heels. He focused instead on the one choice made only by women and he equated it with inferior intellect.

Mr. Cortell can try to sugarcoat it ex post facto but his original comment is quite manifestly misogynist.


Unfortunately, high heels WILL jeopardize one's health- just not immediately. When you are limping about on your destroyed feet in your fifties you will be saying to yourself:"WHY-WHY-WHY did I do it!?" Nice to be able to wear heels when you have a limo to take you about everywhere and you don't have to walk more than fifty yards in any direction; not so smart if you don't! And for what? Vanity, nothing more. Just because someone is smart in one direction doesn't make them smart in any other direction! CZ Guest never wore heels; called them "prostitute shoes".

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The Luxe Chronicles is a collection of interviews, profiles and musings on various aspects of the luxury industry and occasionally, a rant on our celebrity obsessed culture and the dumbing down of our collective sense of style and esthetic.

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