This week, the St. Louis Business Journal made headlines across the country for its feature spotlighting influential local businesswomen…and their favorite pairs of shoes. The cutesy-obvious headline was “Best Foot Forward” and the managing editor of the magazine, Vince Brennon, explained the concept as “the best filter to show readers the best qualities of these 25 spectacular business women.” Really? The best? Not the business initiatives they are most proud of? Their go-to productivity hacks? If they wanted a visual component, I’d even take their favorite smartphone apps, must-have desk accessories, or favorite 3 p.m.-slump snacks. But footwear? I’m not alone in my anger. Women around the country have tweeted and Instagrammed their distaste for the project, using the hashtag #shoegate. Sarah Fenske, the St. Louis-based editor-in-chief of the Riverfront Times, wrote a smart editorial lambasting the project, pointing out that it’s even more egregious in St. Louis, which has the worst gender-based pay disparity in the U.S., according to a PayScale survey.
Here’s the thing: When we reduce women to what they wear, we’re saying their appearance defines their worth. The photos themselves make that painfully apparent. Some women, such as Kimberly Martin, executive vice president of enterprise security solutions at MasterCard, appear in the photo shoot barefoot (Martin is holding her pair of black pumps). Barefoot in a business suit is one step removed from barefoot in the kitchen; it’s reducing a powerful woman to a less-than-powerful image as a way to put her in her place. Even more cringe-worthy is the conclusion managing editor Brennon drew from the feature. In his introduction to the project, he mansplained that, “through this exercise, it became obvious that the selection of shoes is a very personal choice.” Really? Of course it is! And while there has always been an intersection between work and fashion (one we love to celebrate at Refinery29), the connection between the two lies purely in the personal realm. Fashion choices are a fascinating and complex amalgamation of heritage, values, and personality, and there is absolutely a place for fashion choices to be discussed, celebrated, and photographed. But this seems like a very questionable editorial choice for a business publication — especially when it’s such an ongoing struggle for powerful women in any industry to have their ideas stand apart from their sartorial choices. Sure, the right footwear can absolutely make you feel like you’re killing it at your career. But shoes aren’t some sort of magical window to your work M.O. And hopefully, the editors at the St. Louis Business Journal realize that. Until then, fair’s fair. Vince Brennon, time to walk in someone else’s shoes: Slip yours off, stand sockless while awkwardly holding your loafers, and talk to a reporter about how it really makes you feel.