One thing that’s not always appreciated is that context really makes a difference when it comes to acceptance to bare feet. Bare feet are accepted when people expect bare feet to be there, and they are often rejected in contexts in which they are not expected.
Then, when those bare feet are seen in unexpected locations, those against them have to rationalize an excuse, any excuse, why they are bad.
Thus, those who go barefooted are really usually battling social convention, not any intrinsic problem with being barefooted.
[A repost from September of 2011.]
Here are two quick examples where we see that it is the context that matters, not any true antipathy:
Eating barefoot at a restaurant can really make people freak out. “But food is being served.” Yet, it is not as if anybody is eating with their feet or because it is a real health issue. We can see the role of context (and social convention) because nobody has any trouble with restaurants with outdoor seating. If feet emitted magic death rays, they would do so regardless of location (including your own dinner table).
People are also often concerned about bare feet indoors at public venues, like libraries. “It’s safety!”, they’ll cry. Yet, when I go hiking, or even bushwhacking, I have never had anybody try to stop me, or have a Park District make a rule against it. Of course, hiking outside presents at least an order of magnitude higher risk of (mostly small) injury than some pristine place like a library.
I was reminded of this role of context and violating social conventions by a story in a local newspaper about a nearby high school’s homecoming dance. Here’s one of the pictures:
Social convention says that it is okay for women to remove their foot-killers, er, um, I mean, high heels when they dance. So it’s allowed and nobody makes a fuss about it.
From the picture, it looks possible that all the young women were going barefoot at this point. That had become the new social convention, and I bet you that the social pressure to remove shoes would have been felt pretty strongly by any young woman remaining shod.
If one of the boys had done so, you can bet they would have been looked at askance. That’s not part of the social convention. They are bucking what “society” knows if they do so.
This social convention is so strong that it can even neutralize official rules.
The homecoming dance was held in the high school itself. Yet, this is what the Student Handbook says about student dress (complete with the capital letters):
THESE GUIDELINES ARE TO BE REGARDED AS MINIMAL ACCEPTABLE STANDARDS AND TEACHERS, OR SPONSORS OF EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES, MAY WITH THE ADINISTRATIVE APPROVAL, IMPOSE ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR THE GENERAL SAFETY, HYGIENE, OR APPEARANCE OF THE GROUP.
* * *
1. Students must wear shoes at all times.
It is clear that this rule applied at the homecoming dance, since wearing shoes at all times is the minimum, and even stricter rules can be made for extra-curricular actives (which, of course, is what the homecoming dance was).
But obviously, the rule was not enforced. Why? Social context.
This also puts the lie to the thought that the administrators really believe that there are real safety or hygiene issues with bare feet, or they would have jumped to enforce the rule. But they did not.
Finally, here’s a picture of their Homecoming Court.
Again, there’s the social context that it is perfectly acceptable for young women to appear in such an event barefoot, even to the point that they’d pose for an official picture that way.
It’s all about expectations.