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SocietyNovember 26, 2018

Where and when are bare feet all good? A historic Spinoff debate


In a bank? In a shop? On a plane? On a train? Where exactly is it appropriate to wear bare feet? The Spinoff’s own Don Rowe and Madeleine Chapman duke it out.

Today shocking news broke of a woman denied access to Sylvia Park on account of her bare feet. The story sparked furious and passionate debate at Spinoff HQ, where even the very idea of what it means to be a New Zealander was up for discussion. Here is part of that conversation.

This story was originally published in November 2018

UPDATE 4.25pm Is this in fact Grammy-winning artist Donald Glover AKA Childish Gambino in bare feet on an Auckland street? 

Don Rowe: The decision by security to remove barefoot Auckland woman Rachelle McDonald from Sylvia Park this weekend is disgusting and abhorrent. It is a fundamental and inalienable human right to feel the ground one walks on.

Madeleine Chapman: I’m not here to argue that this woman deserved to be removed by security because that feels excessive. But I am here to argue that walking around in a shopping mall in the city without shoes or socks on is just gross.

DR: Eating boiled eggs is gross. Oysters are gross, scones are gross, scallops and pork are gross. But I’ll die to defend your right to shucking a freshie, even in public. As a wee boy I walked 3km to school and back rain, hail or snow, and it toughened me physically and mentally, my psyche hardening like the skin of my feet. We must cherish our opportunities to build national character.

MC: I’m not against bare feet in public. I have spent so much time without shoes on because it’s more comfortable and often more practical. Not in the city, though. I’m against bare feet in places where no feet should go bare. Like a shopping mall carpark and the gross floor of a supermarket. There is no purpose to bare feet on vinyl besides making your feet grotty. Bare feet at the park, yes. Bare feet at the beach, absolutely. Bare feet on a sunny day walking down to the dairy, sure. Bare feet while pushing a trolley around a brightly lit mall far from any beach, park, or pool? Piss right off.

DR: Purpose?! The purpose is to assert yourself as tangata whenua, to say proudly to the world, “I am a Kiwi and these are my feet.” The purpose is to remind the state that while they might own the roads and the skies and have a fearsome monopoly on force, they don’t own me, or my feet. Consider this: never has a foot become smelly without a shoe to constrain it. In a world of rising fascism, do we want to cede a single liberty? To restrict spaces to only those in footwear? Bare feet are one of the few things that unify us across class lines in an increasingly stratified New Zealand.

MC: Look, my reaction to people walking around on gross mall flooring in bare feet is the same as my reaction to people putting their shoes up on couches and tables. If you’re consistent, and bare feet is your natural position and you act accordingly, you do you. Shoes can be dirtied by the city and the roads and the skies and force, and then shoes can be removed. When your shoes are the bottoms of your feet, what do you do when you get home and have to take your shoes off so as not to dirty the carpet?

DR: Dirty the carpet? The carpet is basically one huge scum filter anyway.

MC: Yeah only because people and their gross shoes have walked all over it!

DR: Listen, I shower once a day, most days, sometimes twice. Every shower I wash my feet. How many times in the past EVER have you washed the sole of your shoe? I think this is less about hygiene and more about control.

MC: Maybe. I love to walk around in bare feet all the time. Shoes are restricting. But I’d rather do it in nature, where the natural body can meet the natural world. Not in the mall.

DR: This isn’t a debate around preference. We’re talking human rights violations.

MC: I can stand with Rachelle and her right to walk around the mall in whatever she wants. I just want some consistency in this country. If we’re going to be a barefoot nation then be a barefoot nation. Not a barefoot nation that actually loves shoes so much they’ll stand on other people’s furniture in them.

DR: When Kupe leapt from his waka in the distant mists of history he did not do so in Chuck Taylors. Kupe’s feet were free as the mighty manu that glide still above Aotearoa. Kiwi kids are not just weet bix kids, but barefoot kids too. Wearing bare feet is a celebration of our needle-free streets, an outright acknowledgement of the pristine nation in which we live. Take the national flag, drop the Union Jack and replace it with ten free-range patriot toes. I will take my feet on a plane and on a train. I will march shoe-free up the stairs of parliament singing Wandering Eye and I will cripwalk my way barefoot down Queen Street.   

MC: I have nothing against kids in bare feet. I agree we are lucky to live in a country where it’s possible to be so free of shoe jails. I’ll sign your petition. And I’ll stand by this country in all its barefoot glory. But if the gathering is in a mall, I’ll be standing in my jandals.

DR: I stand barefoot with Rachelle McDonald, of Panmure, against fascism in all its forms.

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