Do conservatives dislike women’s shoes?

A common trope for the conservative sophist is to claim that all the miseries of modern life were absent in the Edenic golden past, and therefore a return to living in the manner of our ancestors (eg. women barefoot and pregnant),…[emphasis added]

– LP blogger Mercurius

The claim that conservatives want to keep women ‘barefoot and pregnant’ is a feminist-leftist cliche, but it is a rather puzzling charge. The pregnant part I understand; that it is women’s role to have and raise kids is a reasonable caricature of conservative views. But barefoot? Despite having spent much time in my 20s reading conservatives, I recall no passages on the dangerous properties of women’s footwear. (Indeed, it was the feminists themselves who turned women’s shoes into something of a political issue, and in my student politics days it was lefties who used to wander around barefoot.)

Nor do conservatives typically idealise an ‘Edenic golden age’ before the ‘miseries of modern life’. According to another leftist cliche, they want to take us back to the 1950s, which is well into the period of ‘modern life’. (And indeed it is leftists who who get taken in by ‘noble savage’ stories about an idyllic life before the corrupting materialism of modern life, and condemn conservatives for their lack of sympathy for traditional Aboriginal life, in which women really were barefoot.)

My many books of word and phrase origins fail to help explain ‘barefoot and pregnant’, but Wikipedia suggests that:

The phrase “barefoot and pregnant” was probably coined on August 27, 1963, by Rep. Paul Van Dalsem, an Arkansas state legislator. Van Dalsem, frustrated with the efforts of the Arkansas Division of the American Association of University Women, told a Little Rock civic club that in his home town that if a woman “starts poking around in something she doesn’t know anything about,” then “we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.”

So perhaps the idea is that women can’t go out if they don’t have shoes, but it seems to be a rather eccentric idea to have taken off as symbolising conservative attitudes. Taking away their car keys might be a better method in 20th century America.

And if ‘barefoot and pregnant’ is indeed a relatively recent addition to political language, it is not likely to be one of the dead or near-dead metaphors and allusions found in various stock phrases, with ‘barefoot’ having now lost general connotations. If Mercurius had kept the cliches coming and said ‘gays and lesbians in the closet’, instead of ‘poofs and dykes silent and invisible’, the meaning of the phrase would have been clear, even if these days the metaphorical use of ‘closet’ is probably more common than the literal use. Some conservatives are uncomfortable about homosexuality.

But no conservative – other than perhaps Paul van Dalsem – seem to be uncomfortable about women’s shoes, or against women going out.

Any further sources on the origins of this phrase, and theories about why it appeals to anti-conservatives, are welcome.

50 thoughts on “Do conservatives dislike women’s shoes?

  1. I’m a conservative (sort of) who is uncomfortable with high heels: I think they’re unattractive, and yes, they do seem a little masochistic to me.

    Then again, as a “sex-positive” feminist may tell you, high heels do have connotations of power and domination, and as some women seem to find them sexually empowering, some men may find them threatening (Paul Van Dalsem for instance).

    My theory of why it appeals to anti-conservatives presumes they subscribe to the latter view. In this reading, the alleged conservative disdain for shoes expresses the desire to castrate the phallic, sexually assertive female.

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  2. A key part of traditional conservative ideology is that a woman’s place is in the home, tending to the needs of husband and children; hence barefoot, though probably more metaphorically than literally, except in rural Arkansas circa 1963.

    You might say that conservatives no longer believe that a women’s place is in the home. if so, let me refer you to the Endeavour Forum, http://www.endeavourforum.org.au, a splendid organisation that keeps 1850s (that’s 1850s not 1950s) values alive, and the opinion pieces they write about contemporary Australia. The Endeavour Forum’s head honcho, the irrepressible Babette Francis, had John Howard’s ear, and cannot be ignored.

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  3. Spiros – The Endeavour Forum may have had John Howard’s ear, but people wanting to put their kids in childcare had his cash.

    Anyhow, for the purposes of caricature I am happy to concede the general point about the role of women. It was the barefoot bit that puzzled me.

    It has to be very metaphorical to make sense, at least on the explanations I have seen so far.

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  4. It was the barefoot bit that puzzled me.

    I’ll say. Lefties are always trying to create images through myth.

    Spiro must have seen that great old movie, Barefoot in the Park and is trying to put it in present day context while adding his own imprint on the script. LOL.

    Spiro, would you mind giving one reference of a conseravtive that demanded “baby factories” walk around barefoot. Just one. I’ll wait at the front door for this one.

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  5. That was our cash, not his cash, and the stay at homes got a big slice of it with Family Tax Benefit B. Pregnant women got the Baby Bonus if they didn’t abort their foetus.

    Anyway, metaphors can be very useful, like “latte left”, a favourite sneer of conservatives, intended the evoke the image of inner city-ism, even though you can get a latte anywhere. It has the additional benefit of being alliterative.

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  6. JC, it’s a metaphor. Do you know what they are?

    Really? So you didn’t watch Barefoot in the park for inspiration.

    Oh, ok , I get it’s that old 80’s retread you’re using here. Sorry, Spiros, I last heard it in the 80’s and had forgotten that it was to create an image of the big bad conservative.

    So are you making changes to the script in the re-write to give it that sharp political edge by turning Robert Redford into a horrid conservative? LOL.

    Act1 scene 1:

    Angry conservative exists elevator and enters apartment, looks around and doesn’t see baby factory. Begins to scowl and appear visibly angry.

    Redford: Honey I’m home….(screams next part) Where’s Dinner!

    Baby factory in kitchen looking frightened.

    And so on………………….

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  7. You might say that conservatives no longer believe that a women’s place is in the home. if so, let me refer you to the Endeavour Forum, http://www.endeavourforum.org.au, a splendid organisation that keeps 1850s (that’s 1850s not 1950s) values alive, and the opinion pieces they write about contemporary Australia. The Endeavour Forum’s head honcho, the irrepressible Babette Francis, had John Howard’s ear, and cannot be ignored.

    I’ll see you and raise you , Spiros.

    Several senior ALP frontbenchers signed a friendship letter requesting that Hugo Chavez come to Australia on a speaking tour. These aren’t like people who have “Howard’s ear”. these are people Kev sits in front of in parliament!

    It’s a interesting proposition that Chavez could give our left fresh ideas, donch think?. LOL>

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  8. Andrew

    Oh thank you for this thread. And what about the “John Howard is a monarchist who wants to take us back to the 1950s” shtick? Howard was a radical who was trying to rid Australia of the last vestiges of the 1950s.

    And monarchist? ROFL. He spent all his time ganging on with Asians and Americans, and wouldn’t let Aunty Betty anywhere near even a bloody ribbon to cut.

    Some Luvvie-Leftists say the darndest things.

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  9. JC, I didn’t see that movie and have no idea what you allusion you are trying to make.

    Got a link to that letter to Chavez? Or even a list of who signed it?

    Not that it’s a bad idea. If he came I’d record his talks on DVD and make it compulsory viewing in schools so that all kids get to hear him.

    Especially yours.

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  10. JC, I didn’t see that movie and have no idea what you allusion you are trying to make.

    That’s amazing. The imagery you created was straight out of the scrip. 🙂
    I used to live quite close to the building where they originally filmed it for a time. Is yours going to use the same location?

    Got a link to that letter to Chavez? Or even a list of who signed it?

    Look up the Australian Venezuelan friendship society. I must warn you though that they have taken out lots of signatories since it first appeared. I wonder why? I’m up there representing the Global warming and Fair Pay Institute which rivals the Evatt foundation in terms and think tank output. I personally would welcome Chavez doing a tour here. Seriously. Infact I could think of nothing better.

    Not that it’s a bad idea. If he came I’d record his talks on DVD and make it compulsory viewing in schools so that all kids get to hear him.
    Especially yours.

    No please. One was forced to endure Aboriginal Proof Fence and Inconvenient lies, so I think that’s enough propaganda for a young impressionable mind.

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  11. “the stay at homes got a big slice of it with Family Tax Benefit B”

    I’d point out that, as FTB A is means tested on family income, most of it goes to no income and one income families too. (Same goes for means-tested Child Care Benefit, even though you would have thought that it was aimed fair and square at two-income families.)

    I’d even go so far as to suggest that part of JH’s objective behind the expansion of FTB A was to improve incentives for women to stay at home. And clearly the Baby Bonus is about keeping them pregnant (or at least more often pregnant than they would otherwise choose to be). But as to the kind of footwear they wear (or not) – presumably the gentleman from Arkansas knew that respectable (even if uppity) women would not be seen barefoot in public.

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  12. JC, I looked it up. Not a single federal Labor front bencher to be seen. Very disappointing.

    I saw you there though. You’re such a joker. It’d be really funny if ASIO looked up this list and decided that all the people on it are dangerous radicals who should have their phones tapped and email screened. You can’t be too careful these days.

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  13. BG – Though if so it is another failed scheme – my calculation from the the ABS labour market stats is that 62.8% of married women were in the workforce in March 1996, and 69.8% in November 2007.

    ‘Working families’ have never had it so good.

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  14. High heels = Women who voluntarily hobble themselves for the sake of aesthetics. How is that empowering?

    BTW I would say the same about supposedly ‘respectable’ men’s fashion like suits and ties in Australian summers. Clothing should be functional, like all those people wearing the same gear in sci-fi movies.

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  15. JC, I looked it up. Not a single federal Labor front bencher to be seen. Very disappointing.

    There were and then mysteriously disappeared from the screen. Can’t recal their names. There’s afew state reps though……

    I saw you there though. You’re such a joker. It’d be really funny if ASIO looked up this list and decided that all the people on it are dangerous radicals who should have their phones tapped and email screened. You can’t be too careful these days.

    What listening to me berate my broker for missing a trade or trying to figure why two idiots think the break of a 200 day moving average for BHP carries vital national importance? They can be my guest anytime. They would die of boredom.

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  16. High heels = Women who voluntarily hobble themselves for the sake of aesthetics. How is that empowering?

    Who cares? On a pair of straight, slight tanned legs it’s better than a sunday roast or in my case something more Medit.

    But it does empower women in a certain way these days i think. As women are really no longer the 50’s barefoot in the park doormats Spiros claims they were they have independence , sexual allure and money to burn in some cases..

    To be honest there were some truly great looking intelligent gals on Wall Street who really dressed up with all the heels etc.

    Put intelligence, great looks and body, nice and expensive dress sense and a very high income together in a package and that person has a pretty strong postion in the pecking order in our social structure.

    these gals weren’t forced to dress like a Prade runway model. They wanted to dress like that and guys were subservient to them. Never pretend sexual allure isn’t used to sell a junk bond by the gal trying to sell the thing. It is.

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  17. “Clothing should be functional, like all those people wearing the same gear in sci-fi movies.”

    😛 I agree, largely, though when it comes to the delicate matter of the wearing of hats inside, I think it just. shouldn’t. be. done. And I have no idea what bow ties are about, but they’re still kinda fun.

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  18. But I agree with you on that, Andrew. I was just positing what I believe to be one of the primary motivations behind the expansion of FTB – I didn’t say that it had worked.

    I think that JH and some of his Ministers sincerely believed that many women only go out to work because staying home is not a viable choice and I don’t doubt that they hoped to change that. But (fortunately or unfortunately depending on your point of view) women seem to be more firmly attached to the labour market than that.

    And while it is probably true that working families have never had it so good, it is also the case that non-working families have never had it so good either, since many of the beneficial changes (eg substantial increases in rates of family assistance) have also flowed through to them.

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  19. I’ve been hearing the expression ‘Keep her barefoot and pregnant’ since I was a kid in the 1960s, and I always took it for granted that the barefoot part alluded to not giving one’s wife any money, which of course means she won’t be able to buy shoes at all, much less go out in them. The implication is that even if she does go out barefoot, pregnancy will still make sure that no other man will be interested in her.

    The saying dates back to the time when a married woman with a job was not only an aberration but a shameful aberration, as in ‘Tch, he can’t afford to support his wife [and kids]’, which in turn meant that a married woman was totally dependent on her husband for cash unless she was independently wealthy.

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  20. Andrew

    While it would take more research than I have time for, I would think that you will find that single earner families have done better out of tax-transfer changes (which is what governments have control of) than two-earner families over the past 10 years, for the reasons Backroom Girl advanced – they get most of the benefits of FTBB and share disproportionately in FTBA. The rise in the share of 2 earner families doesn’t necessarily mean that they have never had it so good – you need real income not imputed income to pay a mortgage, but as BG suggests there is probably a change in attitudes (partly cohort driven).

    The phrase seems to date from the 1960s:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barefoot_and_pregnant

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  21. Peter – If so, all the worse from a conservative perspective. Encouraging single parent families! It tends to support the view that more than anything Howard simply believed in helping people with kids, regardless of family arrangements. While he did believe women should be able to stay at home while their children were young, a conservative view, as a policy instrument it was packaged up with support for single parents, an anti-conservative stance. It’s all light years away from the ‘barefoot and pregnant’ stuff of left-wing imagination.

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  22. I must admit, Andrew, I’ve always been quite amused by the fact that the group that benefited the most from the Howard government largesse to (single income) families was single parent families. I’ve never been able to work out whether that was deliberate, inadvertent or simply the inevitable outcome of wanting to favour single-income couples, while avoiding charges of discrimination from what must now be the largest category of single-income families, single parents.

    You wouldn’t know it if you listen to the single-parent lobby though – as far as they are concerned, the Howard government had it in for them from Day One.

    In fact, the improvements to family assistance were so generous to non-working single parents over the years that by the time the government introduced the Welfare to Work changes that meant some single parents would have to go onto unemployment benefits, the real value of that alternative income support package was still significantly ahead of what the single parent pension plus family assistance had been worth back in 1996.

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  23. According to the Australian’s George Megalogenis, it was resentment about Welfare to Work that created the huge swings against Howard in certain seats, such as Blair, where there were large numbers of single mothers.

    What a delicious irony.

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  24. Spiros:

    Let me get this right:

    Howard’s defeat was caused by the fact that single mothers resented self reliance and readily accepted a bribe from the other party fro having less severe state support. In short, these single mothers demand that the state compensate them for having unprotected sex with their partner. Meanwhile their partner is not held financially responsible for the child he’s helped create.

    And you find this deliciously ironic? Ummmmm Can I use you as my accountatnt to balance my chequebook.?

    Not for nothing: we shouldn’t care if these single mothers had 20 children each to different men as it isn’t any of our business, but the rest of us should hardly be held financially responsible. Aren’t you creating a high level of moral hazard here?

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  25. JC:

    What percentage of single mothers became pregnant due to having unprotected sex then refusing to consider an abortion or adoption, do you think?

    Anyway, whatever the reason they ended up that way, single parents who devote their lives to raising kids are performing a vital service to the economy. Why on earth shouldn’t they be paid for it?

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  26. Re Jason on suits: my dad wore the classic ensemble of shorts, sandals and knee high socks to work in the Brissie summer (he was a meteorologist). You too could be such a trendsetter!

    Must say I’ve only heard of ‘barefoot and pregnant’ in combination with ‘in the kitchen’. Personally, my opinion is barefoot is ideal if you are in the kitchen, and that certainly anything with heels on it is a very bad idea. But I might be a bit more careless in terms of dropping slippery stuff on the floor than your average domestic cook. As a result, though, I very much associate the whole thing with keeping the women in the house, and therefore with the particular brand of conservatism that wants to do just that. Choosing to go barefoot outside in fact is therefore rebellion against just those sorts of standards.

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  27. Andrew,

    While the phrase was referenced throughout my four years of women’ studies, the origins were not. However, I always thought it was actually a middle ages/ pre Industrial revolution reference- where women has no rights, no property rights and without effective contraception where pre-destined to a life of pregnancy. And were bare foot (lower classes obviously). Of course I’m not discounting that most men had no political rights during this time either.

    On high heels, as you may have surmised, I am a big fan of high heels- they are especially helpful when one is tall and wants to see over the top of a crowded event. Plus they look great with everything! Feminist critiques centre on the notion of sexual conformity and objectification. Thus, high heels, lipstick etc are the trade tools of presenting as sexy and conform to a fetish of what it is to be a woman- object of masculine desire. Sexual politics and connotations are complex but to a greater extent I think women have choices now about what they wear and sexy can be anything- barefeet or high heels. Lipstick, Chanel perfume, or jeans and a t-shirt and make up free. Plus, there is an increasing pressure on men to be sexually attractive – in a world where women earn their own money, own their own property, emotionally nourish each other and engage in their own intellectual pursuits. For better or worse, women no longer need men to ensure their material survival… so really all a man has to offer a modern straight woman that she can’t get anywhere else- is sex- and it better fun! M

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  28. Michelle – So the feminist revenge on men is to make them go through the expense and anxiety of looking good that women have long suffered?

    A related factor is people getting married much later; general appearance standards tend to go downhill after marriage and particularly after children.

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  29. Of course not Andrew- no one wants an anxious man in the bedroom:) Actually, I think on the sexual politics side- much of the work tobe done is actually with men now. The opportunity is for men to end up in same free kind of playful state that women can choose to stand from.
    And I think it is still the case that a man who can make a woman laugh, followed by the man who can hold engaging (but not self absorbed) conversations, still has the floor in a woman’s heart.
    I think though there is a timeliness in making a distinction here between pursuing sex (an Act) and developing a strong sense of one’s sensuality and sexuality- as something that is shared with others- through flirtations, dressing, conversations, dance, even philosophy. Whatever is one’s talents for the shared delight of both. That each sex developing our sensuality- makes the world a better place!

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  30. “The opportunity is for men to end up in same free kind of playful state that women can choose to stand from.”

    Though despite feminism, men still have to get on with the serious business of running all but a relative handful of the country’s major organsitions:)

    As for sex and philosophy, I think this is one of the all-time sales-killer book sub-titles:

    Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation

    The author? Appropriately for this thread, conservative philosopher Roger Scruton.

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  31. Well Andrew, given my own thesis was on lust- I’d have to say it was a wonderful year of research… intellectually of course:):)… well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. And I have Scruton’s book and it is a moral story about the sacredness of marriage rather than anything about sex!

    And yes it is a sad and sorry state that men have to runt he world- how awfully tedious for them. Goodness knows, the majority of women are smart enough to realise that more work is no liberation.

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  32. Michelle – And being male, my theses (two, if you count the unfinished one) were about philosophies guiding state action.

    At least, I suppose, with a thesis on lust you can try out your theories without having to win an election first:)

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  33. What percentage of single mothers became pregnant due to having unprotected sex then refusing to consider an abortion or adoption, do you think?

    According to spiro, quite lot. Enought to help cost Hoawrd the election as these single mother were forced to gop to work. So ask him.

    Anyway, whatever the reason they ended up that way, single parents who devote their lives to raising kids are performing a vital service to the economy. Why on earth shouldn’t they be paid for it?

    Because no one has a right to ask me to raise their kids. Ask the deadbeat father to pay for his kid.

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  34. “Ask the deadbeat father to pay for his kid.”

    Excellent idea. But you’ve got to find them first, and then get the money out them, assuming they have any.

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  35. JC, no-one’s asking you to raise their kids. You’re simply expected to put a small percentage of your income towards a common pool of funds that is used to benefit all society. Seeing as the continuation of society depends on the raising of children, this hardly seems unreasonable.

    OTOH – there is evidence that single parents and their kids both do better when the parent is also working, depending on what sort of work and what sort of alternative child care there is available.

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  36. Great moral hazard there NP. Have unprotected sex then hit “society” to help pay for my kid. After all dropping the kid helps the country. Does it? How exactly? We’re not short of immigration.

    It usreasonable to me that I have pay for it,

    spiros says:
    Excellent idea. But you’ve got to find them first, and then get the money out them, assuming they have any.

    Stop paying and I’m sure the girl ill find the other party. Money makes everyone have an IQ of 150. I’m sure they could easily be foound and if she had multiple partners over a short period of time run a DNA test.

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  37. JC, show me one piece of evidence that payments to single parents increase moral hazard.

    The risks of having unprotected sex are many.
    I don’t accept the knowledge that you will be assured some financial assistance if you accidentally get pregant, bring a baby to term and choose to keep it makes any real difference to the woman, and certainly wouldn’t to the man, who has just as much responsibility in the matter.

    What would almost certainly happen if all financial assistance for single parents was removed is an increase in a) abortions, including late-term ones, b) abandonments, c) malnourishment and neglect of children.

    Further, the vast majority of single parents are that way because of divorce, not unprotected sex. Before divorce became legally straightforward and commonplace in the ’70s, there were far fewer single parent families.
    Contraception and sexual responsibility has only improved since then (not least due to the fear of AIDS etc.).

    There is a small moral hazard attached to automatic payments to single parents – it may discourage them from finding a paid job that fufills their own ambitions outside of child-rearing. But make no mistake, child-rearing is a tough, full-time job. There’s not a day that my wife doesn’t work at least twice as hard as I do.

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  38. BTW, the countries with the lowest abortion rates in the world, presumably a good proxy of the lowest rates of unprotected casual sex in the world, are the Netherlands and Belgium. Those countries also have generous levels of single parent assistance.

    There is no moral hazard.

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  39. I don’t know where or when the phrase “barefoot and pregnant” originated, but it (or a variant) was certainly used before Rep. Paul Van Dalsem of Arkansas used it in 1963. I recall seeing the movie “Never so Few”, a Hollywood movie set in Burma in WW2, featuring Frank Sinatra, Gina Lollobrigida and Steve McQueen. Although I saw it in the early 1960s it was actually made in 1959 (according to Wikipedia). The Sinatra and Lollobrigida characters were the love interest. In one scene, Sinatra was giving la Lollo a lesson on marital reality, saying words to the effect (to the best of my imperfect recollection), “If you married me I’d keep you barefoot, pregnant and on the edge of town”.

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  40. It’ds older than that: I’m looking at the Tuesday, May 22, 1945, Pacific Edition of The Stars and Stripes (the U.S. Armed Forces Daily) and at the bottom of the front page there’s an article titled “GIs Play Nurse to Oki’s Orphans” in which I find ….”‘Barefoot and pregnant’ seems the fashion in Okinawa society”, where ‘barefoot and pregnant’ is already a quoted phrase.

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  41. Barefoot and pregnant in 1919: if you search Google Books, you will find this:
    “The mountaineers down in North Carolina used to say that to keep a woman faithful you should keep her barefoot and pregnant.”
    in the 1919 Proceedings of the Annual Business Meeting of the American Railway Association!

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  42. Presumably mountaineers were a different breed in 1919 to nowadays – not sure why people who climb mountains should have all that much interest in keeping their womenfolk unshod, unless it was to ensure that they were still around when they came back occasionally to do the impregnation bit 🙂

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  43. Russell – Very helpful detective work, thanks. Paul Van Daslem may have made this expression politically notorious, but clearly it was already a stock phrase.

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  44. According to Google Books, Museums Journal 1901 contains

    “One of these…symbolises the women left behind, who continued to work the land. She is represented by a wooden sculpture, 2.5 metres tall, pregnant and barefoot”.

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  45. Couldn’t it just be that some women find it easier on their back pain when pregnant if they are barefoot? It seems to me it is one phrase and its meaning rather than two, and you are approaching it incorrectly.

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