I’m missing the point of high heels

(A version of this post appeared as a column in The Sault Star)

The teetering question one recent Saturday was if a bunch of men could Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.

Suffering Sault Ste. Marie males donned two-inch red high heels and strutted or stumbled to raise funds for Women in Crisis (Algoma) Inc., to combat violence against women and children.

I did not take part. I need heavy-duty orthotics just to walk down a supermarket aisle. But reading about the event I couldn’t help wonder this:

Why would anyone — male, female or the gender of one’s choice — want to walk even a few paces in those instruments of tootsie torture?

Consider that 1.6 kilometres (a mile) is not a taxing distance; according to my Fitbit I tread nine or 10 Ks in an average day.

Yet the Walk a Mile site promised “a variety of foot care items” at a first aid station and suggested wearing band-aids to prevent blisters. Safer to play goalie without a cup, methinks. Or take up foot-binding.

Consequences of wearing heels can include lumbar spine flattening, posterior displacement of the head, spasm-producing spinal nerve conditions, bunions, tendonitis, heel spurs, stress fractures and, for relief, pulsing, constrictive, numbing pain. 

Sounds like giving birth through your arches.

So I think we can safely assume that physical pleasure has nothing to do with strutting heels.

Even women who wear heels daily tend to have a pair of flats in their locker, their desk drawer or their humongous purse to change into with groans of relief audible in the next building. 

Flats are part of the uniform of maids of honour and bridesmaids at weddings, to be donned as soon as the half-day of formal photographs is over.

Now, I would not dream — not nightmare — of telling a woman what to wear on her feet, even though dictating what women do with their bodies seems to be all the rage these days.

I know a few women with a cornucopia of high heels spilling from their closets; these women might chew up a scoffing male and spit out his pathetic bones.

But why wear them? It’s OK to ask, isn’t it.

There might be two reasons, not necessarily unrelated: femininity and power.

Scientists, apparently to satisfy my curiosity, conducted this experiment:

They attached glow-in-the-dark dots on women in both heels and flats, filmed them walking, then showed the images of just those moving dots to both men and women, asking them the gender of the walker.

Every single image identified as male was a woman wearing flats. Both male and female viewers found the walkers wearing heels unmistakably feminine.

High heels exaggerate how women walk, reducing the stride, increasing the rotation and tilt of the hips. As the Walk a Mile web page advises, put your shoulders back, tuck in your stomach, stick out your chest and heel-toe-heel-toe.

Other scientists, bless them, had women drop a glove. A man retrieved it 60% of the time, but that rose to 95% if the woman was wearing heels.

Then they watched women in bars (I guess that makes you a scientist, buddy). Women wearing heels were approached twice as fast as the same women in flats.

As for power, well, heels are the foundation of the power suit for female lawyers, professionals, executives.

They reason it doesn’t hurt to cushion the blow of bossing men around by displaying a feminine walk. And it doesn’t hurt to be four inches taller, because the business and professional worlds tend to give bigger salaries and better jobs to tall people. Scientists have studied that to death as well.

To put a point on it, I’m told spiked heels are the footwear of choice of dominatrixes.

So the answer to why women wear high heels might be “beats me.”

But men, if a woman should dangle a high heel from her stockinged foot and invite you to drink alcohol from it, as was fashionable a century ago and persists in frat houses today, tell her to forget it.

You might choke on a band-aid.