High Heels: An Indication of Power, or a Fig Leaf of Patriarchy?

The high heel is a beautifully crafted design; a sculpture selectively curved so as to accentuate a woman’s physique.

The evolved man has learned to be attracted to women with prominent reproductive features that are indicative of good health and fertility. Men can thus become aroused simply by a woman’s sensual shape. However, it is far more about desire than consummation; the man is so fascinated by the mere thought of what is underneath the woman’s garments, that skin exposure itself is unnecessary.  A study conducted by Morris confirmed this idea as he showed groups of men video images of twenty-four female models wearing both high heels and flat shoes. Each model was judged to be more attractive in high heels when compared to the flat shoes. Furthermore, the high heels proved enough to reduce the impact of such factors as higher BMI (Body Mass Index).

For females, the high heel may stand for power and confidence as the added inches pedestalise the woman, yet with this come connotations of sexual availability opposed to romantic capability.  It may be argued that high heels are a display of our patriarchal society; a fig leaf of female empowerment disguising sordid male desires. Many women, who prefer functionality over fashion, contest that this design only makes it harder for a woman to escape men. This fact is true, both literally and figuratively, as a woman in high heels is often more dependent on a man for support whilst walking and driving, yet it may even become relevant in terms of emotion, should those red bottoms be a conveniently timed post-argument gift.

Throughout history, and across cultures, sexual conditioning has often been foot related. For example, wealthy Japanese families broke and bangled their daughters’ feet in efforts to reduce their size, as small feet were believed to be more attractive to males as well as acting as a sign of wealth. The male preference for small feet is, however, questionable; Daniel Fessler, a UCLA anthropologist, has observed that it would be more reasonable for men to have evolved a preference for women with larger feet, as the increased surface area would make the female less prone to accident during pregnancy.

Christian Louboutin is one of the largest names in the shoe industry. While growing up in France, he was quickly engulfed by the charm of the nation’s capital, Paris. At sixteen years old, he began to work for Folies Berger, learning how to sew sequins onto costumes, before gaining his cobbling skills from the well-known shoe designer, Charles Jourdan.

Louboutin has received numerous criticisms for creating his notorious super high heels, to which he has responded: “Sometimes I feel offended when people are telling me that I'm obliging women to be perched on super high heels, it is crazy and it is out of nature." He may be correct, yet he may in turn be capitalizing on a fault in our patriarchal society. On the surface he is an artist and a visionary who has constructed a monumental sculpture able to increase a woman’s beauty, however, is this a true beauty, or a beauty seen through the glazed glass window of patriarchy?