SEX AND THE SHOES

Valerie Steele once suggested that some men exhibit an almost Pavlovian response to the
sight of a woman in high heels. Shoes play an important part in what is culturally considered to be sexy, and have long been objects of fetishism. The erotic aspects of footwear can be an empowering expression of sexuality or can identify the wearer as a passive source
of pleasure . The sexualization and genderization of high-heeled shoes, especially, exerts a constant fascination on the popular imagination, and a particular way of walking – epitomized by the stiletto wiggle of Marilyn Monroe – is intimately associated with this phenomenon. The allure of high heels, it has been argued, is down to the way they force out a woman’s breasts and buttocks, and make her hips move from side to side as she walks. The attenuated position of the feet in high heels has even been compared to the flexed feet of a woman during orgasm.

Chinese foot-binding resulted in a mincing gait similar to that fashioned by modern high
heels. However impossible it may seem to us today, women with bound feet did move about, as evidenced by footage in anthropological films made from the early twentieth century,
but also as testified to by the women themselves. In time, the body adjusted to the constraints
of tiny, bound feet It is likely that the idea of foot-binding originated with palace dancers of the Tang dynasty who were favoured for their naturally tiny feet, dainty steps and apparent lightness.