I've been thinking about them a bit lately. Pondering high heels tells me, I think, something about my own femininity. But first, let's take a look around.
So much for the official history. How about this one? Oscar Kiss Maerth, in a distasteful pseudoscientific work from the 1970s, called The Beginning was the End postulated that modern humans evolved from a more primitive species of cannibalistic, brain-eating ape, which nonetheless had several behaviours in common with modern humans (though being unclothed, cross-dressing isn't among them):
Maerth: The rape of the female apes was... no simple matter and the mating could not be carried out as is usual among apes, that is, with the male animal entering the female from behind... Therefore the females normally had to be pulled to the ground by several cannibal ape-men and laid on their backs so that they could be raped... The legs of the females being raped were raised when they lay in this position and the tips of the feet were extended forward at the moment of orgasm so that the ball of the foot was pushed up. This was a sexually exciting sight for the males... and has remained in their subconscious right up to the present. That is why female legs with the tips of the foot stretched downwards and the [heels] of the feet raised are still sexually stimulating today. This is the origin of high heels.
|Man the pumps!|
The best book about crossdressing ever written is, in my opinion, My Husband Betty by Helen Boyd. This book is simply stunning: insightful, articulate, powerfully written, forthright to the point of agony, deeply sympathetic and yet occasionally ruthless. I couldn't finish it in one go, since the book told me so many things about myself that I couldn't confront them all at once; the book still makes uncomfortable reading, since it so effectively demolishes the facade I live behind. You can find Boyd's blog, which is regularly updated, here, and I intend to explore many of her other points in future blog entries.
Here she is, in typical style, giving it both barrels. Watch also her deliberate use of pronouns.
Boyd: Meredith tells me that her husband Victoria claims to be more comfortable in women's clothes. "How can he tell me that? They're not comfortable. I have to wear them. I know they're not comfortable. He's full of it." I can't help but agree. High heels, bras and pantyhose are not comfortable, and the types of lingerie many crossdressers really love-- garters, stockings, and corsets-- are something close to sartorial torture. What I've learned is that Victoria means he is psychologically comfortable, and that dressing as a woman satisfies him so deeply that the physical discomfort is immaterial.Ouch! Once again, Boyd hits home here. After a lovely day of crossdressing, the next day I sometimes get a twinge (say in my ankle) which reminds me of the previous day. It may be physically uncomfortable, but since these episodes are few, I welcome reminders of them. And high heels are painful! And awkward to balance in. Despite much experimentation and very careful balancing, I still can't walk comfortably or naturally in stilettos, although wedge heels are easier to balance and walk around in.
High heels have become a powerful expression of femininity. This is associated with the traditional (outdated!) notion of women being delicate and sensitive creatures, ill-suited to coarse manual work. It's also associated with beauty (since high heeled shoes are deliberately highly crafted with lots of gorgeous detail); with reward (since they are expensive, women reward themselves with buying new shoes); and with sex appeal (for which high-heels are practically a synecdoche). High heels make you feel fabulous.
So women don't wear high heels for comfort or practicality; they wear them because they value the associations which the shoes have more than the drawbacks, which is that they are gloriously impractical, quite amazingly uncomfortable, and eye-wateringly expensive (at least the good ones are).
|Alluring: Emma Bunton|
So where does that leave me? I flatter myself that, for me, crossdressing isn't a fetish. It's simply about expressing a side of me which would otherwise be suppressed. And yet, I can't find a pair of flat girl shoes I like, no matter how sparkly, or how elegant, or how flattering. I would rather wear high heels every time.
What this tells me is that, one way or another, crossdressing does have a fetishistic component for me. If it were not so, I could simply wear clothes that women themselves wear, and that would suffice. The fact that this doesn't satisfy me reveals that simply wearing what women wear (which is flats or trainers almost all the time) isn't enough. This is a powerful (and, if I am honest) uncomfortable truth about my own crossdressing.
Addendum: 12th March 2012
A small number of women seem to want to wear high heels all the time: on long-haul flights, for example, one would think that high heels would be extremely impractical, yet one still sees women wearing high heels on such flights.
But most women wear high heels on special occasions, and so do I. I honestly think that if I could crossdress freely every day, I would very shortly change to more comfortable footwear, or perhaps invest in a pair of bionic ankles. So maybe my interest in high heels isn't so fetishistic after all?
Addendum: 28th January 2013
Just this week the good old BBC have run an article on their website about this very subject, entitled Why did men stop wearing high heels? You can read the full text here. And the BBC also has an interesting magazine article here, called Sex on Legs: The Stiletto.
Addendum: 23rd December 2016
More about high heels from the BBC. I am beginning to think they may be obsessed. There is a wonderful podcast called The Why Factor, presented by Mike Williams. The Why Factor is a series of short (15-20 minute) explorations of "why we do the things we do". I hope to discuss the episode which discusses crossdressing, in more detail, in a future article. However, this one is about high heels. (Interestingly, the episode on the BBC website is an abridged, 12-minute version. The full, 18-minute episode which I heard came from iTunes). This podcast confirms the things I discuss above: that high heels were originally worn by men; that they became a symbol of wealth, and then they become an image of sexuality.
Interestingly, Williams turns up for a lesson in how to walk in heels. In her dance studio in London, Sarah Toner runs workshops to teach people (and freely admits some of them are men) how to walk elegantly in high heels, and of course Williams does poorly.
But the new insight, which I found unexpected and slightly disturbing, came from Toner herself, when she discusses why high heels are popular.
Toner: I also think it has to do with the way that you can't really run away. You become a more vulnerable person in a sense, and I think that also has something to do with it.This is an interesting take on the phenomenon of high heels, coming as it does from someone who makes her living (at least partly) out of teaching people how to walk in them.
Williams: I hadn't thought of it like that but when you consider it like that, the fact that the woman is more vulnerable, it's quite sinister.
Toner: It is quite sinister.