Feminists, who are supposed to be about equality and not about policing women who choose to embrace certain fashions, think that it’s sexist for women to wear high heels and for men to like the look. They’ll say that things like high heels “are the ultimate test of a certain type of femininity” that signals both power and weakness which women have to “cultivate in order to survive among ideologues who are crafting our tax-free Handmaid’s Tale future.”
Let’s give heels the benefit of the doubt – an April 2022 study, called “On a pedestal: High heels and the perceived attractiveness and evolutionary fitness of women,” showed that when women wear high heels they’re more physically and sexually attractive, more feminine, and even perceived to be of a higher status.
If it’s actually scientific – and not sexist – to like the look of women in heels, I knew I needed to get some direct input from the men in my life to understand how they really feel about this fashion choice.
How Do You Describe a Woman in Heels?
Well, to one guy, “the heels themselves only say so much,” and his perception of a woman has more to do with the full picture. What a woman pairs her shoes with could come off as “formal and fashionable, or conversely trashy or slutty.”
The first word that came to mind for many of the men I spoke to was “attractive,” or that women wearing heels exude an elegance that helps set the tone for a classier experience on dates.
One thing that I have learned when getting guys’ input on women’s fashion choices is that they actually care a lot more about our comfort and health than we might assume. A few of the men noted how painful or uncomfortable they think women might be when wearing high heels, with one even saying that he’d describe a woman in heels as “needing a podiatrist later.”
What a woman pairs her shoes with could come off as “formal and fashionable, or conversely trashy or slutty.”
Surprisingly, only one of the men I spoke to mentioned that high heels signal sexual desire, noting that he believes this is why they were popularized. “When men sexualize women they instinctively treat them as objects, as denoted in brain scan studies,” he said.
So Do High Heels Objectify Women?
Most of the other men I spoke to felt differently, refuting the idea that high heels objectify women because, in the words of one guy, “if a woman chooses to wear something by her own volition, then how is that objectification?”
It’s “tricky territory,” admitted one of the men, because taking issue with “objectification” is by and large based on how a woman feels about herself. “I’d say it’s totally dependent on how the woman feels. If she feels good in them, then no,” he said. “If she’s doing it to please others and finds no degree of personal gratification in wearing them, then maybe.”
Claims that high heels objectify women erase the fact that many of us actually enjoy them for one reason or another. One of the men I spoke to shared that his ex-girlfriend thought that women liked heels because of how it makes their butts look “perked up.”
The high heels study actually addressed this, explaining that high heels can drastically alter a woman’s posture, shifting our spinal curve forward and giving both our breasts and bums a perkier lift. What’s more, the researchers affirmed that high heels don’t objectify women despite the physical effects they have on our bodies. Their research explained that “sexualized women are perceived to be less mentally capable, less competent and less deserving of moral status,” and their findings didn’t actually “signal any personality traits, or cues to health or intelligence.”
But Do Heels Actually Make a Woman Seem High Class?
One of the key findings in this study was that women wearing heels were perceived as having a higher status. This checks out! Almost all of the men I spoke to agreed.
“She can afford to not be practical,” explained one of the men. Another echoed similar sentiments saying that he thinks that “commonly, high heels are expensive,” so “wearing them can be a sign that you have the money to afford them.”
Just like how heels change women’s posture to make our curves perkier, some of the men felt that “tasteful heels” give us the “appearance of a stronger and sexier stature and posture,” which in turn can make us look more elegant. The word tasteful is important, as a few of the men admitted that they think that heels paired with the wrong outfit can make a girl look trashy.
Another interesting reason why men perceive women wearing high heels as being high status is because of the extra height. Whether we’re in kitten heels, modest pumps, or sky-high stilettos, there is something exhilarating about adding a couple of extra inches which can give a woman more confidence and therefore a more commanding presence.
There’s something exhilarating about adding a couple of inches that can give a woman confidence.
What about when our heels give us quite a bit of a height boost? I asked the guys how they would feel if their date/girlfriend/wife were wearing high heels that made her taller than them. Would it wreck their confidence or make them feel less like a man?
A few of the guys on the taller end of the spectrum thought that it wouldn’t be a big deal because it wouldn’t even be applicable, with one commenting that he’d be impressed by this theoretical woman’s rarity more than anything. Another guy said, “She would have to be on stilts, so I guess she would make me laugh.”
Both tall and short men I spoke to shared that they’re not really self-conscious about height, their exes were taller in heels and they didn’t give it a thought…or that some of them were actually into taller women! “Not saying all guys are like this, but as a short prince, these are the things I haven’t been picky about,” one of the guys on the shorter end of the spectrum admitted. “Every woman I’ve dated has been at least slightly taller than me in heels. If you can’t be confident next to them, then you probably shouldn’t be dating.”
What About the Ladies Who Opt for Flats?
The researchers of the high heels study concluded that their findings aligned with previous research which suggests that women wearing flat shoes are less likely to be found attractive than women in high heels.
Did the guys I chatted with find flat shoes sexy though? They were actually pretty divided on it. Some of the men thought that women in flat shoes can be sexy while others thought that flat shoes gave a woman more of a “cute” vibe. Other guys didn’t assign the value “sexy” to any type of footwear – neither heels nor flats – with one of them actually sharing that barefoot is the sexiest option.
Another guy gave his hypothesis that women wear flat shoes instead of heels for either practicality or modesty. This sentiment was shared by quite a few of the men when I asked whether or not women wearing heels can still be practical. “It depends on how you define practical,” said one of the guys. “They are very impractical shoes for almost everything that shoes exist for. But if your objective is to be fashionable then heels suit that purpose.”
A few of the men suggested that there are practical footwear options that have heels, such as boots that could be “tactically practical,” but otherwise heels “inhibit a woman’s ability to walk and run and increases the chance of them getting injured.”
Wait, You’re Telling Me That Men Wore Heels First?
Heels offer women the ability to experiment with the way our garments lay on our bodies, give us an attitude boost, and of course, expand the number of options we have to get creative with our fashion choices. That being said, heels weren’t even originally invented for women!
High heels were used by male soldiers in 10th-century Persia to secure their feet while riding horseback and eventually became a “show of wealth” through footwear for nobility, thanks to King Louis XIV of France. So it’s kind of backwards to assume that an article of clothing is inherently sexist when its history is actually rooted in male use!
Portrait of King Louis XIV of France
“At first I was a hater,” explained one of the guys when I shared this fact. “I could see it being cool back in the day. The pre-revolution French aristocracy really had a handle on the execution of the look. The type of pointed high heels that are more popular nowadays are a little too feminine for me to appreciate on a dude.”
One of the men shared insights that lead me to believe heels don’t objectify women, but rather give them more power than their smaller stature might otherwise lack. “[Men originally wearing high heels] sounds humorous, but it makes sense evolutionarily because men have incentives to appear taller and therefore more formidable.”
Like a few of the men lamented, heels are awful shoes for doing hard labor or moving dexterously, but when you think about how the aristocracy weaponized a form of footwear as a power move then it makes sense why women would want to wear that confidence boost to achieve more than a simple fashion statement.
None of the men I spoke to would opt for wearing heels, though a few of them noted that their boots have some extra heel height to them. A couple of the men thought that modern heels are too feminine, while a few of the other men didn’t want to for their own health reasons.
“Your feet define your posture and your posture defines your circulation,” expressed one of the men about how he would ideally wear no shoes at all. “I would rather be healthy and happy than suffer for the sake of some insecurity in my current beauty.”
Of course, not all women wearing high heels are insecure about their beauty nor are they suffering while wearing heels. The notion that all heels are torture traps makes just about as much sense as saying that all t-shirts are ratty because they’re just a plain piece of fabric. Not only does the brand of heel vastly change the quality and comfort, but certain styles will fit a woman’s unique foot shape better than others. To the women (and men!) who disavow heels as patriarchal torture devices, perhaps finding the right fit is better than outright ditching them.
Heels can make us feel great in our bodies, give us an emboldening height advantage, and even make us more conscious about having proper posture. No, they don’t necessarily make us vulnerable or leave us victims of the male gaze. Despite the amazing effects that they have on the look of our legs, they aren’t symbols of the patriarchy. Men really don’t mind if you don’t wear them, but they will admit that you look great in them!
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