Reuters: Gender, sex, power, and stillettos

Reuters: Gender, sex, power, and stillettos

I have a piece at Reuters today, about how wearing high heels can affect other people’s behaviour toward a woman – and what that finding tells us about gender, sex, power, and attraction:

A new study out of France’s Université de Bretagne-Sud in finds that men are more likely to lend a helping hand to a woman wearing high heels. In the study, social psychologist Nicolas Guéguen found that men were more likely to answer survey questions if the woman asking them was wearing heels than if she was wearing flats. Similarly, Guéguen (who has also tackled the research question of whether carrying a guitar case makes a man more likely to succeed in getting a woman’s phone number) found that men were more likely to help a woman pick up a dropped glove if she was wearing heels.

That high heels change how straight men respond to women is hardly surprising. After all, high heels change the way you walk, the way you stand, and the way your clothes fit your body. As a culture, we have decided that the alterations heels produce in how women carry themselves are desirable, a decision we’ve stuck to for over 50 years. In recent years, the trend pendulum in high heels has swung toward atmospherically high, with platforms and hyper-narrow stiletto heels giving way, recently, to 1990s-nostalgia in the form of chunkier heels. These are, in the grand scheme of things, relatively minor variations; our cultural penchant for high heels is entrenched, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Some have questioned this study’s methodology, and not without reason, but its findings raise some interesting questions. Are men more likely to respond to women in heels because they find them more attractive, and are they more likely to answer survey questions from or help an attractive woman? Or are the men who help a woman in heels pick up her glove correctly perceiving that a woman in heels is in fact, physically, less stable than a woman in flats, and might therefore be more likely to need their help? Or, more interestingly still — and more troublingly — does a woman’s perceived instability and vulnerability make her more physically attractive to some men?

You can read the whole thing here.

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