Thursday, April 14, 2011

She Won't Go Down

There’s a young woman in my office who has been clumping around in an orthopedic boot for weeks. It’s the kind of thing a doctor makes you wear when you break an ankle. I asked her about it in the elevator the other day, and she told me that it was “the result of spending too much time in uncomfortable shoes.” No broken bones, no plantar fascitis, no hammer toes or bunions. Just painful and lingering nerve damage.

I started doing an informal research project, paying close attention to women’s shoes. I work in a very large company, and there are probably 350 people in my office alone, at least half of them women. The office requires “business casual” attire, and 90% of the women wear heels. Of those wearing heels, at least 75% wear high heels, often so high that the movements of the women wearing them appear stiff and graceless. The small minority who wear flats appear relaxed and comfortable.

The other day, I was on the elevator by myself as I was leaving the building. It stopped on the second floor, and two women got on.

“I feel so guilty taking the elevator,” one of them said. “But I hate using the stairs.”

“Yes,” the other woman agreed, “I know what you mean. I’ll go up, but I won’t go down.”

I asked them what they were talking about, and one of them said, “It’s the high heels. When you go down a flight of stairs, it really hurts to put your weight on that heel.”

“Many women have told me that the reason they wear high heels is because it’s attractive to men,” I said in a mock-serious tone. “But as a man, I feel obligated to tell you that we genuinely don’t care what kind of shoes you wear.”

They chuckled, and one of them said, “Yes, but sometimes we like to look a little taller.”

The doors of the elevator opened, and we stepped into the lobby.

“But don’t women all claim that they want men who are taller than they are?” I asked. “Why make yourself taller and limit your options?”

They minced painfully towards one building exit, and I headed for another. But as they left, one of them said to the other, “He’s right. Why do we do this?”

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