The well-heeled Marilyn Monroe reportedly once said if you give a girl the right shoes, she can conquer the world.
The allure of high-heeled shoes is no secret among women, who have used them to entice men from the streets of Ancient Rome to the New York City sidewalks of Carrie Bradshaw. Heels have also been a controversial symbol in the battleground of sexual politics.
A scientific study in France has measured their power. Scientists from the Universite de Bretagne-Sud conducted experiments that showed that men behave very differently toward high-heeled women.
The results, published online in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, might please the purveyors of Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo shoes —yet frustrate those who think stilettos encourage sexism.
The study found if a woman drops a glove on the street while wearing heels, she is almost 50 percent more likely to have a man fetch it for her than if she is wearing flats.
Another finding: A woman wearing heels is twice as likely to persuade men to stop and answer survey questions on the street. In addition, a high-heeled woman in a bar waits half the time to get picked up by a man, compared with when her heel is nearer to the ground.
“Women’s shoe heel size exerts a powerful effect on men’s behavior,” said Nicolas Gueguen, the study’s author and a behavioral science researcher. “Simply put, they make women more beautiful.”
Raised shoes have an unglamorous beginning: worn first by Egyptian butchers, who donned platforms to avoid treading in bloody offal.
However, on women as “signifiers of femininity,” raised shoes initially appeared in Ancient Greece and Rome, Bata Shoe Museum curator Elizabeth Semmelhack said. In Rome, where the sex trade was legal, high heels helped clients identify prostitutes in crowds.
Although high heels were worn for centuries in the Ottoman Empire and in Persia for horseback riding, they only minced into the West in the 1500s, when they were associated with imperial power and popularized as erotic in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Such was the allure that a person with status or wealth became referred to as “well-heeled.” The study shows this allure is very much alive.
“Though it’s a relatively small cross-section, this study is very significant since the results are clear and consistent,” said Jean-Claude Kaufmann, a Paris-based sociologist who was not involved in the study. “In a relation of seduction, men are very attracted by a woman in heels as she looks taller, more sexually confident, sure of herself, with a lengthened silhouette and sensual jutting buttocks.”
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