As an average kind of bloke, I must admit I'm massively conflicted about high heels. Aesthetically – and, well, hormonally – I love 'em, but when I see someone tottering along like a drunkard I'm all too aware of the stiletto tyranny. Bound feet always come to mind, especially when I hear of women having toes shortened – or even removed – in order to wear them in comfort.
In Foot Notes, Rowan Pelling, former Erotic Review editor, had no sense of feminist outrage. She was more interested in how footwear, more than any other clothing, reveals "telling details about our character, personality, social status and sexual desires". It was all about empowerment and self-transformation, though I'd have thought any self-respecting feminist would cry "Cobblers!" at Martin Bell, a biomechanics expert who holds classes in how to walk in heels. It's all about strengthening your buttocks, apparently; he told Pelling: "We have to retrain our brains into thinking we're athletes."
It was interesting stuff – she investigated shoes' intricate construction, met the shoemaker made famous by the film Kinky Boots and got the high-heel lowdown from sociologists and anthropologists (and she also, to be fair, talked about men's shoes as well). But she needed to talk to at least one person who thinks there'll never be true sexual equality when half the population feels the need to risk crippling themselves in the interests of so-called empowerment.
It would have been interesting to hear what Michael Sandel's audience at the Jaipur Literary Festival thought in The Public Philosopher (Radio 4, Monday ****). But they had a weightier topic to discuss: is rape worse than other forms of violence? (I say "weightier", though some might argue that high heels and rape are simply at different points on the patriarchy continuum.)
An interesting argument emerged: in a society aspiring to sexual equality, it's wrong to make rape a special crime because it presupposes all the old attitudes towards women. Sex selection was also discussed, a big issue in India, where there are now 37 million more men than women. Rape and heels notwithstanding, there will never be true equality until the practice is stamped out.