If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I’m super interested in sex, gender, and relationship research. So I was stoked last night to find out about that there’s a podcast called the Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast. Of course, when I looked at the titles of recently archived episodes, I beelined for the one titled “Why Do Women Who Have Anal Sex Have Anal Sex?” (that’s a whole other blog post; remind me to come back to that). The episode, however, only came around to this topic at the end. The main focus in the episode centers on a study that was done regarding how people react to women wearing high heels versus women wearing flats.
The researchers did three separate experiments. In the first, they had a nineteen year-old woman ask male passersby to take a survey about gender equality while wearing different types of footwear. 46% of men stopped to take the survey when she wore flats, 63% of the men stopped for her when she wore low heels (5cm), and 83 percent stopped for her when she wore stilettos (9cm). Eighty percent — almost double the percentage of men who stopped for the very same woman wearing flats! And not to ask her out — to take a survey. Because the lead researcher (Nicolas Gueguen) wanted to validate his results and make sure that these men were not just reacting to this specific woman, he repeated the experiment with four different women who also asked female passersby to take the survey. Women stopped to take the survey about 30% of the time, no matter what type of shoes the volunteer was wearing; the results of men being asked to participate in the survey were the same as before (approximately 40 / 60 / 80).
The researchers were then curious if footwear would influence “spontaneous” acts of kindness. They had a woman walk down the street and drop a glove in front of someone she was passing in order to see who would pick it up and return it to her. Women returned the glove 50% of the time regardless of whether she was wearing flats or heels. 60% of men returned the glove to the woman while she was wearing flats; 80% returned it while she was wearing short heels; and 95 percent returned it to the woman wearing high heels. After hearing this, I was left with a burning question: What’s up, ladies? Pick up the glove! I get why women wouldn’t stop to take a survey (busy, on the way to do something, have no interest, whatever), but they most certainly have time to pick up a glove and hand it to someone. This kind of weirded me out.
In order to control for factors such as how heels make a woman walk differently or the fact that they make women appear taller, the lead researcher had a woman sit in a bar with different types of shoes on to see how long it would take a man to hit on her in a night club while she was sitting! Two volunteers watched her creepily from a corner and took notes. It took thirteen minutes for the woman wearing flats to be approached and chatted up by a guy, eleven minutes for the woman wearing short heels, and seven minutes for the woman wearing high heels to be approached. I’m feeling like this time span would vary greatly depending on location, even within the same city.
Gueguen has a couple of hypotheses about why men respond more favorably to women wearing heels than women wearing flats. One hypothesis is that smaller feet are generally considered more attractive on women than larger feet, and high heels make feet appear smaller. The other hypothesis, which I find MUCH more likely, is that women look more sexually accessible or appear promiscuous in the male gaze while wearing high heels because that’s what men are used to seeing strippers and women in porn wear.
“That girl is wearing high heels! That must mean she wants to have sex with me! Yessssssssss! CFM*s, here I come!”
I’m disappointed that this experiment wasn’t repeated in a lesbian bar. I bet the results would be fascinating and maybe even inverted.
As the podcast host (who has a lovely accent — I might listen to all the archived episodes on that factor alone) mentions, the study fails to take into account that women might just act more confidently when wearing heels because they feel sexy, and that men might therefore be more attracted to women’s confidence rather than the way high heels make women physically appear. As someone who wears heels only once in a blue moon, I can tell you, I am *not* feeling confident when I’m walking around in them — more like I’m going to face plant into the concrete at any given moment. Still — I do love looking at a woman strolling down the street in pumps, swishing from side to side, working those shoes.
*Come Fuck Me Heels / Fuck Me Pumps. Yes, it’s a thing.